DNA: The Secret of Life

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9780375710070: DNA: The Secret of Life

Fifty years ago, James D. Watson, then just twentyfour, helped launch the greatest ongoing scientific quest of our time. Now, with unique authority and sweeping vision, he gives us the first full account of the genetic revolution—from Mendel’s garden to the double helix to the sequencing of the human genome and beyond.
Watson’s lively, panoramic narrative begins with the fanciful speculations of the ancients as to why “like begets like” before skipping ahead to 1866, when an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel first deduced the basic laws of inheritance. But genetics as we recognize it today—with its capacity, both thrilling and sobering, to manipulate the very essence of living things—came into being only with the rise of molecular investigations culminating in the breakthrough discovery of the structure of DNA, for which Watson shared a Nobel prize in 1962. In the DNA molecule’s graceful curves was the key to a whole new science.

Having shown that the secret of life is chemical, modern genetics has set mankind off on a journey unimaginable just a few decades ago. Watson provides the general reader with clear explanations of molecular processes and emerging technologies. He shows us how DNA continues to alter our understanding of human origins, and of our identities as groups and as individuals. And with the insight of one who has remained close to every advance in research since the double helix, he reveals how genetics has unleashed a wealth of possibilities to alter the human condition—from genetically modified foods to genetically modified babies—and transformed itself from a domain of pure research into one of big business as well. It is a sometimes topsy-turvy world full of great minds and great egos, driven by ambitions to improve the human condition as well as to improve investment portfolios, a world vividly captured in these pages.

Facing a future of choices and social and ethical implications of which we dare not remain uninformed, we could have no better guide than James Watson, who leads us with the same bravura storytelling that made The Double Helix one of the most successful books on science ever published. Infused with a scientist’s awe at nature’s marvels and a humanist’s profound sympathies, DNA is destined to become the classic telling of the defining scientific saga of our age.
From the Hardcover edition.

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Review:

What makes DNA different from hordes of competitors purporting to help readers understand genetics is that it is written by none other than James Watson, of Watson and Crick fame. He and his co-author Andrew Berry have produced a clear and easygoing history of genetics, from Mendel through genome sequencing. Watson offers readers a sense of immediacy, a behind-the scenes familiarity with some of the most exciting developments in modern science. He gleefully reports on the research juggernaut that led to current obsessions with genetic engineering and cloning. Aided by profuse illustrations and photos, Watson offers an enthusiastic account of how scientists figured out how DNA codes for the creation of proteins--the so-called "central dogma" of genetics. But as patents and corporations enter the picture, Watson reveals his concern about the incursions of business into the hallowed halls of science.

After 1975, DNA was no longer solely the concern of academics trying to understand the molecular underpinnings of life. The molecule moved beyond the cloisters of white-coated scientists into a very different world populated largely by men in silk ties and sharp suits.

In later chapters, Watson aims barbs at those who are concerned by genetic tinkering, calling them "alarmists" who don't understand how the experiments work. It is in these arguments that Watson may lose favor with those whose notions of science were born after Silent Spring. Nevertheless, DNA encompasses both sides of the political issues involved in genetics, and Watson is an enthusiastic proponent of debate on the subject. The book accompanies a 5-part PBS series. --Therese Littleton

From the Back Cover:

"A remarkable alignment of the planets is occurring in 2003: the 50th anniversary of the double helix and the completion of the sequence of the human genome. As a defining figure in both landmark events, no other human being on the planet is positioned to write as authoritatively about all this as Jim Watson. In DNA: The Secret of Life he does so with characteristic clarity, style, and wit. If you really want to know what happened in the most important half-century of biology since the world began, read this!"
–Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute
 
“Unlocking the secret of life was the greatest accomplishment of science in the 20th century and laid the foundation for medicine in the 21st century. Over the past 50 years, Jim Watson has been at the center of this revolution. No one has a broader perspective. And, no one can tell its story more compellingly. Watson brings alive the grand ideas, human foibles, and social challenges in a way will both engage the general public and inspire a new generation of young scientists.”
–Eric Lander, founder and director of the Whitehead Center for Genome Research
 
"This is the story of DNA and therefore the story of life, history, sex (lots of sex!), money, drugs, and still-to-be-revealed secrets. DNA is quite a molecule–she's been around a long time and played a lot of roles. At last, she has a truly worthy biographer."
–Mary-Claire King, American Cancer Society Professor, University of Washington School of Medicine
 
“Only James Watson combines the verve and authority to take us on such an exciting, fast-paced journey into the continuing storm of DNA science. This landmark summary asks where the new biology will take us, and gives arresting vignettes of major participants in the DNA revolution. The key experiments and fascinating unknowns are laid out as plain as day.”
–Victor McElheny, author of Watson and DNA: Making a Scientific Revolution
 

"James Watson has been an eyewitness to each revolution in molecular biology, from the double helix to the genome. He sees further and clearer than anybody else in the field. Give this fabulously good book to anybody who wants to understand what all the excitement is about."
–Matt Ridley, author of Genome

“Only James Watson could have written this book: no one else knows DNA from so many perspectives—discoverer, scientific leader, author of one of the great scientific memoirs of all time—and no one else writes in such an utterly riveting and independent manner. DNA is a singularly lucid life story of a molecule and its determining role in human nature, society, medicine, and our future as a species. It is an important book and a delight to read.”
--Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and author of An Unquiet Mind.

 

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