Friday, January 21, 2011

X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives (Review)

First off, The X in Sex is a very accessible non-fiction book about the genetics that make us who we are sexually. It was interesting to the non-scientist and a very quick read. But I do have to say that I didn't learn nearly enough new material to make me feel like it had been absolutely worth my time. David Bainbridge acts like he's bestowing never-before-mentioned news when he talks about X and Y chromosomes and sex-linked diseases. I'm 41 years old...back in the dark ages when I was in 9th grade I took a science class called "The Study of Life." And, oooh, we talked about chromosomes. Even got our own little set (all mixed up) for us to sort and arrange in pairs and find out if we had a boy or a girl and if they had any odd things going on (like and extra X or whatever). Maybe I just had one of the most progressive science teachers ever...but he also taught us about hemophilia and color-blindness and other sex-linked diseases.

Oddly enough, given the title of this book, the most informative bits that Bainbridge relates have to do with the Y chromosome. It's always been thought that just having the Y was enough to make you a theory, this is true. But it is absolutely essential that you have a Y and a working Sry gene. Because the Sry gene is the switch that starts the chain of events that insures that the baby will be a boy. No Sry, no chain of other genes, no boy. Overall, I did not find the amount of information given about the X chromosome compelling enough to convince me that "she" is the controlling influence in our lives. When I picked up this book, I imagined finding evidence that sweet little X is sitting there inside our cells holding the remote control and sending out instructions hither and yon throughout our bodies to tell us what to do and how to behave. Not quite.

As I mentioned, this is a very accessible book for the non-scientist. I think it would be an excellent book for someone who has very little or no knowledge whatsoever of chromosomes, genes, DNA, etc, and how they work. Bainbridge manages to talk about fairly complex topics in language the layman can understand and infuses his writing with humor. His humor is much better when it is unconscious (or at least gives a better impression of being so). The more blatant, "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" sexual references and the anecdotes which are prefaced with "Let me tell you this funny little anecdote" aren't nearly as funny as he would seem to think. The one exception is his anecdote about (quite literally) the Duke of Kent's testicles. I'm giving this one three stars--good solid read, some humorous bits, but nothing to knock my socks off.


Red said...

It's too bad this book fell short because it sounds like it could have been really interesting.

Jen at Introverted Reader said...

Hmmm, doesn't sound exactly ground-breaking. I like your image of the X holding the remote. Wouldn't most men hate that idea!?!