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Nature's Robots: A History of Proteins (Oxford Paperbacks) 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0198606949
ISBN-10: 019860694X
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Editorial Reviews Review

Proteins make it possible for us to digest food, to battle disease, to breathe, to move; they underlie life itself. Only in the last 200 years have scientists come to understand how these proteins, or "foremost things," work. How they did so is the subject of this welcome history of protein science.

It doesn't diminish our pleasure in such things to know that the aroma coming from a cooked ham is generated by the reaction of maltose and glutamic acid, while the heavenly scent of chocolate comes from the interaction of phenylalaine and sucrose. Tanford and Reynolds aren't exactly given to rhapsodizing, but they write appreciatively nonetheless of advances such as Franz Hofmeister's identification of the "peptide bond" that joins amino acids in proteins, John Kendrew's work in understanding the three-dimensional structure of myoglobin, and the efforts of modern researchers who, joining protein science to cell biology and genetics, are now working to solve the structures of more than 10,000 protein families.

General readers and students with an interest in the life sciences will find this well-written history to be of much use--and the best of its kind. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


`Review from previous edition anyone interested in proteins will find Nature's Robots an absorbing and often exciting story, as well as a major contribution to scholarship.' Nature 17/01/02

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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019860694X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198606949
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.8 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,498,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bosco Ho on April 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book represents the very best kind of science writing: tart, concise, erudite and eclectically well informed. Granted, this book is not aimed at the average reader, you must have a fairly good working knowledge of protein chemistry. Indeed, the authors explicitly state that this book is meant for young researchers in the field of proteins (me): it can get very technical in places. The authors hope to plug a lacuna in the knowledge of proteins that is not taught in universities for very good reasons. History often makes the learning of new concepts difficult (although there are equally good reasons for teaching it - re. the Mach-Maxwell debate in the teaching of physics in Germany in the nineteenth century).
The authors have found the most marvellous materials - obscure researchers, long-forgotten debates, the wonder of discoveries as it was felt at the time. Indeed, what makes the book come alive is that discoveries are described in the context that they were made - both in terms of alternatives and the fractious infighting they sometimes engendered. Here, an appreciation of the technical details is an absolute must to truly appreciate the writing.
Historical context is judiciously included. When it is necessary, for instance, to understand how certain labs came into prominence or how ideas criss-crossed the globe. However, historical context is not slavishly used to structure the book. Some discoveries logically engender other discoveries. Too much focus on the historical context would lose the thread of the ideas. There are some of the most delicately rendered biographies, although thankfully, these are only kept at a minimum, a couple of paragraphs or so - after all, most scientists are not that interesting as people.
Finally, the authors have held no punches.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
People who say that History of Science is boring haven't read this excellent book. This book is lively, entertaining and unbiased. While you can find dozens of accounts of the history of chemistry or physics, protein biochemistry has been overlooked for way too long. It was worth the wait though! As the proud owner of some of the material cited in this book (particularly on the history of enzymes), I had a blast reading "Nature's Robots". Read it and then go out and buy "Mendeleyeff's dream", they complement each other beautifully
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Spoering on March 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This volume concerns itself with the nature of proteins, from early crystallization and spectroscopy studies to the debate between whether proteins are colloids or macromolecules, and the discovery of the peptide bond. Methods of analysis are discussed in regards to their historical context, and many researchers are given due credit in their various efforts, some counter-productive. Much of the text is given to protein structure and folding and how research has illuminated these areas. There are also chapters on physiological functions and how proteins are synthesized and the discovery of DNA and it's significance, all in historical review.
Current protein research is briefly mentioned, and there are many references cited throughout the volume. This book is primarily targeted to chemists although anyone with an interest in protein science could read it. I personally thought this book was very informative.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Duncan on July 13, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book eight years ago, but I never got around to reading it until now. I don't remember why I didn't read it, but it may have had something to do with the title, which I don't like because I don't think of proteins as robots. That is hardly a good reason, but anyway it was my loss, because it is a fascinating book (if you're interested in proteins) that sheds a great deal of light on the development of our knowledge and understanding of proteins. The authors recognize that the word "robots" won't be to everyone's taste, but they defend its use.

They start with the recognition that proteins exist, and the difficulties that many chemists had in accepting that well defined molecules could be as large as protein molecules are. From there they proceed to the recognition that enzymes are proteins (rather than, say, contaminants of the "real" enzymes), the gradual -- though in its later stages incredibly rapid -- understanding of their chemical and three-dimensional structures, followed by understanding of how these structures are encoded in and translated from genes.

Their treatment is largely what I think is called Whig history: they present the story as an almost continuous progress towards enlightenment. Historians don't like that approach, but I think most scientists do, as they do see their subjects as progressions from ignorance to knowledge and understanding. In this case it results in a far more readable and entertaining account of the history of proteins than what Joseph Fruton provides in Proteins, Enzymes, Genes, though that can be regarded as a more scholarly book.
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