In this bible of DNA information, Watson is as provocative and optimistic as ever.



A masterful summary of genetic science past, present, and future, from one of its prime movers.

Watson (Father to Son: Truth, Reason, and Decency, 2014, etc.)—who, along with Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin launched a revolution in biology with their 1953 publication of the double helix structure of DNA—reviews all that has happened since his own earlier accounts, including The Double Helix (1968) and the original version of this book (2003). As the author approaches 90, he chronicles the history of the field, with the assistance of Berry (Evolutionary Biology/Harvard Univ.) and Davies (The $1,000 Genome: The Revolution in DNA Sequencing and the New Era of Personalized Medicine, 2010, etc.). The chapters about the race to discover the structure of DNA capture the excitement of that time, but Watson returns to a critical stance as he recalls how alarmist fears about the dangers of recombinant DNA, which made it possible to incorporate foreign DNA into an organism, curbed research in the 1970s. He also condemns those who would ban genetically modified organisms, and he marshals strong evidence in support of GMOs. A major chapter details the Human Genome Project, which begat yet another race, this time between the government and private enterprise. To a large extent, the fallout of that initiative has fueled advances—which Watson summarizes in later chapters—in forensics (DNA fingerprinting) and medicine (the discovery of disease genes and new approaches to cancer treatments). For each application, the author provides guidebooklike details of methods and examples. Now, with the cost of human genome sequencing plunging, huge databases of genomes can be analyzed, with prospects of precision treatments and discoveries of the causes of complex diseases like mental illness and even analyses of behavioral traits. There is no question that in weighing nature vs. nurture, Watson sides with nature. He would use new gene-editing techniques to correct genetic defects in somatic cells and would have no qualms about considering enhancing future generations by editing germline cells (eggs and sperm).

In this bible of DNA information, Watson is as provocative and optimistic as ever.

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-35118-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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