A Feeling For the Organism – Barbara McClintock in the 575’s

Title: A Feeling For the Organism
Author: Evelyn Fox Keller
Source: library
Fun Fact: Barbara McClintock was the first woman president of the Genetics Society of America and only the third woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Summary: This was an interesting biography, similar to The Double Helix in its’ look at the human interactions behind scientific achievement, but much more technical and not something I would recommend for those without a science background.

Barbara McClintock was a brilliant female scientist, unwilling to settle for a “woman’s job” teaching when she was clearly cut out for research. Her intelligence and insight eventually put her discoveries so far ahead of the rest of her field that it took decades for her to receive the recognition she deserved. In this biography, we learn about both her struggles as a women in science and  the details of her Nobel prize winning research.

I very much enjoyed the human element of this book. As a woman in science, it always makes me feel appreciative to hear about the women whose uphill battle led to our equal recognition in the field today. It’s impressive, but also a little intimidating, to read about someone this brilliant and focused! Quotes and anecdotes were very well integrated into the story and I felt like we really got to know Barbara McClintock.

Unfortunately, not all of the science in the book was as enjoyable for me. I’ve never been especially interested in cellular replication and a while is spent on that. The less basic concepts are then explained much less clearly and in much detail. Even with a little knowledge of genetics, I sometimes found it hard to follow.There was some interesting discussion of some broader questions in science: the necessity of a common language and tacit assumptions which allow communication, the danger of letting our expectations and prior knowledge color our interpretation of data and what we throw out as anomalous. This made for an interesting read, but I did skim some of the more technical bits.

Who should read this? people with a genetics background, anyone intrigued by the process of communication in the sciences, anyone willing to skim or spend a long time understanding the technical bits


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