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The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology, Commemorative Edition Expanded Edition

4.9 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0879694784
ISBN-10: 0879694785
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the foreword to this expanded edition of his 1979 masterpiece, Horace Freeland Judson says, "I feared I might seem the official historian of the movement"--molecular biology, that is. If by official he means "authoritative; definitive; the standard against which all others are measured" then his fears are warranted. Detailed without being overly technical, humane without being fulsome, The Eighth Day of Creation tells of molecular biology's search for the secret of life. "The drama has everything--exploration of the unknown; low comedy and urgent seriousness; savage competition, vaulting intelligence, abrupt changes of fortune, sudden understandings; eccentric and brilliant people, men of honor and of less than honor; a heroine, perhaps wronged; and a treasure to be achieved that was unique and transcendent." And in Judson this drama found its Shakespeare.

Review


"A historian has mused that the memory of man is too frail a thread on which to hang history; Judson's achievement, in drawing out the memories of so many participants in the epic of molecular biology and weaving them into a single robust skein, is magisterial. His work fittingly commemorates a golden age which already seems as remote as that of Darwin and Huxley."
Nature


"This reissue of a pioneering history of molecular biology, for some years out of print, is essentially a reprint of the first edition of 1979. Horace Judson has corrected a few minor errors (remarkably few for such a fact-filled book), given a sharper emphasis to Frederick Sangers' work on protein sequencing to reflect his (Judson's) conviction of its central importance, and added some personal details to a biographical sketch of Rosalind Franklin. Finally, an epilogue touches very briefly on developments in the 1970s that were the foundations for the subsequent vast expansion of molecular biologyEL. This epilogue obviously is not meant to bring Judson's original story up to the presentthat would take another large bookbut only to point readers to topics that Judson leaves for other historians to explore.

The Eighth Day of Creation has aged well, like a good vintage, and its very good to have it available again."
ISIS


"The revelations of modern biology make a remarkable human and scientific story, and it has never been told better than in Horace Freeland Judson's The Eighth Day of CreationEL. What is especially fortunate is that he is a graceful writer with a keen sense of the human as well as the scientific dramaEL. I finished the book with a great sense of elation and a deepened sense of admiration for what the human family, at its best, can accomplish." (Review of the First Edition)
JEREMY BERNSTEIN, New York Times Book Review


"In his massive, marvelous history of molecular biologyEL Judson introduces us to many fiendishly clever experiments, some fiercely competitive rivalries, and some of the greatest scientific minds ever to ponder the mysteries of biologyEL. He has talked with nearly everyone involved, and The Eighth Day of Creation is a unique oral history of a scientific revolution; to my knowledge there has been nothing else like it." (Review of the First Edition)
LEON GUSSOW, Chicago Tribune


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press; Expanded edition (January 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879694785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879694784
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 1.3 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Laub on June 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
Judson's book, like Tracy Kidder's "The Soul of a New
Machine", stands out for getting it: the passion, the
politics, and the personalities behind scientific
and technological progress, as well as its pitfalls and
cul de sacs. Judson's book, like no other I've read,
captures molecular biology as it is practiced.
I received this book as a gift in 1980 when I was a
college freshman hoping to major in biochemistry.
Today, much as I like to see the biomedical research I
do as a rational, deductive, "hypothesis-driven"
affair, there is unescapably the human element. Think
ego, and all of the other human qualities, respectable
or scorned. Have you seen genome sequencer J. Craig
Venter on the cover of Time (or was it Newsweek?). What
do you think put him there?
Science as a human endeavor was put forth theoretically
in 1962 by historian Thomas Kuhn in his "The Structure
of Scientific Revolutions". Complementing Kuhn, Judson
illustrates it in deliciously readable human terms. For
this reason this book is unmatched and is worth six,
not five, stars.
Max Perutz appears significantly in Judson's story. In
1990, as a beginning graduate student, I had the
priviledge of meeting and conversing with Perutz. He
was just as Judson portrayed him: modest, plodding,
dedicated, pursuing what he might learn from the
structure and properties of hemoglobin. Reading Judson
a decade earlier prepared me for this most important
meeting for me.
Though dated (the story stops about 1975), I heartily
recommend this book to anyone considering a career in
biomedical research. Judson successfully conveys the
human reality of that honorable profession. Some times
it hurts -- crystallographer Rosalind Franklin never
got her due -- but that's the state of the profession.
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Format: Paperback
A gripping drama with the biggest question of all, what is life? That's what "The Eighth Day of Creation" is, a historical drama capturing the characters, the challenges, the thrills and disappointment that makes science the compelling endeavor that it is. It's unfortunate that this book has not been made into what would be a great mini-series.

