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Book Review: How to Defeat Your Own Clone by Kyle Kurpinski and Terry D. Johnson

How to Defeat Your Own Clone Genre: Nonfiction, Humor
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Bantam; Original edition
Publication Date: February 23, 2010
ISBN-10: 055338578X
ISBN-13: 978-0553385786
Author Website: Kyle Kurpinski and Terry D. Johnson

How to Defeat Your Own Clone is one of those books that is nonfiction, but that is much more entertaining than that appellation implies. Co-written by a research scientist and a bioengineer (both with advanced degrees) this short and trim paperback is a biotechnology primer for the uninitiated.

Kyle Kurpinski and Terry D. Johnson have a good bit of wit, and with their down-to-earth examples, they make a highly complex science approachable for those interested in biotech, but who may only have a high school biology class to help them grasp the details. This reviewer falls into that category, but I found that the science of the material (though occasionally dry, especially in the second chapter when the foundations and definitions of terms are being presented) is easily understandable and useful. Any highschooler with a modicum of knowledge about genetics could easily read this book, and like it. In fact, I would even go so far as to suggest to high school science teachers that they use this book as a resource.

A lot of that approachability of the book comes from Kurpinski and Johnson’s ability to present information concisely and directly. The content of the book tops out at 180 pages, so it is fairly evident that the authors are pithy in their presentation. While the book gets a little technical, the authors are always careful to ensure that the technical aspects are accompanied by funny examples (such as the frat boy versus the lightweight) or witty statements about the science itself. And any book that cites Futurama as an example has to be fun right?

Even as the authors highlight the importance of understanding biotech, they debunk some of the myths that have grown out of biotech’s use in literature and cinema. From the laws of the genetic sharks in Deep Blue Sea (if you can engineer bigger brains, why not engineer a lack of teeth?) to the fact that “cloning” and “duplication” are not one and the same, the authors take all comers. The only thing they eschew is getting involved in a morality debate, careful to present the facts without diving into the metaphysical and moral implications of biotech and cloning (though it is fairly obvious where the authors stand right from the first chapter – which covers the history of cloning – where they disagree with Bush and praise Obama on the stem cell research issue).

The chapter on bioenhancements that may be possible in the next fifty years is rather fascinating, and I think ample fodder for near future science fiction writers. Even there though, the authors are careful to note that the “enhancements” are fraught with difficulties in application due to the nature of genetics and their relationship, plus our current lack of technology to make them at happen.

At times the “Defeating Your Own Clone” theme of the book can feel a little tacked on, especially when it is only mentioned in the last paragraph of each section in a chapter, sort of as an afterthought to make sure the thematic tie is included. Though the final chapter, where the tips and tricks are finally revealed makes up for this in its humor and creativity.

Ultimately, the short and easy read of How to Defeat Your Own Clone is a nice primer on biotech and genetics that follows in the vein of Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide or the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. It is an interesting and fun piece of nonfiction, equal parts science and humor.