20 June 2010

In Pursuit of the Gene

In Pursuit of the Gene

From Darwin to DNA

by James Schwartz

This wonderul book is a nice mix of history of genetics and biography of the key figures in genetics, beginning with Darwin and ending with Muller - a span of about 75 years. It is written with the layman in mind, but anyone with some background in genetics will probably get the most out of this book. Rather than simply offer a history of genetics, or a series of biographies, the author has combined these topics into a captivating story that is both well researched and a joy to read. Key scientific experiments are explained so that someone with a basic understanding of genetics can understand them, and enough background is given about people involved to make them interesting personalities.

One underlying aspect of the book is the unfolding of how science progresses. From the bull-headed pursuit of an idea that proves to be completely wrong, to the insightful genius whose ideas take decades to confirm. It includes attempted plagiarism of scientific ideas and results as well as another type of scientific theft which is still common in some labs - the taking and claiming of all data that comes out of a lab by the major professor or primary investigator.

In writing this book the author included footnotes that illustrate the extent of his research. Personal letters, journals, and other documents were heavily used and allowed the author to present aspects of the history of genetics that have not been presented before making this book a valuable reference.

I have purposely not gone into specifics about this book, for I could not do it justice. Perhaps I am biased since I have always been interested in genetics and in the history of biology, but I truely believe this book will be of interest to a broad audience. It is well written and interesting, not only for the direct subject of genetics, or for the biographies, but also for the way it covers the development of scientific ideas. I highly recommend this book to anyone working in a scientific lab, particularly graduate students and professors. In addition anyone interested in the subjects covered will find their interest fuelled by this book. I have already ordered another book, recommened by the author in the acknowledgements.

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