Neanderthal Man

In Search of Lost Genomes

 

 

Svante Pääbo

 

Basic Books, 2014

 

ISBN: 978-0-465-02083-6

Given the significance of sequencing the genome of an extinct human species I could not resist reading this book. Initially I approached it with some caution as the researchers that make great scientific contributions aren't always the best writers, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is very engaging and readable story. Biographical in nature, the author takes us through his personal journey of how he started out working with ancient DNA, at a time when the available technologies were rudimentary, and how he eventually managed to sequence the genome on the Neanderthal. Along the way we learn how the author approached this apparently impossible task, we meet important collaborators and we share in many of the difficulties and failures that were encountered. I particularly like that Svante intersperses many personal thoughts and emotions throughout his story, making him very relatable. Students who read this book will realize how human scientist are and will be able to feel the visceral excitement that comes with the practice of research. A word of warning though: Svante's story is one of a highly successful scientist, who benefits from ample funding and powerful collaborations. His experiences, although real, are not going to be representative of all researchers. That said, if a student is wondering whether research is for them, and wants to take a glimpse into this whole process, this book will not disappoint. Although the science discussed is mainly molecular biology and population genetics, the essence of scientific process remains accurate.