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What Do You Think You Are? - Brian Clegg *****

I very much enjoyed Brian Clegg's book, The Universe Inside You, to which this new book forms a kind of inverted sequel. Where the earlier title used aspects of the human body to explore the universe around us, this one focuses inwards, looking at what makes the individual human the person they are.

Clegg starts with genealogy, noting that because of the way that family trees double in size with each generation, it soon fails as a way to show what we are as individuals, (the numbers involved spiral out of control and the neat tree becomes tangled), meaning only a tiny part of the tree is ever examined. After showing how we're all related to royalty, we are taken on a tour of the atoms that make us up (I love the various ways to work out how much they're worth, including getting the equivalent weight of potassium from bananas), the food that powers our bodies, the paeleological evidence for the origins of humanity as a species and the nature of life.

Perhaps the most interesting part of all is when the book goes into what consciousness is (or, rather, highlights how little we know about what consciousness is, but still shows how much more there is to 'us' than the conscious part) and pulls apart the old nature versus nurture debate with some remarkable material on genetics, environment and how the influence of our environment is mathematically chaotic.

Sometimes it's the little details here that jump out. It was notable how inaccurate GDP changes are, yet they are always scrutinised by the media as if they tell us great truths about the economy. And there's a brilliant example of the misuse of statistics where some genuine figures on immigration are used to make a totally misleading statement before explaining why they can be easily phrased to deceive.

What's great about the book overall is both Clegg's gift as a storyteller - it's just an excellent, pageturning read - and the way he threads together so many revelations about us as humans, the  sort of thing that you want to share with someone else. Oh, and it's a really attractive hardback too. A worthy successor to The Universe Inside You


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Review by Peet Morris
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

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