Life Without Genes

Gloriously playful, enticing, eye-opening and heartening.

  • Scotsman

Woolfson writes beautifully and at the same time, he entertains and informs…I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • Charalambos Kyriacou, Times Higher Educational Supplement

A remarkable book in a new literary form, which leads us like a modern Alice through dreary wonderlands of potentiality. These imaginative excursions depict many layers of complexity. Few readers will be failed to be helped out of the mental rut that tends to limit the imagination of most, and many will be charmed. Laced with unexpected curiosities, Life Without Genes is excellent and could be of great importance.

  • John Godfrey, Nature

Life Without Genes is always readable and absorbing, using a riot of metaphors to illuminate its point to lucidly explain what genes are and how they work. En route we learn not only about RNA, DNA, genes, how the crocodile holds its breath, slavery among ants, and much other zoology and botany to boot, but even what Puccini said to Caruso on first hearing him sing.

  • A.C. Grayling, Financial Times

Fascinating and bold, interesting and profound.

  • Michael Barrett, New Statesman

Fine-woven from dreams, swooping around the outer edges of the imaginable, Life Without Genes takes us to some mind-boggling conceptual spaces, conjuring into existence frightening Borgesian worlds, to make us question our assumptions about life. Communicating a sophisticated understanding of cutting-edge genetics research. Wildly, ferally, enjoyable.

  • Lisa Gee, Scotland on Sunday

A lucid and entertaining account of genetic processes, their importance, and limitations. From Airfix kit-inspired Just-So stories to lucid descriptions of the works of the mathematician Ilya Prigone, Woolfson is a virtuoso in full command of extraordinary material.

  • Simon Ings

Playful, filled with important and fascinating ideas, as well as entertaining metaphors.

  • Lewis Wolpert, Times Literary Supplement

A pleasure to read.

  • Ian Stewart, author of Does God Play Dice? and Life’s Other Secret

Be not afraid of the title. Adrian Woolfson loosens the meaning of the terms life and genes to provide us with new toys in the great playground of possibilities where perhaps we will come to understand the origins of life. It is serious fun.

  • Graham Cairns-Smith, author of Seven Clues to the Origin of Life

Incredibly versatile and ebullient. One of the most exciting reads in years.

  • Alan Kersey, Cambridge Evening News

There must have been a mix-up at the publishers. Some hapless office junior dropped the manuscript for Alice in Wonderland and A Textbook of Genetics on the way to the photocopier and got them confused. The result is a book that jumps from the laws of thermodynamics straight into bizarre tales about the King of the Crocodiles who talks in rhyme. Woolfson alters the definition of life to reveal that our distant ancestors might have been just whisps of chemicals floating in an ancient ocean. His theories are very convincing. Anyone who has ever wondered how a planet of rocks and boiling seas could have given birth to Mozart and the Spice Girls will find the answer here.

  • Sarah Playforth, Manchester Evening News

Woolfson’s dizzying imaginary journeys into gene space, and other even more extensive spaces, give a whole new meaning to ‘thought experiments’. This book lets you into the mind of a modern biologist.

  • Jon Turney, Welcome Trust

Bringing together the latest insights from genetics and cyberculture, this book contends that all life can be conceived of as information. It explores future developments in genetics, both as a consequence of Darwinian natural selection and under the influence of genetic engineering. The ideas are illustrated by writing that draws on a range of surreal examples including hypermarkets containing every toy in the universe, pufferfish that think like flies, Peter Pan-like trips through human genes and creatures that evolve in months and not millennia.

  • Amazon


An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Genetics

This is a book for all those who feel intellectually naked if they do not keep up, at least minimally, with the most important scientific current of their time. A lucid guide to modern genetics.

  • The Sunday Telegraph

For “intelligent” read literate. Do not confuse this book with DNA for Dummies. Adrian Woolfson presses Alexander Pope, Jorge Luis Borges, Dante, Montaigne, Henry Mayhew and Professor Pepper’s Ghost into service in this canter through the conundrum of the chromosomes. This hugely enjoyable book is a reminder that there’s a lot we don’t know about DNA, too.

  • Tim Radford, The Guardian

A deeply provocative read

  • Business Times

A whirlpool exposition of evolution, the history of molecular biology, molecular genetics, and the future

  • British Medical Journal

Intelligently provocative

  • New Scientist

Reading this book feels like having a conversation over dinner with a cultured, witty, and well-informed companion.

  • The Lancet

An insightful tour of the history of genetics

  • San Diego Union Tribune

Elegant, impressive, sophisticated, and lucid

  • The Weekly Standard

Each chapter is a neat exposition in a complex field, stuffed with intriguing well-told reports of genetic discoveries.

  • FK O’Neill, Heredity

Dummies and idiots are not the intended audience for Woolfson’s elegant summary, with its impressive bibliography and often sophisticated discussions of genetic science. Woolfson’s book tackles the history and current state of genetic science, in the process offering definitions and explanations of the basic features of the science, descriptions of important discoveries, and discussion of the attendant forces that influence and interact with DNA…Woolfson’s achievement is his ability to explain complicated scientific processes in lucid prose, marshaling metaphors that clarify rather than obscure the material. Of the nucleosome, for example, the group of proteins that packages DNA, Woolfson writes, “It functions much like the chaperones who used to accompany Victorian ladies on their excursions, determining whether the DNA is allowed to have access to visiting proteins or not.” To read someone of clinical experience and scientific expertise who is also such a deft writer is a rare treat.

  • Christine Rosen, Washington Examiner