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on 1 January 2008
Perhaps I'm being unkind but Craig is one of those people whose every life experience somehow has to surpass those of anyone else, you know the sort, his story always tops yours, his anecdote is always the ultimate. He's done it faster, bigger and better than you. But that's my only complaint - this is a fascinating biography set in the fast growing field
of molecular biology and it must be well written because it held my attention despite my complete ignorance of biology, molecular or otherwise. Of course its all about Craig and the essential point is that he pioneered the full sequencing/reading of a human genome (program code). Hithertoo I had the impression that Craig was an unscrupulous villain tryng to steal the secrets of our DNA and lock them up for profit. This book sets the record straight. Craig has been sinned against - on the one hand by greedy capitalists who sought to exploit him - and on the other by petty bureaucrats abetted by jealous academics who sought to stiffle him or steal his laurels. No wonder Craig has to pop off on his latest yacht every now and again and have a larger scale man v. nature adventure - but you can skip his yacht excursions without compromising the rest of the book. Finally, I'm sorry to say that Big Jim Watson doesn't emerge very well from this tale. I've long harboured (Cold Spring Harbour ?) a fond image of Watson and Crick rushing into the Eagle that famous Saturday lunchtime in January 1953 and woofing back pints of Abbott to celebrate discovering the meaning of life - and no one in the pub knew what they were talking about! Now my image is a bit dashed, as the "father" of DNA, Jim was no help to Craig's decodering endevours at all - it looks like he was obstructive and possibly devious. Another hero struck off. Good job Craig can take his place. This book is about Craig and molecular biology so far - his next book is going to be about the future. Bring it on !
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on 24 November 2007
Although essentially a biography of Craig Venter, the book is more than this. It is an up-to-date account of the very latest developments in genomic science. The book is also one side of the somewhat accrimonious dispute regarding the ownership of the human genome. Venter, the enfent-terrible of science, gives a detailed and exciting blow by blow account of the race to sequence the human genome. On one side the entrepreneurs and on the other side the government sponsored consortium determined to keep the genome in the public domaine. Although primarily a book for the initiated, this is a fast-moving thriller written by a born story-teller. At times the science is challenging for those without prior knowledge or interest in the field. Throughout however, there is Venter at the sharp-end of science continually pressing forward with new ideas, breaking all the existing rules and inventing new ones as he goes. Throughout the book there are clever references on the side, to various genes from Venters own genome which he has sequenced. Venter gives a description of the relevant gene and the implications of the particular genetic variant in terms of his future health. This is in itself unique.

Venter is a man driven, both in the laboratory and behind the wheel of his expensive yachts which he sails with a passion. There is only one thought in Venter's mind- success at any price. This book is a must for anyone wanting a current perspective of genomic science written by one of the leaders in the field.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 December 2008
J. Craig Venter says he is one of the "leading scientists of the 21st century," and he is. Venter is a brilliant visionary and pioneer in genomic research. He was first to decode the full DNA of a living organism, the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae. Later, Venter moved up significantly in scientific class by completing the DNA sequence of the human genome. Feverishly ambitious, he is now researching ocean genomes in hopes of finding new fuel sources and of becoming the first scientist to create artificial life. Venter does nothing halfway, hence his designation by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people. Yet, in scientific circles, he has also earned some disdain as an egotistical "wild man of biotech." Many scientists see his use of his own DNA in the human genome project as a shocking lack of scientific decorum. He comes across, in his own words, as narcissistic. This self-absorption, and his pervasive portrayal of himself as an altruistic purist constantly battling bureaucratic philistines, interferes with his story about how he cracked the human genome code. Clearly, it's not easy being a genius, but it sure is interesting, and so getAbstract recommends Venter's account of his scientific achievements.
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on 3 June 2012
There was a lengthy period between my purchase of this book and my reading of it. I feared that an autobiography by the Founder and President of the J. Craig Venter Institute may be a touch self-aggrandizing. The dust cover announces unreassuringly: "praise for J. Craig Venter." In addition, I had carried with me the impression of a man who had ruthlessly pursued the sequencing of the human genome through the private sector, combining profit with self-promotion, seeking a place in history while making a ton of money into the bargain. The book did not disappoint on these counts - Venter's name will forever be associated with this remarkable feat of technology and he did end up with a very big yacht. Nevertheless, despite the unpromising portents, the book offered insights that I had not expected, both into the man and his method and made the read worthwhile.

Of course his text is a setting straight of records and a settling of old scores: major figures such as James Watson, Francis Collins and John Sulston are all, let's say critically appraised, along with Venter's various business partners, ex-colleagues and even ex-partners. He leaves no-one of consequence unscathed. However, in his defence he no doubt suffered at times unjustly at the hands of PR machines and he did, one way or another, accelerate the human genome project to its conclusion, if only as a consequence of others wanting to keep the control from his grasp. All of this one can analyse and conjecture on ad infinitum, probably without conclusion or perhaps even merit. The book does nevertheless find its place on the shelf of those telling the story of one of the most remarkable scientific achievements of all time.

