Of Flies, Mice, and Men

Fran?ois Jacob

Published by Harvard University Press, 1998
ISBN 10: 0674631110 / ISBN 13: 9780674631113
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Who could have guessed that the lowly fruit fly might hold the key for decoding heredity? Or that the mouse might one day disclose astonishing evolutionary secrets? In a book infused with wisdom, wonder, and a healthy dose of wry skepticism, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist François Jacob walks us through the surprising ways of science, particularly the science of biology, in this century. Of Flies, Mice, and Men is at once a work of history, a social study of the role of scientists in the modern world, and a cautionary tale of the bumbling and brilliance, imagination and luck, that attend scientific discovery. A book about molecules, reproduction, and evolutionary tinkering, it is also about the way biologists work, and how they contemplate beauty and truth, good and evil.

Animated with anecdotes from Greek mythology, literature, episodes from the history of science, and personal experience, Of Flies, Mice, and Men tells the story of how the marvelous discoveries of molecular and developmental biology are transforming our understanding of who we are and where we came from. In particular, Jacob scrutinizes the place of the scientist in society. Alternately cast as the soothsayer Tiresias, the conscienceless inventor Daedalus, or Prometheus, conveyer of dangerous knowledge, the scientist in our day must instead adopt the role of truthteller, Jacob suggests. And the crucial truth that molecular biology teaches is the one he elaborates with great clarity and grace in this book: that all animals are made of the same building blocks, by a combinatorial system that always rearranges the same elements according to new forms.

Review: Molecular biology seems to crystallize our feelings about science. The promises and threats of knowledge are made plain as we peek around the corner and see genetic counseling, genome mapping, and cloning staring back at us. Pioneering researcher François Jacob--who shared the 1965 Nobel Prize for medicine--offers his thoughts on the past, present, and future of science in Of Flies, Mice & Men. As informal as a memoir, yet sharp and clever in its discussions of philosophy and politics, Jacob's book breaks new ground in popular-science publishing.

Not many scientists are comfortable quoting poets from Sophocles to Apollinaire, but Jacob weaves their words with his own beautiful prose to inspire the reader with new ways of thinking about science as a part of human life. His aim is not simply to retell the brief history of molecular biology but to put it in context and, more importantly, to show that this context is as important as the research itself. Jacob is one of the few scientists who recognize that science is easily abused, but that its course can't be stopped, or even slowed much. Rather than caving in to fatalism, he offers the hope that it can be guided, and he knows that a well-informed public is his best ally in this effort. The project is inspiring, if a little daunting; as he says, opening Pandora's box "condemned human beings to never-ending research." --Rob Lightner

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Title: Of Flies, Mice, and Men
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication Date: 1998
Book Condition: Good
Edition: 1st Edition.

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Fran?ois Jacob
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