Entertainment Weekly


Stay Connected


Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content


The Violinist's Thumb review - Sam Kean

Posted on

BIO 101 Kean employs intriguing anecdotes to explain biology, making the genetic code palatable for laypeople

The Violinist's Thumb

Current Status:
In Season
Little, Brown and Company

We gave it an A-

Sam Kean is the best science teacher you never had. Following up his accessible history of the periodic table, he switches out chemistry’s fundamental building blocks for biology’s, tackling the genetic code in The Violinist’s Thumb. The titular digit belongs to Niccolò Paganini, whose musical virtuosity was likely due to a hereditary mutation, and in general the book focuses on people rather than formulas. Paganini’s story joins a slew of other intriguing tales, which Kean spins in light, witty prose while also placing them in a broader scientific context. Given the confused, headachy feeling we’ve had thanks to the recent Higgs boson discovery, we can only hope the next topic he decodes will be physics. A-