The Greatest Human Achievements
The Greatest Human Achievements
Scientists have learned much about who we are, but perhaps their most important discovery has been the ability to understand how our genes work. Genes are small strands of DNA that contain the instructions for the creation of all living things. From eye color to height to how we think, every part of us is determined by our genes.
All the genes of a living thing put together is called its genome. If you think of DNA as letters, and genes as the sentences, the genome is the entire book. In 1990, scientists around the world began the work of reading and understanding every gene in the human genome.
The “Ideas, Inventions, and Innovators” series, comprised of four titles, offers readers basic, limited information about achievements in a variety of areas. Each title begins with a very brief introduction followed by a page on which there are 12 photographs relating to the featured topic with a question printed beneath each one. Though the premise of the series is sound, there are several flaws. Firstly, some of the selections are questionable (one wonders what the criteria were for inclusion in this series), and there are many omissions. For instance, in the title about science and arts, there are no composers or musicians (though singer Nina Simone is included because of her affiliation with the civil rights movement; is she more deserving of inclusion than, say, Beethoven or Mozart?). Some of the information is not clear. For example, the author states that the Great Wall tells people about ancient Chinese culture (how?) and that Louis XIV’s decision to move his court from Paris to Versailles gave him “more control over the government and his nobles”. To understand this assertion fully requires prior knowledge or further study on the part of the reader. Occasionally, the sequence of information is ‘off”. In the chapter about Abraham Lincoln in the title about politics and activism, for instance, on the left hand page there is a photo of soldiers awaiting treatment after a Civil War battle, but the Civil War, itself, is not explained until the right hand page. There are also missing details, one of them being the lack of explanation about the symbolism in the design and colours of the new South African flag which “was to signal a new democracy in South Africa and the end of apartheid”. Lastly, there is an inconsistency in the style of the text: some paragraphs consist of short, cropped sentences, suited to a much younger audience, while others are made up of more complex sentences and vocabulary tailored to the target audience. An attractive layout and colour illustrations (photographs, drawings and info-graphics) add visual appeal and enhance the text, but the thick-lined graphics superimposed on other illustrations or filling up white space are superfluous and clutter the page. A table of contents, a glossary and an index are provided along with a brief list of books and websites for further investigation of the topics.
With examples drawn from the worlds of politics, sports, science, exploration, transportation and art, The Greatest Human Achievements examines a variety of remarkable inventions and feats. In this title, specifically, one wonders how the author arrived at the final selection, for how can one compare the concept of democracy to the invention of the airplane or to the attainment of Olympic medals and records? Other topics in this title include Sir Edmund Hillary’s and Tenzing Norgay’s climb to the top of Mount Everest, the 1969 moon landing, Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel, the first explorers to reach the South and North Poles, Darwin’s theory of evolution, the invention of the telephone and the World Wide Web, the first vaccines and antibiotics, NASA’s planet probes, and the fastest modes of transportation on land, sea and air.
Gail Hamilton is a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, Manitoba.