Inspiring Science: Jim Watson and the Age of DNA

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9780879696986: Inspiring Science: Jim Watson and the Age of DNA
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For James D. Watson, the year 2003 was momentous: The 50th anniversary of the discovery, with Francis Crick, of the DNA double helix; the 35th anniversary of the publication of his bestselling memoir of the discovery, The Double Helix; the 35th anniversary of his appointment as Director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, an institution he molded into a research and education center of international renown and prestige: and the year in which the sequencing of the human genome was completed, a project of unprecedented international effort and coordination that Watson got off the ground and sustained during its first, critical years. In the course of his 75 years, Watson has achieved a reputation as outspoken, capricious, abrasive, and ruthless in pursuing his visionary goals. Few other scientists have achieved his celebrity status, or enjoyed it so much, without losing professional credibility. Yet behind the public notoriety there is a complexity apparent only to those who know Watson as a colleague, mentor, inspiration, and friend. This book gives voice to 43 of these individualspeople of distinction who have worked with Watson as a scientist, educator, author, administrator, and government official. Their essays cover much of his scientific life and, taken together, create a portrait of a complex man whose originality and force of will have produced extraordinary achievements.

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That the volume is such a good read probably reflects the capabilities of Watson's friends as well as the efforts of the three editors. From the excellent foreword by Matt Ridley to the final explanatory notes on puzzling details (including descriptions of quiz kids, Delbr fc;ck's principle of limited sloppiness, and Benzer's lunchtime diet of crocodile tail), Inspiring Science is a delight, a ride in a convertible through history. The editors deserve accolades for their excellent selections and documentation. Watson himself deserves credit for doing such important work with such panache. Science The purpose of Inspiring Science, the editors write, 'is not to reconstruct an academic history or an authoritative biography, but to record friendship and appreciation.' ... The editors are to be congratulated on compiling and organizing such a readable and informative set of recollections that will serve very effectively the role they intended. Nature History-making scientist of international fame, successful manager of one of the best biological think-tanks, standard-setting textbook author, popularizer and public advocate of science, government advisor: Jim of all trades be his nom de guerre. Inspiring Science brings us closer to a seemingly larger-than-life man whose long shadow will be cast far into the twenty-first century. Without him, someone else would sooner or later have solved the mystery that half a century ago surrounded DNA. But there is no doubt that Watson had a profound effect on the development of molecular biology in the second half of the twentieth century. He is one of the truly powerful puppeteers of the scientific world, pulling the strings on which the rest of us dangle and dance. Inspiring Science reveals that behind the awe-inspiring public image is a human being with the usual set of strengths and weaknesses, qualifications and shortcomings. Inspiring Science will be not so much remembered for its literary accomplishments as it will be cherished by historians and psychologists as a precious time capsule laying bare the mechanics of science at the end of the twentieth century. Inspiring Science is inspiring reading. Nature Medicine --Cold Spring Harbor

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