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The Century of the Gene

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674008250
ISBN-10: 0674008251
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Editorial Reviews Review

We've been under the spell of DNA for too long. Science historian and MacArthur Fellow Evelyn Fox Keller makes the case for radically new thinking about the nature of heredity in The Century of the Gene. This short, magisterial treatise examines 100 years of genetic thinking and finds outdated elements of Victorian beliefs still permeating our scientific writing. Despite compelling evidence that cytoplasmic and other nonchromosomal factors play important roles in development and even in the inheritance of traits, most discussion still relies on the master-slave (or manager-worker) relationship between the nucleus and the cell. Keller wants to move on; her proximate goal is to proceed from talking about genes to talking about genetic talk, the better to understand our biases. Her excitement at developments such as the Human Genome Project, despite her initial doubts, is only heightened by the prospect of vast stretches of uncharted intellectual territory. Ultimately, of course, her program matches that of the scientific enterprise--to more fully understand ourselves and our world. What comes after The Century of the Gene? It's an excellent question, and one that can only be answered once we leave behind the baggage of the past. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A former MacArthur fellow and a professor of history and philosophy of science at MIT, Keller (Keywords in Evolutionary Biology) tackles the contemporary revolution in genetic science. Although originally a critic of the Human Genome Project (the effort to sequence the entire human genome), Keller doesn't dismiss it out of hand anymore. "What is most impressive to me," she writes, "is not so much the ways in which the genome project has fulfilled our expectations but the ways in which it has transformed them." In this tight, clearly written survey, Keller does a wonderful job of explaining and demonstrating how our knowledge of genetics has accumulated to the extent that we can fathom what we don't understand. In her articulate and insightful, if abbreviated, history of genetics and molecular biology, she suggests that most of our common assumptions about genes are either too simplistic or simply incorrect. It turns out, for example, that a single functioning gene may be split and found in several locations on a chromosome, and it's rare that a gene can be determined to have caused any particular trait, characteristic or behavior. Keller argues that scientists have gained a great deal by refocusing their attention from individual genes to the concept of an integrated genetic program. Keller's ideas are provocative, and she is interested in contributing to a popular discussion about the politics of genetic research, but because she skips a lot of the scientific basics, the general reader won't be able to grasp all of her points. Even so, her reputation as a scholar of genetics means this will appeal primarily to hard-core biology/genetics devotees. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674008251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674008250
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #457,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Greg Nigh on October 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It is quite telling that shortly after this book's release, the scientific community was humbled by the relevation that the human genome is made up of about 1/3 the number of genes previously thought. Keller deconstructs the very notion of a thing called a gene, and instead presents to us a molecular world where vast networks of processs interact to produce the phenomena convenionally attributed to genes.
Even better, she presents her critique within a historical context that allows the reader to see how the current myopic model of gene primacy came to be, and how information conflicting with that model has very gradually moved from the periphery toward the center of mainstream genetics research.
Overall, I found the book to be well-written and sobering with respect to the parade of biological and behavioral attributes and conditions attributed to these things called genes.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on June 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
An interesting capsule view of the history of genetics and a penetrating discussion of the gene myth as it emerged, persisted, and then foundered in a more complex reality. The exploding field of genomics, and bioinformatics has left our perceptions a decade behind, and we are only beginning to 'come to' and realize we are in a different world of biology. Gene regulation, and the evolution of evolvability have to a large extent confounded one aspect of the standard Darwinian view, and we are confronted by a new bio-computational reality that leaves even our sense of the computer on the junk heap of primitive machines. A good reality check but the passage into the new worlds of DNA should induce courage to state the obvious inadequacy of Darwin's natural selection. Darwin seems incongruous at this point.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. B. Nigh on December 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
An excellent introduction to its subject. The book provides a clear explanation of the idea of the gene and how genes "work". I particularly like the focus on the history of genetics, showing how the research inspired by the fruitful idea of the 'gene' leads us to the conclusion that the very concept has outlived its time. The importance of issues involving genetics--biotechnology, explanations of 'genetic' differences among people, patents on life forms, etc.--require the average citizen to make a little effort to understand the science involved. This book provides a good introduction to those issues and to some of the complexities. For example, if genes don't exist, then what are private companies trying to patent? The book is a short, accessible window on some of these questions.
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By N. Sankaran on August 28, 2013
Format: Paperback
This book has a place in the nerd compartment of my heart because it was the subject of my first ever academic publication. Granted it was only a book review that I published, but I was a lowly graduate student at the time. For what its worth, here's the full text of the published review, which appeared in the "Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences," way back when in 2001. Self promotion, one might say. Well perhaps, but at least it's a freebie - no hidden agenda to ask anyone to read my book.

The full citation is: Sankaran, N. (2002). Review: The Century of the Gene. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 57(1), 106-108.

Those who have read books by Evelyn Fox Keller may have already
noticed her engagement with the issue of the interrelationships between
language and science. These interrelationships have formed the context for
her discussions of a wide variety of topics, including scientific biography,
the role of gender in science, evolution, and molecular biology. In The
Century of the Gene she turns to language once again, this time to analyze
the meaning of the word "gene" through the twentieth century, not only
to explain key concepts but also to illuminate important problems in the
field of genetics and molecular biology.

Timed to appear shortly after the publication of the first draft of the
Human Genome Project, Keller's stated aim in this book is to "celebrate
the surprising effects that the successes of the [genome] project have had
on biological thought" (p.5).
Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition
This book reveals a sophisticated understanding of how scientists come up with formal explanations and definitions. Inevitably, as the technologies and observations progress, yesterday's concepts become outmoded and, eventually, restrictive. Evelyn Fox Keller explains how this progression occurred (and still takes place) in our understanding of biological inheritance. She displays a fine sense of the motivations behind pre-DNA theoretical postulates that no longer make sense in light of modern sequence data. Altogether, a splendid account of the gene theory, its problems, and indications of where new concepts are likely to arise.
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