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Philip R Reilly
288 pp Price US$19.95 ISBN 0-87969-721-0 (p/b)
Woodbury, NY: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
Though Dr Reilly's book is targeted at scientifically literate laymen, I think it will be of greatest value to non-geneticist clinicians who occasionally face difficult questions about conditions that seem to run in a patient's family. An accompanying website promises to keep the information up to date and, if this commitment is sustained, this will be a really useful resource. As one might expect from a book from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, the examples provided are geared to healthcare delivery in the US. The British reader might have appreciated a list of contact numbers for NHS regional genetics centres who can be consulted by those in need of further guidance: such a list is obtainable from the British Society for Human Genetics [www.bshg.org.uk].
For the general public, I suspect this will be a work to consult rather than purchase. Those who do dip into it— and find information on the genetics of conditions ranging from homosexuality (2–3 times the background risk if you have a gay brother) and male pattern baldness to cancers and heart disease—will quickly realize that the deterministic view of genetics that is often conveyed by the media, with announcements of 'a gene for x or y' where these are complex behaviours or multifactorial diseases, is a gross oversimplification. If that message can be lodged in the reader's mind then the author will have done everyone a favour.
For clinicians, the impact of genetics on clinical practice outside the specialist area of the rare single gene disorders (or the Mendelian subsets of some of the common ones) has so far been small, but this will soon start to change and they will have to master the complexities of genetic and environmental interactions. Whilst Reilly's book is no substitute for proper professional development programmes, its clarity and its easy and accessible style will help them meet this challenge and provide sensible advice.