07/30/2012 06:43 pm ET

The Book We're Talking About This Week: The Violinist's Thumb

What is it about?
The story of DNA, and the scientists who discovered what we know about it. The book is written in a very informal tone, sharing incredible tales of our own existence woven in with gossip about the people who first told them.

Why are we talking about it?
Public interest in genetics has reached an all-time high, as advances in gene-based medicine and detailed DNA sequencing hits the headlines. Kean’s book, which is getting an initial print run of 75,000 copies, promises to be this summer’s must-read nonfiction book. Plus, it’s fun to read.

Who wrote it?
Sam Kean is a writer based in Washington, DC. His first book, "The Disappearing Spoon," was about the history of the periodic table, and was a bestseller.

Who will read it?
Fans of Bill Bryson, Radiolab, readers of Mental Floss; people who might otherwise have picked up Jonah Lehrer’s book.

What do the reviewers say?
Entertainment Weekly: “Sam Kean is the best science teacher you never had.”

Kirkus Reviews: "In an impressive narrative, the author renders esoteric DNA concepts accessible to lay readers."

Dallas News: “Intelligent, enlightening and entertaining.”

Impress your friends:
According to the book, JFK suffered from Addison’s disease, a genetic illness whose side effects include bronze-colored skin.

Opening lines:
Chills and flames, frost and inferno, fire and ice. The two scientists who made the first great discoveries in genetics had a lot in common – not least the fact that both died obscure, mostly unmourned and happily forgotten by many. But whereas one’s legacy perished in fire, the other’s succumbed to ice.

Typical passage:
Viruses, bacteria and protozoa bequeath new genes to animals on occasion, genes that can alter how our bodies work. They can manipulate animal minds as well. One Machiavellian microbe has not only colonized huge numbers of animals without detection, it has stolen animal DNA – and might even use that DNA to brainwash our minds for its own ends.