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Of Molecules and Men (Life Science (Great Minds)) [Paperback]

Francis Crick

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Book Description

20 Jun 2004 Life Science (Great Minds)
There is probably no one who has a deeper understanding of life s biochemical basis than Sir Francis Crick. In 1962, he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine, along with J. D. Watson and M. H. F. Wilkins, for breakthrough studies on the molecular structure of DNA. Just four years later he published this collection of popular lectures in which he explained the importance of this discovery in layperson s terms and emphasized its wide-reaching implications. Though written forty years ago, this succinct, lucid explication of the scientific facts remains the perfect primer for the lay reader curious about the ongoing biological revolution and is amazingly prescient in light of recent developments.
Beginning with a critique of "vitalism," the notion that an intangible life force beyond the grasp of biology distinguishes living organisms from inanimate things, Crick argues that in all likelihood the complex mechanisms of DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis fully explain the phenomenon of life. While admitting that many details are uncertain and much remains unknown about the origins of life, he nonetheless maintains that chance mutations over time, in conjunction with the law of natural selection, offer the most rational explanation of the evolution of life on earth from inorganic precursors. Although few speak of vitalism today, the controversy that Crick addresses is still with us in the form of intelligent design, which suggests that biochemistry and evolution alone do not sufficiently explain the uniqueness of life.
In his second lecture Crick explores the borderline between the organic and inorganic, presenting an elegantly clear description of DNA s basic structure and function in relation to RNA and myriad enzymes.
In the final lecture, "The Prospect Before Us," he anticipates events and trends that have in fact come to pass in the past four decades: the increasing use of computer technology and robotics in mind-brain research, explorations into right-side vs. left-side uses of the brain, controversies surrounding the existence of the soul, the dead end of ESP investigations, and above all the daunting challenges of explaining consciousness in completely scientific terms.
Of Molecules and Men is a fascinating, still-very-relevant discussion of many crucially important issues in life science.

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Of Molecules and Men (Life Science (Great Minds)) + What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (Sloan Foundation science series) + The Astonishing Hypothesis : The Scientific Search for the Soul
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touring Biology's Path to the Gene 18 Jan 2008
By Mr. E. T. Dell Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Sir Francis Crick provides a clear, compact exploration of the shape, size, and significance of the gene, the molecular basis of all life. He begins his discussion asking for a definition of aliveness. Then he traces clearly the path to our present knowledge of how the gene is structured and points out that its existence is totally a product of Darwinian evolution. This means that the gene is not the product of a prior plan, but results from a series of accidents. He also believes that most of the elements making up the gene can either now, or soon will, synthesize genes.
He describes the position of several scientists who posit an invisible, purposeful substance or influence which cause life to exist within the gene, called vitalism. He is highly critical of this position as being based on wishful thinking, or an attempt to support a theological assumption.
Crick is a partner in the Watson-Crick team who first described the structure of the gene in the 1950s. Watson wrote a very controversial account of the "race" to discover the gene's structure in his book "The Double Helix."
"Of Molecules and Men" is a delightful read, elegant, sparce, and by a genuine authority. Itis a surprisingly brief and informative examination of what the gene is which is enlightening for any reader.
E.T. Dell, Jr. Peterborough, NH
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