The brilliance of this book is that it investigates the people behind the science, and how they approach their problems. Some are matters of pure logic to deduce the results such as the deciphering of the genetic code, while others are pure perseverance such as coming up with the physical structure of myoglobin. But what makes the book powerful is that each discovery is a major accomplishment, but that it also uncovers the next question. And Judson follows the line of reasoning to answer the next question. It also explores the human side of science, the fierce faith that an answer exists and that they will find it. You get a flavor of science as it is practiced in James Watson's "The Double Helix" but you get the full meal here.

A warning, while the book goes to great lengths to explain the science, those lacking at least college biology may find the subject matter difficult to comprehend. More valuable for graduate students in any of the sciences, it is a complement to the facts by giving a perspective on how those facts are discovered.
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Format: Paperback
I loved this book. Before reading it, I had the rather naive view that Crick and Watson discovered the structure of DNA and suddenly "all was light". I hadn't realised the huge effort required over the next twenty years to attain an understanding of the linkages between that structure and the biological processes it codes for. Judson's book tells that story, in detail, and is written at a level that I could follow (as a layperson with a keen interest in science).
Judson talked to the researchers responsible for all the major developments in molecular biology, and quotes extensively from his interviews, so the reader gets a feel for the human side of the great adventure, the sense of community and the rivalries, the frustrations and dead ends as well as the victories.
Be warned that it is not a light or short read. It demands the reader's close attention. Fortunately, though, it is a pageturner that (with only minor exceptions) keeps the reader gripped.
It should also be noted that the first edition of the book was written in the early seventies and, while no doubt Freedland has updated it, the main narrative ends in about 1972. There is a final chapter on developments since then, but it is of necessity quite brief and touches on a limited number of highlights.
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Format: Paperback
I used to think "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder was unsurpassable in this genre. But the truth is, "The Eight Day of Creation" is far more ambitious, far more informative, far more amazing, and far more important. And it's also very beautifully written. What a great way for people to find out what the deepest truths are in biology, and how they were discovered!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Back in the 1990s, in my early 50s, I thought about shifting into genetic counseling, and took a series of undergraduate biology courses in preparation. A most exciting day was when, in the Cell and Molecular Biology lab, my lab partner and I isolated DNA. I felt as if I were walking on air! Later, writing up a lab report, I reread large chunks of The Eighth Day of Creation, to see that the various experiments we carried out in that lab replicated the pathway to understanding that had gone on in the 1950s and '60s.

I didn't make the move I was thinking about, but that course and the day we actually had a blob of DNA in our test tube, remains with me to this day. And this book put it all into context. Even today, it stands as a wonderful review of the process that resulted in a major "paradigm shift" (a la Kuhn) in biology. While The Double Helix is a fun, gossipy way to get into popular biology literature, The Eighth Day of Creation is where the real story is to be found.

Today, in the week of the bicentennial of Darwin's birth, I recommend this book as a great way to follow the thread from Darwin's deep insights of the mid-19th century to what we knew by the last 3rd of the 20th century. Obviously, the story continues from there, but the period covered by the book was seminal. And yes, some elementary biology is good background for reading it, but just as important is an interest in the social networks that underly an area of scientific endeavor. What Judson gives us is a picture of how the various scientists fed into each other's insights and experiment led into experiment. He's very good at describing important biological concepts -- readers with just a little biology under their belts will have no trouble following him.
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