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 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner


Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet