Two years ago I wrote an article called “Programming Human Beings during Vacations” in which I argued that the deciphering of the human genome was the very beginning of an arduous process in truly understanding genetics. I said that while some people feared that tinkering with genes was only a few years away, my belief is that we are probably still at least a century away from changing the genetic programs of living individuals with the first objective most likely being to reverse the program that makes us age. So while I had been aware for a while that we and all other animals and plants are genetically programmed to age and die, I had a wrong understanding of how this was the case, and Bill Bryson´s book clarified it. I knew that we are born with a fixed number of neurons and that we lose them as we go through our lives. But what I did not know is that there´s “not as much as a stray molecule” in a 90 year old person that was there when this person was 80. This means that a person of 90 is a complete new person from a person of 80, yet old. In other words, not only are we programmed to age but we are constantly “renewing” ourselves, as older people.
My wife and I are in the South Pacific. We are here without internet, without dvds and without TV. We are in a tiny island called Tikehau, a coral reef. We are not even in Tikehau proper, but in a smaller nearby island that has no cars and altogether around 80 people. So after we are done with the fish watching and canoeing, we both read. She reads 2000 page long Tolstoy´s War and Peace while I go for a more modest objective, Bill Bryson´s Short History of Nearly Everything, only 600 pages long. To me this is the reading equivalent of climbing the Aconcagua. I now do most of my reading in magazines and on the net and rarely tackle books that are not half as long as 600 pages!
Nevertheless, partly because of the lack of alternatives and mostly because I found this book fascinating, I did read. And I finished the whole book. And I strongly recommend it. I will not however review the book but write a series of random thoughts partly inspired by the book and partly by my own thinking over here in the South Pacific…