By Keith Staskiewicz
July 25, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Violinist's Thumb

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-

The Violinist's Thumb

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