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on 11 June 2003
The authors state in the introduction "We have tried to write for a general audience, intending that someone with zero biological knowledge should be able to understand the book's every word." Hmmmm, really? But to be fair, it would be unreasonable to expect a book subtitled "The Secret of Life" to be an easy read - and it isn't. But if ever there was a book worth sweating blood over to understand, this is it!
The science outlined in this book - which I will not attempt to precis! - is at times both mind-boggling and mind-blowing. But some of the stories of how the scientists involved made these remarkable discoveries are almost as fascinating as the discoveries themselves. There are clearly some towering intellects working in this field. And in view of the fact that genes are apparently implicated to some extent in all causes of mortality except accidents (P166), this is no bad thing.
From the literary point of view, this is an extremely well written book, characterised by wit, humour, compassion, enthusiasm, and - in some instances (eg on the subject of "genome profiteers") - a good deal of warranted vituperation. The book also seems in part to have been used as a vehicle for the settling of some old scores - always amusing to the disinterested reader!
But why no glossary? There is a bewildering mass of new terminology for the general reader to absorb - eg messenger RNA, transfer RNA, bacteriophages, restriction enzymes, repressor molecules, ribosomes, RNA polymerase, reverse transcriptase, etc - and although it's possible to keep reminding oneself of the meaning of these esoteric terms by use of the index, this is a bit of an imposition.
In addition to the main theme of the book there are chapters covering eugenics and the early theories of genetic inheritance, the biotechnology industry, GM foods, human evolution, DNA fingerprinting, the genetics of human diseases, the treatment and prevention of genetic disorders, and the nature versus nurture debate. There are many sociological, ethical and political questions raised here, and these issues get as much - if not more - attention than the hard science.
Mr Watson - whose book it clearly is - is obviously a man of strong opinions, and he is not afraid of expressing himself in a manner that is likely to cause hackles to rise in certain quarters.
For example, on the subject of GM food he writes: "Let me be utterly plain in stating my belief that it is nothing less than an absurdity to deprive ourselves of the benefits of GM foods by demonizing them; and, with the need for them so great in the developing world, it is nothing less than a crime to be governed by the irrational suppositions of Prince Charles and others" (P163). And regarding stem-cell therapy, we have: "Polls consistently show that the majority of Americans favour research using embryonic stem cells, and yet politicians continue to pander to the outspoken religious minority that is hampering efforts to develop this potentially valuable technology" (P348).
But pulling these quotes out of context is a little unfair, because all of his views are closely argued.
The main author makes several references to his atheism, and describes one of his former colleagues as a member of a rare species, being a devoutly religious scientist. It would certainly be possible to read - and understand - this book and still come away with a belief in some sort of a God. For example at the announcement of the first draft of the human genome, that devout Christian Bill Clinton declared "Today, we are learning the language in which God created life..." But the inference drawn in Chapter 8 that life probably originated as bacteria some 3.5 billion years ago, would seem to imply that if God exists, he must have a strong laissez-faire bias.
However, despite the book's firm support for Darwinian evolution, it's not all bad news for those choosing to believe in the Biblical account: In Chapter 9 it's explained that molecular studies have shown that Jews and Arabs are genetically virtually indistinguishable, which is consistent with the Biblical contention that both peoples are the children of Abraham (same father, different mothers).
It would be a great pity if this book suffered the same fate as Hawking's "A Brief History of Time": a book that everybody bought, but nobody read. Don't buy this book just to stick on your coffee-table to impress your friends. Read it...and then read it again!
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on 8 April 2013
Great book, excellent introduction to the exciting world of DNA, written in a way that's easy to follow. Would recommend to anyone who wants to know more about DNA and cell biology (or who wants to refresh their knowledge!).
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on 23 June 2011
Everyone can and should read this book it's not too complex for the average person to understand. For example we expect a jury in a criminal trial, to assess and understand complex forensic DNA evidence. The size of the target particle that is used in police forensic PCR tests (polymerase chain reaction) is so small that it would be invisible to the naked eye and would float in front of your face in thin air. Dr Watson explains how police forensic scientists can extract, "a full copy" of a suspect's DNA from such a tiny sample. PCR amplifies the original sample in a chain reaction.

The explanation of how the RNA with it's extra letter "U" is a single strand structure and not a double helix. This RNA imformation in one sited example is exported from one part of a cell, to another department in that cell, where a kind of biological typewriter, types up the letters to make the protein haemoglobin, hey, this is fascinating stuff. The inner world of the living cell is a miracle.

Yet these DNA miracles take place inside the trillions and trillions of cells inside our bodies every second of the day. Another fact to emerge from the book is that a full copy of our entire DNA record is kept inside each and every one of our trillions of cells.

This book should make you think about how complex life is. This book will expand your awareness and consciousness exponentially in all directions and lead you on to many other new lines of research on Youtube and Google..

This book discloses truly amazing facts. Like that, living celsl read the DNA code three letters at a time, not four, or two letters, but three. The book documents the path that led to Watson and Crick to triumphantly propose that the DNA molecule had a double helix structure. That was way back in April 1953.

