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DNA: The Secret of Life Hardcover – April 1, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What makes DNA different from hordes of competitors purporting to help readers understand genetics is that it is written by none other than James Watson, of Watson and Crick fame. He and his co-author Andrew Berry have produced a clear and easygoing history of genetics, from Mendel through genome sequencing. Watson offers readers a sense of immediacy, a behind-the scenes familiarity with some of the most exciting developments in modern science. He gleefully reports on the research juggernaut that led to current obsessions with genetic engineering and cloning. Aided by profuse illustrations and photos, Watson offers an enthusiastic account of how scientists figured out how DNA codes for the creation of proteins--the so-called "central dogma" of genetics. But as patents and corporations enter the picture, Watson reveals his concern about the incursions of business into the hallowed halls of science.

After 1975, DNA was no longer solely the concern of academics trying to understand the molecular underpinnings of life. The molecule moved beyond the cloisters of white-coated scientists into a very different world populated largely by men in silk ties and sharp suits.

In later chapters, Watson aims barbs at those who are concerned by genetic tinkering, calling them "alarmists" who don't understand how the experiments work. It is in these arguments that Watson may lose favor with those whose notions of science were born after Silent Spring. Nevertheless, DNA encompasses both sides of the political issues involved in genetics, and Watson is an enthusiastic proponent of debate on the subject. The book accompanies a 5-part PBS series. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

Who better than James Watson to lead a guided tour of DNA? When he and his English colleague, Francis Crick, discovered the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953, little could they imagine that a mere 50 years later scientists would be putting the finishing touches on a map of the human genome. In this magisterial work, Watson, who won the Nobel Prize with Crick for their discovery, guides readers through the startling and rapid advances in genetic technology and what these advances will mean for our lives. Watson covers all aspects of the genome, from the layout of four simple bases on the DNA molecule through their complex construction into genes, then to the mechanisms whereby proteins produced by genes create our uniquely human characteristics-as well as the genetic mutations that can cause illnesses or inherited diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Huntington's disease. Watson may have mellowed a little over the years since he displayed his youthful brashness in The Double Helix, but he still isn't shy about taking on controversial subjects. He criticizes biotech corporations for patenting genes, making diagnostic medical procedures horribly expensive and damping further basic research. He notes that while China and other countries with large populations to feed have eagerly grasped the potential of genetically modified foodstuffs, America squandered $100 million on a recall of taco shells and the genetically modified corn used in them. He pleads passionately for the refinement and widespread use of prenatal genetic testing. Watson will probably provoke the most controversy with his criticism of scientists, corporations and government funding sources for their avoidance of important areas of research-notably the genetics of skin coloration-for political reasons. Every reader who wants to understand their own medical future will want to read this book. 100 color and b&w illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375415467
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375415463
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 7.8 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Over all this is a very good book to read.
N. Mozahem
This is a fascinating scientific tale of life's history told by one of science's champions - Dr. Watson.
socrates
This book was a lot of fun to read and I really felt like I learned a lot after I finished.
Andrew Kendrick

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Eric P. Neff on May 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If you are interested in the science of genetics (What exactly is a gene? How does DNA work? How does genetic fingerprinting work? How do they do that?) then this book is for you. If, on the other hand, you are interested in the social implications of genetics (Is genetic profiling ethical? Should we be exploring gene therapy? Does genetic testing of fetuses promote abortion? What good is the human genome project?), then this book is ALSO for you.
Indeed, one might criticize this book for having an identity crisis as to whether it is about science or ethics. However, I have come to realize that in genetics, perhaps more than in any other discipline, science and social issues are inexorably linked. Even so, while I found the book fascinating from cover to cover (almost), I would have to say that it tends to be disjointed in places, leaping from subject to subject a little haphazardly. It is almost as if the writer was ticking off items on his "things to write about" list. As such, the book loses its cohesion from time to time. For example, a chapter on the early Soviet Union's biology program is wedged in between accounts of recent searches for pernicious genes and studies of twins.
But this is a minor point. Mr. Watson is not only a top notch scientist, he is an excellent writer. Although the chapter on Soviet biology left me scratching my head, it was amusing, interesting and well-written, as was the rest of the book. And for that, I can forgive a great deal. The proof is in the pudding. Over the last few days, I have engaged a number of colleagues, as well as my wife, in discussions on genetics issues and have found that this book has greatly enriched my understanding of the field and reinforced my interest in the subject.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Kendrick on March 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book was a lot of fun to read and I really felt like I learned a lot after I finished. The book talks about genetically modified food and how there was such an outcry by the public when it first came in to the market. People didn't want to eat "Frankestien food". He explains why many things people think are bad about recombinant DNA (putting the DNA of one organism into another) are just misconceptions and that there is more potential for good than bad when it comes to recombinant DNA.

The book did get a little boring for me when it came to the chapter on the human genome project though, but that was the only chapter that wasn't interesting to me.

Even people with a strong science schooling will learn things they did not know from this book. I am a third year biology major and learned a lot. There may be some parts that are difficult to understand if you haven't taken a few science classes, but the book is still worth reading.

If you are a religious person you might get upset by this book because Watson treats evolution as truth and bases quite a bit of reasoning on it. He doesn't try to hide the fact that he is an atheist, but does criticize the religious a little with his tone. (I personally am not religious.)
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Luttrell on September 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
James Watson's book, DNA: The Secret of Life, describes the history of DNA and genetics from a scientist who was an eyewitness to the revolutions in genetics. Watson helped discover the 3D structure of the double helix, and led out as a director of the Human Genome Project. There are three main aspects to this book: 1) the recent and on-going history of scientific discoveries in the exploration of genetics, 2) the mechanics of how things work (such as how DNA replicates or is cloned, or how genes are linked to diseases, etc.) and 3) the author's perspective of how life evolved.
Prior to the discovery of DNA, people have been playing around with heredity and the role of inheriting traits in breading animals and agriculture since the beginning of history. But with the developments of science, the study of genetics has brought more light to the subject. Watson talks about the people who contributed to the emerging field of genetics, from Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin, through the "eugenics" movement of the early 1900's, to the Human Genome Project. By telling the stories of the struggles in science, with the author's frankness, honesty and wit, Watson gains authority and authenticity in the presentation of his information. This book is illuminating and will arouse an interest in the subject of genetics in every reader.
My only personal problem with the book is that the author presents his opinions and perspectives within the text as if his opinions themselves were facts, while in truth there are many issues that are still debated. Watson starts with the founding assumption, or presupposition that life is the result of chance. He makes some unfounded assertions or conclusions that might have other alternate viewpoints.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on March 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Fifty years ago author and scientist James D. Watson helped launch an investigation into the phenomena of human DNA with publication of his now-famous "Double Helix" book: today he gives the first history of the genetic revolution from Mendel to human genome sequencing. Individual chapters consider the rise of molecular science, provide explanations of DNA processes and emerging new sciences surrounding genetics, and provides general-interest readers with a fine blend of science and social issues. This is an important survey and a "must" for school and community library Science and Biology collections.
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