Synopses & Reviews
If you have ever wondered what goes on in a genetics lab, here is the answer. In this sparkling and timely book James Schwartz reveals the remarkable history of the gene from its nineteenth-century origins as an entirely imaginary concept to the modern belief that life itself rests in these awe-inspiring combinations of molecules. For at first it was not at all evident that genes might exist; were they real, were they needed, where might they be located? Bit by bit, the concept turned into a reality that came to serve as the foundation stone of the revolutionary new science of genetics. Schwartz writes with wonderful insight about the personalities, rivalries, politics, and obsessions that increasingly drove scientists forward in pursuit of the gene's identity in research labs and workplaces across the globe.
Moving from Charles Darwin and his cousin Francis Galton, who searched fruitlessly for particles carrying inherited traits in domestic animals, through Thomas Hunt Morgan's famous fly room' at Columbia University in New York, with grand stories of Morgan's blatant favoritism and unfinished research projects, on to the race to discover the structure of DNA, the rise of modern genomics, and the recent millennial achievement of mapping our own genome, Schwartz describes the people who made the science of genetics what it is today. Nobel prizes glittered for some, devastating depression for others.
Based on original research and unexplored letters and archives, this is a very readable account of science in action. Throughout, there was unstinting commitment to scientific ideals, eloquently reflected in Hermann Muller's plan to take a suitcase of the latest experimental flies from NewYork to geneticists isolated in post-revolutionary Russia. This is the story of the rise of big science. But it is also the story of human lives, of men and women engaged in a great combined undertaking that shows the passion and creative artistry that scientists brought to their work. Accurate, lively, and packed full with incident, this book is a triumph of science writing.
The mystery of inheritance has captivated thinkers since antiquity, and the unlocking of this mystery—the development of classical genetics—is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. This great scientific and human drama is the story told fully and for the first time in this book.
Acclaimed science writer James Schwartz presents the history of genetics through the eyes of a dozen or so central players, beginning with Charles Darwin and ending with Nobel laureate Hermann J. Muller. In tracing the emerging idea of the gene, Schwartz deconstructs many often-told stories that were meant to reflect glory on the participants and finds that the “official” version of discovery often hides a far more complex and illuminating narrative. The discovery of the structure of DNA and the more recent advances in genome science represent the culmination of one hundred years of concentrated inquiry into the nature of the gene. Schwartz’s multifaceted training as a mathematician, geneticist, and writer enables him to provide a remarkably lucid account of the development of the central ideas about heredity, and at the same time bring to life the brilliant and often eccentric individuals who shaped these ideas.
In the spirit of the late Stephen Jay Gould, this book offers a thoroughly engaging story about one of the oldest and most controversial fields of scientific inquiry. It offers readers the background they need to understand the latest findings in genetics and those still to come in the search for the genetic basis of complex diseases and traits.
About the Author
James Schwartz is an independent scholar and writer living in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
1. Viva Pangenesis
2. Reversion to the Mean
3. Galton's Disciples
7. Mendel Wars I
8. Cell Biology
9. Sex Chromosomes
10. The Fly Room
11. Oenothera Reconsidered
13. Mendel Wars II