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What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery [Paperback]

by Francis Crick
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 10, 1990 0465091385 978-0465091386
Candid, provocative, and disarming, this is the widely-praised memoir of the co-discoverer of the double helix of DNA.

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What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery + Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA + The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Crick's co-discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA (for which he shared a Nobel Prize with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins) was a maddening pursuit beset with false ideas, sloppy models, inconclusive results and fiascos. This will not come as news to readers of Watson's 1968 bestseller The Double Helix. Part memoir, part scientific primer, Crick's gracefully written reminiscence is more concerned with elucidating the intuitive leaps, feats of intellectual courage and perceptual skills that underlie the act of scientific discovery. Writing about his own career with uncommon modesty, he describes his current research into human consciousness and neuroanatomy; brain science of the 1980s, he concludes, is much like molecular biology of the '30s: the major questions remain largely unanswered. One wishes Crick were less reticent about his personal life. His occasional technical forays here into natural selection, the deciphering of the genetic code and theories of perception illuminate how science works. Illustrations.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA Crick and Jim Watson received the 1962 Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule. Here, Crick details his early training as a physicist; explains how he came to be at Cambridge studying X-ray crystallography; and shows his great respect for other scientists such as Linus Pauling, Sir Lawrence Bragg, Max Perutz, and Sidney Brenner. The writing is clear and straightforward, even when the renderings become technical. The appendixes elaborate further on the detailed biochemistry of the subject. Crick relates both the problems and the successes that he and Watson incurred in their "mad pursuit" of the mysteries within the DNA molecule. He concludes this volume with a discussion of his work at the Salk Institute in California. A shorter version of Crick's life and work appears in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards' Passion for Science (Oxford, 1988), but the longer version will be of interest to more persistent students.Robyn Cook Schuster, Episcopal High School, Bellaire, Tex.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (July 10, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465091385
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465091386
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insights from a great scientist August 17, 2002
At first, I was reluctant about reading this book. What on earth could Francis Crick add to the story of the discovery of the double helix, that had not yet been told by his colleague, James Watson, in his famous book "The Double Helix"? A lot, as it turns out. In fact, the two books rarely overlap. Whereas Watson's book mainly relates his experiences as they worked their way towards discovery, Crick does what he does best: making comments. Also, Crick's book doesn't stop at the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, as Watson's book does, but continues with the cracking of the genetic code.
Crick's book was written twenty years after Watson's book, and it shows. Watson's book contains a fresh story, the raw material out of which history is shaped. Crick's tale is a digested one: written after all the confusion of the moment had cleared up.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful

THIS book, by Dr. Francis Crick (June 1916 to July 2004), is partly an autobiography and partly a science book. As for the science part, Crick elaborates:

"I have written [this book] both for my fellow scientists and for the general public [and] believe a [non-scientist] can easily understand most of what I discuss...My advice to the reader, should he or she become stuck in...a [difficult, scientific] passage, is either to persevere or to skip to the next chapter. Most of the book is fairly easy. Don't give up hope just because a few paragraphs seem a little hard to follow."

What, then, is the purpose of this book? Crick tells the reader:

"The main purpose of this book is to set out some of my experiences before and during the classical period of molecular biology, which stretched from the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953 till about 1966 when the genetic code...was finally elucidated."

(Molecular biology is a branch of biology that studies the chemical and physical principles associated with the composition, properties, and activities of molecules in living cells. The genetic code is the dictionary relating the nucleic acid {such as DNA and RNA} language to the protein language.)

Crick achieves his purpose admirably! He gives us an overview of his main, personal experiences and reveals his thoughts at each period in his life. I especially enjoyed his chapter entitled "The Gossip Test" and his memories about the "RNA Tie Club."

I found the science part especially well done. He explains the science that led up to the discovery of DNA's structure but goes beyond this, explaining such things as the different types of RNA, protein structure, the genetic code, and theory in molecular biology.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and provocative August 19, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have been intrigued with Francis Crick after reading James Watson's "The Double Helix." Crick, with his non-stop talk and his booming laugh stepped out of those pages as a very unique personality as well as a unique scientist. Crick almost seems to have emerged a full-blown scientist like Athena from the head of Zeus. He was incredibly knowledgeable even as a somewhat elderly (over thirty) graduate student. In "Mad Pursuit" Dr. Crick takes your thumb and firmly imbeds it into the scientific pie In order to understand the background necessary to fathom the depths of the physical and three dimensional aspect of DNA, an understanding of crystal diffraction is necessary. Crick makes sure you're with him as he explains.

The atoms of a crystal cause an X ray beam to diffract into many specific directions, creating "spots." The resulting pattern can tell the expert the atoms present in that particular molecule and how they are arranged. DNA is relatively simple with the four bases, adenine paired with thymine, cytosine with guanine. Whatever the sequence on one helix strand, the other has to have the complementary sequence: always C with G and A with T. Crick says the relatively simple arrangement of only four bases was necessary for life to get established in the new universe, the simpler the better for achieving success.

The chapter called "How to live with a Golden Helix" is my favorite as Crick puts his spin on the famous events surrounding the phenomenal break through. He says that it it is DNA itself, not the scientists who are glamorous, although one could argue this point. Perhaps the crux of the discussion is Crick's take on Rosalind Franklin and the feud between her and Maurice Wilkins at King's College, London.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Read! May 19, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Easy to read book, with a great scientific story!
Parallels James Watson's The Double Helix almost perfectly with a new side of the discovery
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars many lessons to teach on avoiding error in science March 2, 2013
As much as I enjoyed the recap of Francis Crick's and James Watson's unravelling of the structure of DNA I focussed on the wisdom of his musings about the attempted avoidance of error. Excerpts are quoted below:

Page 16 "I've known a lot of people more stupid than you who have made a success of it."

P 24 "Even a cursory look at the world of living things shows its immense variety."
"The second property of almost all living things is their complexity."

P59 "The failure on the part of my colleagues to discover the alpha helix made a deep impression on Jim Watson and me. Because of it I argued that it was important not to place too much reliance on any single piece of experimental evidence. It might turn out to be misleading".

"Jim was a little more brash, stating that no good model ever accounted for all the facts, since some data was bound to be misleading if not plain wrong. A theory that did fit all the data would have been 'carpentered' to do this and would thus be open to suspicion."

p65 "Our first attempt at a model was a fiasco".

P67 "What was important was not the way it was discovered but the object discovered - the structure of DNA itself. You can see this by comparing it with almost any other scientific discovery. Misleading data, false ideas, problems of personal relationships occur in much if not all scientific work."

P70 "In solving scientific problems of this type, it is almost impossible to avoid falling into error."
"Now, to obtain the correct solution to a problem, usually requires a sequence of logical steps. If one of these is a mistake, the answer is often hidden, since the error usually puts one completely on the wrong track.
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