Their proposed structure was published in the scientific journal Nature 25 April 1953. Life's secret library was found using x-ray photos, taken looking down and through the DNA molecule's spiral structure. The photos show a flat 2D shadow puzzle from which they jointly worked out the structure of DNA was a double helix.

The x-ray photos were taken by Maurice Wilkins, and, Rosaline Franklin. Yet only Wilkins shared the Nobel prize with Watson and Crick. The bio-tech industry has had a lot of bad press over the years, Much of it seems to be the press and the media pedalling fear, to sell more newspapers. Dr Watson in his book also deals with the religious hysteria surrounding emotive terms like "Frankenstein foods" and "playing God".

Methodically, Dr Watson gives a strong reasoned argument as to why these fears are irrational and exaggerated. The book attempts to calm fears by balancing the risks of bio-tech with the rewards. Dr Watson tells the reader about some amazing success stories like that of Gentech corporation in the United States. Started by partners Cohen and Boyer each investing just $500 in 1976.

The book tells us that Gentech wanted to use the new technology to make useful proteins that they could sell. They inserted the DNA that codes for insulin into a bacteria, then the bacteria multiplies and "bosh" you have masses of GM manufactured insulin. Brilliant. Why is this great story not taught in all schools ?

Dr Watson explains that before Gentech invented genetically manufactured insulin, it came from pigs and cows. This pig insulin was often rejected by the human immune system, (The book goes into more detail, but I found this chapter very interesting ).

Dr Watson in his book expands the debate about patenting genetically modified organisms. Dr Watson clearly has some reservations about how we patent GM inventions. The issue is how do companies recover their R&D costs ? The book debates this issue.

Dr Watson brilliantly details with example cases, how the American patent law's defines the word "obvious", as what is "obvious" to the man in the street. The British patent law, has a much more restrictive definition of the same word, resulting in the patenting bar that has to be jumped in the UK being much higher than in the United States. (more on this in the book)

In the UK obvious is defined as what is obvious to an "expert in that field". So it is much easier to get a patent in America for your new GMO that in the UK. No wonder the United States is the richest country in the world.

Please approach this book with an open mind all Dr Watson is saying is, let's make new GM bio fuel, find, understand and stop genetic diseases. To do this we need to invest more in bio-tech.

Dr Watson claims we can't ignore just GM foods. Before reading this book was against GM food, now I think Dr Watson is right. you must read his argument before you decide.

Dr Watson advocates proceeding with extreme caution and he states clearly in this book that a large part of any R&D budget should go into the examination of the ethical and bio-safety implications of a newly proposed GM products or procedures. Dr Watson has tried very hard to educate the angry mob with this book. After reading the book, I ask myself what offence will it be to God, if man makes GM insulin ? Would God say no, continue harvesting it from pigs ? The God won't like it, argument is daft. Or a GM fish that can convert more of it's, low grade food into higher quality food that we can eat ? The prejudice against GMO's need to be addressed in schools and in the media.

A lot of work has gone into this book hense the price, all the many references, credits and the index are perfectly done. I have the book in hard back copy. (my copy was kindly signed but James D Watson). I now have my Amazon kindle edition for quick reference. I use my Kindle, to read bits of this book back to me, over and over again, in text to speech mode. this is a very useful feature. I love this book. It's highly recommended.

17 June 2011 Paul Kendall (Leeds UK)

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on 16 May 2013
Absolutely fascinating! Though sometimes quite difficult to understand, I often have to re-read passages to get the full meaning (I have an A a gcse biology). It is suitable for someone with a minimal biological background, although it does assume some knowledge. As a previous reviewer mentions, a glossary would be very useful for quick reference!

In conclusion, If DNA is something you are interested by, where better to start that a Nobel Prize winners overview?
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on 13 October 2015
This book offers a very good introduction into the history and evolution of Biology and Genetics. The fact that its author is one of the men who discovered the structure of the DNA is initself an advatage. The book is fast paced, and does not become tiresome. Most useful as an introduction in the marvelous world of Molecular Biology, but also as a quick glance in many topics. Definitely recommended
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on 5 April 2005
I bought this thinking I might read a chapter or so but found myself unable to put it down. It is really well written and keeps your attention. The colour plates add more interest.
Each chapter deals with a different aspect of DNA. I learnt so much by reading it and have recommended it to everyone I know.
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on 3 March 2016
I love this book but has a lot of reading to do on it. What I have read so far is interesting. However would recommend it. Thank you.
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on 28 October 2015
Provides very detailed pictures and is actually a very interesting book, it especiall helps with my a level course
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on 12 April 2016
I would recommend this book to anyone who has a serious interest in DNA.
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on 25 January 2012
The book of Crick and Watson's journey to solving the DNA mystery.
A good full account, but still readable by the layman,with a curiosity about genetics,
and a desire to have some understanding of this increasingly important branch of Biology, which is
increasingly impacting on the lives of us all, and holds exciting prospects for our future.
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