A Guinea Pig's History of Biology

The incredible intellectual journey from Charles Darwin's first experiments with orchids and passionflowers -- starting in 1854 as he sought to unriddle the elements of heredity -- to the patenting of the world first transgenic animal, OncoMouse, in 1988, is an intense and exciting voyage of discovery whose fascinating zigzags, cul-de-sacs, and milestones have seldom been charted in a more entertaining fashion than in Jim Endersby's A Guinea Pig's History of Biology. Endersby's unique narrative hook is to organize his chapters around some previously unsung "heroes": the various humble plants, animals and microbes that have been the focus of innumerable scientific investigations into the secrets of genetics, and which have generously, although sometimes grudgingly, yielded their secrets to a small army of master, journeyman, and apprentice researchers, all of whom emerge as vivid personalities through his lucid prose. This authorial conceit provides a sturdy armature on which to affix everything from biography to cultural analysis to literary exegesis to sociopolitical musings, but Endersby never allows his hook to interfere with a good anecdote or a brilliant schematic of the way science and biology really work. Combining the same taste for eccentrics and oddities associated with historian of magic Ricky Jay with the rationalist, layman-favoring clarity of biologist Stephen Jay Gould, Endersby does honor to the quagga, the zebrafish, the mouse-ear cress, the fruit fly, and a handful of other species. Like James Burke in his show Connections, Endersby startles with his account of historical serendipity that ultimately proves almost magically inevitable. -

July 29: On this day in 1878 Don Marquis was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).