Armed with dry wit and an art for self depreciative analysis, Dr Frank embarks on a journey through the recent developments in human genetics. She fronts pioneers and personalities of genetic science, past and present, and cuts straight to the big issues in their field. These meetings, conducted through various media and in person, are always reported insightfully, usually humorously. She treats herself as the guinea pig, using different commercial and research assay and analysis techniques to test her current genetic wellbeing and future health, both physical and mental, and that of others including her putative progeny. As a starting point, she needs to honestly appraise herself, her dead parents and surviving relatives in order to focus her research.
As an example, Frank's meeting with psychiatric epidemiologist, Kenneth Kendler, is warmly described and none of the ambiguity of genetic and psychiatric research or their applications is avoided. But her reaction after the meeting, when events contrive to confront the impact of her genetic makeup on her life to date, is numbing. Frank acknowledges that many genetic insights are intuitive anyway, and may not require brain scans to discover, but she has the scans anyway. This thoroughness is the strength of the book. And it is only through this approach that Frank is equipped to comment on "the war between epidemiologists and genetic researchers", between individual processes and statistics. This approach, based on the assertion that there are ultimately no healthy or unhealthy genes, only evolutionary variation, enables Frank to tackle daunting topics such as the inheritability of schizophrenia and autism spectra phenomena objectively. These examples are all selected from one of the book's eight rich chapters.
Frank, I presume originally a Danish speaker, has assembled a sparkling and witty English commentary, certainly amongst the best in my scientific reading. Her globetrotting interviews and review of the current literature form an appraisal of the options we all share if we wish to better understand ourselves through our genome. Her neurobiology background suits her ideally to this task. On the other hand, all developments, academic or commercial and irrespective of their potential, are scrutinised from an ethical viewpoint. Before reading this book, I would never have bothered checking into my own genetic identity - it just seemed a redundant affirmation of what I should know, like doing a family tree. I have changed my mind - yes, we must be vigilant to the extreme ethical what-ifs and the attendant virtues of diversity that Frank raises in her last chapter - but I will certainly visit the websites that Frank discusses. I must, and so must others, because we must understand what will certainly become part of our lives in the very near future. And, of course, it can be exciting if we go in with our eyes open. After reading a single chapter of My Beautiful Genome, I went online to buy her previous brain science book. What better recommendation can I offer.