Title: Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life
Author: Carl Zimmer
Source: from publisher for review
Fun Fact: Human gut microbes can reach a population of 100 trillion, out numbering our cells 10 to 1.
Review Summary: No matter what the description claims, this lacks the elegant prose and brilliant philosophy in Lives of a Cell. It does do it’s own thing quite well though, giving a great introduction to some crucial biology plus a plethora of fun facts.
Microcosm is a history of E. coli but more than that, it’s a history of modern biology. So much of what we do in the lab today depends on these little bacteria that looking at biology through the lens of E. coli lends itself well to discussing almost all of modern microbiology. It also includes a few philosophical musings and, at the other end of the spectrum, some practical insight into the job of a microbiologist. Continue reading
Title: The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
Author: David Epstein
Source: from publisher for review
Fun Fact: One in two hundred men share a common male ancestor, thought to be Genghis Khan
Review Summary: Scientifically accurate but easy to follow and with topics of interest even if you don’t love sports.
Pop culture has long used the phrase “nature vs nurture” to ask whether genetic or environmental factors are more important. As science has discovered, the truth is far more nuanced. David Epstein explores this fascinating topic in the context of extreme athletic performance. The question he addresses include whether there are people who are just naturals and whether or not everyone could be equally good at sports with the same amount of practice. He also addresses more sensitive topics, such as the influence of race and gender on athletic prowess. Continue reading
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