I have known of Dr. Kat Arney for a long time. My parents have been friends with her aunt and uncle for as long as I can remember. When I moved to London to work on my master’s degree, I was put in touch with Kat and her sister, Helen. Both sisters are very British (a good thing), very nerdy (also a good thing), and work in science communication. **I also highly recommend looking into Helen’s work with Festival of the Spoken Nerd**
In my time in London, I was fortunate enough to meet Helen and see FOTSN perform. However, Kat was very busy at her job with Cancer Research UK and, as it turns out, writing her book, “Herding Hemingway’s Cats: Understanding How Our Genes Work”, which was published in 2016.
I’ve had this book on my reading list for a while, but only recently picked it up. My background is definitely not in genetics, but recent classes have educated me significantly and renewed my interest in the field. I am still not an expert in the field, but I believe I know enough to recommend this book as both a scientist and bookworm.
Herding Hemingway’s Cats reads like an understated scientific discourse, surely reflecting Dr. Arney’s time as a doctoral student at Cambridge University. Kat beautifully weaves principles of genetics/epigenetics and her conversations with the researchers who discovered these principles.
As a scientist, I loved Kat’s writing style because it felt like I was eavesdropping on a couple people talking science. I find conversations about science to be fascinating, invigorating, inspiring, and educational, even if you don’t understand everything that is discussed.
Kat is honest about disagreements in the field and presents researchers’ opposing viewpoints where relevant. I also love that she featured the voices of researchers both widely known and those that may be less well-known, but still worth finding out about. The tone of the entire book is conversational and welcoming while still diving into some of the gritty details of our genome.
Overall, the book does a good job of presenting complex genetic concepts with simplified analogies to make impossible small phenomena easier to visualize. I occasionally got lost in the volume of information the book was presenting, making it slightly difficult to keep focus, but those sections were few and far between.
In my opinion, this book will be best received by individuals with some scientific background or interest. Having a university-level education in biology certainly helped me understand 99% of the presented discussions and concepts.
Though it has nothing to do with the quality of this book or the science, this book reads like it is for a British audience. This completely makes sense, as Dr. Arney is British and has been writing for a British audience for over a decade now. Her British colloquialisms made me chuckle and feel like I was back in London, if only for a moment.
Kat published her second book last year, which is already on my “to read” list, and I’m excited to see what she can teach me next.