Undoubtedly though the most engaging and formative parts of J. Craig Venter are his early experiences in being transformed from carefree, outdoor Californian sportsman to wearied Vietnam veteran, affected without doubt by his up-close experience of suffering and death in desperate field hospitals. It seems that here his undoubted drive; intelligence and belligerence locked on to a purpose that has so far sustained him. But in the end his scientific life presents a sadly unattractive picture of cut-throat competition where one is first or nowhere. You are with J. Craig Venter (and clearly he inspired a good many to complete loyalty for his cause) or you are against him. Is this the best science can do? Here the gap opens between his apparent desire to use science and medicine to relieve suffering and the reality of his almost total focus on winning: be it at the helm of his laboratory or his yacht. Are the punctuated references to societal benefits merely a flimsy sop to legitimize total selfishness? After reading this book the worrying thing is I am not sure even Venter knows. He is too busy winning.
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on 12 July 2010
If you ever were mistaken in thinking that science was the rational pursuit of objective knowledge, this autobiography will finally cure you of that misconception. This is a brilliant account of how one man's drive to be the best in science sets him against most of his contemporaries, including the Nobel Laureate James Watson. Venter's grant applications for cutting-edge work are blocked through jealousy, hatred and spite; and Venter is not exempt from political motivation in his various ventures.

Part of Venter's genius was to realise early on that great strides forward in genetic research would only come through using the most up-to-date robotics and computing to automate sequencing. This set everyone else against him, partly because their slow methods of work enabled each to gain fame for his or her own bit of DNA: a process and scientific world blown apart by Venter.

Venter intersperses his account with a running commentary on his sailing exploits, which breaks up the narrative. Some of the science could have been explained more simply, but you can hum through the bits you don't know because the basic story steams on. Riveting.
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on 29 August 2010
It's not easy being a genius. Venter describes how he cracked the human genome, but also gives a terribly depressing account of the politics of big science.

Ever the maverick, Venter started out as a high school drop out Californian surf dude that gets drafted to Vietnam. He escapes the front line and traumatically learns medical science treating hundreds of maimed soldiers. After 'nam he gets into research and begins his path to sequencing the genome and to world fame.

Venter inserts boxes in the text to explain the meaning of his own genetic code to afford valuable understanding of the decoding of the genome. This provides helpful insight into genetic links to a number of ailments.

The Bad Boy of Biology continues to raise debate today. His latest mission is in designing new life-forms, with the possibility of defeating global warming. The book is a good read, though Venter's ego comes through on many an occasion
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on 7 December 2013
Craig Venter is a hugely controversial character.This is Venter's version of a brilliant innovator against the combined US (the National Institute of Health) and the British (Cambridge's Sanger Institute) publicly funded establishment. His account is of how he not only sequenced the human genome first in 2001, but by simultaneously sequencing fruit fly and mouse genomes provided comparative genetic data which allows comparison and by combining the raw genome data with heavy computational power provides interpretation of the data..

His detractors accuse him of gene patenting and thereby restricting availability of data to the scientific community. Moreover, his shotgun method of gene sequencing is not the innovative method of interpreting the huge deluge of data made available by rapid development of computer technology and software, but is a shortcut in order to take the credit and leaving the hardwork of completing the human genome to others.

I am not qualified to judge this case. But I can identify with Venter. I started a laboratory which used innovative NIR technology which quickly superceded conventional wet chemical techniques used by highly qualified publicly funded laboratories for organic material analysis. I have experienced the venom of the public sector's rage and accusations of inaccuracy for 9 years before the newly privatised government labs (Genus) promptly bought out my lab and adopted our NIR techniques for similar applications. .

The approach of describing the development of the science interspersed with discussion of issues using his own his own personal genetic map to interpret the science brings the mind stretching descriptions of the genetic science down to earth. For example: When Caffeine kills. Venter drinks endless cups of coffee but carries a benign gene which allows him to metabolise caffeine. Many studies that have looked at the association between coffee consumption and heart attacks have been inconclusive because they took no account of the presence or absence of that gene.

The key accusation against Ventor is his complicity with the pharmaceutical industry in their attempts to patent gene data to the detriment of the the free exchange of data between research scientists. The public genome effort was free of patents because the data it produced was deposited into Gen-Bank, the public repository of DNA sequences without any understanding or context. Ventor's commercial organisation also permitted researchers free, open and unrestricted use of their human genome sequence data. But he argues this raw data is of little value to scientists, biotech companies, the pharmaceutical industry or the public without interpretation. Ventor provided leading edge molecular biology with heavyweight computation to reveal the logic of biology to paying customers. And pharmaceutical companies needed patents on this data to justify the huge investment required to develop effective drugs and remedies.

Who is right?

No doubt a one sided account of the controversy but fascinating reading.
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on 11 July 2010
Ok, Craig Venter is not short of a trumpet or two for himself to blow, but what an amazing insight into the race to map the genome and a glimpse into what these genomicists do! It's a high speed tour with lots of frank comments, opinions and innuendo, and it's great. Couldn't put it down.
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on 11 December 2011
Having recently heard John Sulston our Nobel Prize Winner in a half-hour R4 programme recently - what a self-effacing man - I had to read this book. It's a good read but perplexing. Venter is highly disparaging about the Wellcome Trust, Sanger and Sulston and claims that he wanted to make all the genome freely available but was over-ruled by Celera directors. He obviously has an enormous ego and must be very difficult to work with. So having heard both sides who to believe?
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on 12 June 2010
I have really enjoyed this book as it has science in it along with Craig Venter's life story. Any science lover should read this!
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