Title: The Engineer in the Garden
Author: Colin Tudge
Fun Fact: Some plants, including clover, naturally produce hemoglobin, the protein which transports oxygen through our blood.
Review Summary: A great introduction to the philosophical questions raised by genetic engineering, which includes complex language and ideas but which does a great job explaining the biology.
Genetic engineering is an incredible technology with many controversial applications. This book as a very approachable primer on those possible applications and the ethical issues they raise. While the science is handled very well and the author didn’t spend enough time on the basics to bore me, I do think the science is written simply enough that someone with no background could understand this book with a little effort. The author does an incredible job starting with the basics. Every biology term is defined. And this allows him to use biology terms and build up to more complicated concepts. For instance, instead of answering the question “what is genetic engineering” in a watered down way, he first explains basic molecular genetics and then the specific methods that people use to alter genomes. Unfortunately, the illustrations were bad enough to be basically useless, but the explanations were good enough that I don’t think the illustrations were needed any way.
Title: A Feeling For the Organism
Author: Evelyn Fox Keller
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.
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. Continue reading
Title: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA
Author: James D. Watson
Fun Fact: Not even Watson always knew what he wanted to research. (This may not seem like a fun fact to all of you, but to those of you who are also in research – you’re welcome.)
Review Summary: This was a great candid look at the process of research and the drama of the personal interactions that are sometimes involved.
Science sometimes includes a surprising amount of personal drama and just playing around with models until they fit the facts. This account of the discovery of the structure of DNA, by one of the key participants Dr. James D. Watson, includes a lot of both. Written as though from his perspective at the time, The Double Helix presented a fascinating and candid look at the work which led up to this amazing discover. Continue reading
Title: The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher
Author: Lewis Thomas
Review Summary: This collection of short but thought-provoking essays is sometimes humorous, sometimes inspiring, and always an insightful, approachable look at some of the wonders of biology.
Although written in the 1970’s, these essays by Lewis Thomas cover subjects that are still some of the most interesting questions in biology today. From the awe-inspiring complexity of a single cell to our approach to curing diseases, from how our interactions compare to those of social insects to the health care system, the essays in this book will give you a new appreciation for biology and a unique, thoughtful perspective on these fascinating topics. Every time I finished an essay, I was struck by the thought that surely no one really just sits down and writes essays like this any more. More than anything else, the author reminded me of a naturalist, someone from the early twentieth century simply observing, wondering at, and trying to learn from nature. Continue reading