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A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 18, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, October 18, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A great deal has been written about Venter as the head of Celera, the private research company that won a race with the National Institutes of Health's Human Genome Project to sequence the human genome. His role in this historic accomplishment has been both vilified and praised. Now, in a clumsily written autobiography, Venter offers his side of the story, portraying himself as the eternal underdog, fighting for truth and attempting to make scientific discoveries solely to help others. He is opposed in this struggle by a cadre of scientists out to advance their own careers, by a federal bureaucracy incapable of rationally using public funds to promote scientific advances and by the heads of corporations willing to do almost anything to make money. Venter accuses all of the big players—the Human Genome Project's Frances Collins and Nobel laureate James Watson, among many others—of outright dishonesty. Ignore the hyperbole and be skeptical of the accusations, but there's still a terribly depressing story about the politics of big science. Venter also attempts to contextualize the controversy swirling around the patenting of DNA sequences. Despite the lack of unbiased insight, this is well worth reading for the fascinating perspective it offers on one of the major scientific discoveries of all time. (Oct. 22)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


“With Venter, there must always be something new swelling on the horizon . . . he alone is taking the measure of life’s true diversity and dreaming up new life-forms at the same time.”

“[Venter is] not just trying to understand how life works; he’s trying to make it work for him, and us.”
The Atlantic Monthly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (October 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670063584
  • ASIN: B001BSQN4C
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,658,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read The Genome War, I had preordered Venter's own story. I was not disappointed. The Publisher's Weekly review sniffs that it is "clumsily written." I would attribute that opinion to one of two possibilities. Either the reviewer never got beyond the early chapters about his childhood, which are marred by cliche and some amateurish prose, or the reviewer does not know enough biology to understand the rest. Once past the early biography, the rest of the book is riveting. I would warn those considering it that a reasonable knowledge of biology and genetics is almost a requirement to enjoy the story. I teach medical students and have studied molecular biology (unknown when I was a medical student) and it taxed my knowledge to the limit to understand his accomplishments. Still, the book reminds me a bit of "Science Fictions," the account of the discovery of the AIDS virus, which pulled no punches in naming villains and fakers. Venter is settling a few scores but, having read the other book, I am inclined to accept his version of the story. Biology research is not beanbag, to paraphase an old aphorism, especially when the stakes are high. There are titanic egos in this story, not just that of the author. If you like biology and genetics and want to read about the biggest big game hunt in biological science history, this is a good place to start.

The best part of the story begins as he returns from Vietnam, a near failure in high school, now stimulated by his experiences as a corpsman to study and go to medical school. He has married a New Zealand girl he met on R&R in Australia. They both go to UCSD once they have mastered junior college. Here he becomes interested in biochemistry, then cell biology.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a memoir by the scientist whose team was the first to map the human genome - and handily beat the federal government at the task with less funding and time. Unfortunately, the latter half of the book is less about science than the politics and business around it. Not only do scientists at Venter's level have to cozy up to venture capitalists, Congresspersons, and Presidents (and get courted and used by them in turn), but there's a lot of self-promotion and jockeying for position between and among colleagues.

Venter doesn't sound particularly bitter about petty, two-faced, and undermining peers (there are plenty) and their apparently dishonorable behavior, but he clearly gets back his own with this book. Thus, the greatest scientific achievement of Venter's life reads less compellingly than the more quotidian aspects of his earlier life and career: playing chicken with trains as a kid, racing jets with a bicycle as they lifted off from San Francisco Airport, and the lessons of the "University of Death" that was Vietnam, where Venter served as a medic at Da Nang navy hospital.

Venter's descriptions of the science he pursues assume a fair amount of knowledge on the part of the reader, and may be tough for the lay reader to follow, but are always thankfully short. Sailors may enjoy the accounts of his escapes to the ocean, handily winning a trans-Atlantic race and fighting a storm in the Bermuda Triangle. One of the stronger features of the book are boxes set off from the narrative that describe various details of Venter's own genetic code in relation to the latest findings about inheritance, disease, and how genes express themselves in our bodies and lives.
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By DF on January 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Knowing Craig and having had worked at Celera, I was eager to learn more of the details of Craig's early career which I knew only in general strokes. However, also knowing Craig, I was also inclined to take his portrayal with a grain of salt. In this spirit, I would strongly recommend this book as a gripping tale of remarkable success, intrigue, and adventure, as told through the eyes of one of the greatest egomaniacs ever.

The book does wander a bit through Craig's earliest years and the strongest material coincides with the formation of TIGR, Celera, and the JCVI. I can vouch for many of the stories and perspectives from the Celera years, having heard, directly or indirectly, of the events at the time. The interludes about Craig's genome are fascinating, and the science is presented with enough explanation and metaphor that it should be easy to grasp for the non-expert.

However, as much as Craig "sets the record straight", or grinds axes depending on your perspective, his ego tinges the entire book and regrettably diminishes its credibility. It's simply hard to believe a man, who in his own account, was always right, never showed a shred of self-doubt, and never made a mistake beyond trusting the incompetents and villains surrounding him.

Craig also spends his time railing against commercial science and business people, claiming that he never had any aspirations to make money---although he made plenty---and feuded constantly with those that did. Although this seems superficially noble, it does make we wonder at his motives to request tens and hundreds of millions of dollars from venture capitalists if he truly never intended to repay those investments.
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