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DNA: The Secret of Life

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  1,314 ratings  ·  72 reviews
Fifty years ago, James D. Watson, then just twentyfour, helped launch the greatest ongoing scientific quest of our time. Now, with unique authority and sweeping vision, he gives us the first full account of the genetic revolution—from Mendel’s garden to the double helix to the sequencing of the human genome and beyond.
Watson’s lively, panoramic narrative begins with the fa
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Paperback, 464 pages
Published August 17th 2004 by Knopf (first published December 20th 2002)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,958)
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Paul
Nov 14, 2011 Paul marked it as assorted-rants-about-stuff
Last week here in England we had two high profile murder cases. These were horrible crimes against women, you can check them easily enough on the BBC website. The interesting thing about them was that each conviction was achieved by DNA evidence, okay, not so special, but in each case the DNA evidence was obtained by the cops because the murderer had been picked up for a very minor offence some years previously. Britain has the world's largest DNA database, about 4 million of its citizens are on ...more
Lynne King
If I had my way over again, I would have studied genetics at university. I was never brilliant at science subjects at school but good with the art subjects, English literature, history and all that good stuff. I stumbled across genetics about twenty years ago and have amassed a considerable number of books in this area.

These books are not for the faint hearted. There is some real meaty content to absorb and I certainly found this with The Secret of Life. James Watson covers a wide range here. Fr
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Nikki
This is much, much better than James Watson's 1968 The Double Helix, which is full of unbearable ego and sexist opinions. It even contains a chapter which explains the discovery of the double helix sans most of the commentary that made the earlier book annoying. Watson has definitely matured, thank goodness, and into a man I wouldn't mind discussing genetics with. For example, he emphasises choice for pregnant women who know their babies have genetic disorders, insists that women have a right to ...more
Diana
Достъпно и увлекателно поднесен много голям обем информация "от извора" не само за ДНК и дългия и трънлив път до генетичното знание, по който успехите са придружени от провали и не винаги съвсем лоялната конкуренция и борба за надмощие, слава и пари между учени, организации, университети, фармацевтични гиганти и мощни фирми. Разгледани са доста подробно сферите на приложение, етичната страна, ползите и страховете от ДНК-отпечатъците и генната терапия, както и грозните и комични резултати от омес ...more
Zjay
I found this book fascinating. Watson has the knack of making difficult topics comprehensible to non-scientists like me. He is also a great storyteller. He takes the time to present each of the researchers whose works he discusses. He boils their often frustrating research down to the one or two big questions their findings helped to answer.

I learned how parts of the body work. For example, on pp. 76-78, Watson explains how the body produces hemoglobin, a protein useful in transporting oxygen.
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Chris Rock
This is my second time reading this book (listening to it, actually). It's a pretty long book, dense, and rich with information.

Written by the scientist who discovered the structure of DNA, and played an important role in the sequencing of the human genome, the book starts with the discovery of the structure of DNA and its role in the process of life. Then it moves to cover a wide variety of topic ranging from the purely scientific, such as DNA's role in protein synthesis, to the political, like
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David
When I came across the audio version of this book at work, I was excited. I looked forward to gaining a more solid grasp of genetics, and the thought of learning it from Watson was even better. If I'm lucky, I thought, I'll hear it in the voice of one of the fathers of genetics (Watson and his colleague, Crick, were the discoverers of the double helix structure of DNA). He did indeed read the introduction, and it was as interesting as I thought it would be. However, my youthful joy was not to la ...more
Kelly V
Normally I don't review the technical or otherwise work-related books I read, but this one is general-interest enough that I decided to. There were lots of things about this book that I liked quite a bit. One was the physical aspects--it was printed on glossy paper and had a lot of color photographs and high-quality images. It is also a nice size for a book like that--not too big, but big enough to not be terribly thick, with all the pictures and so on (my copy is about 7 x 8.5 inches, if you're ...more
Tanja Berg
This is a clear and lucid tale of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), written by one of the men who discovered the structure of the molecule. It delves into the history of the discovery, the human genome project, the potential of DNA in various areas such as GM foods, developing new medicines and combating crime. It becomes clear that much of the public and political fear in regards to DNA originates in ignorance. Other things, such as patenting genes, is absolutely horrifying because it effectively cu ...more
C
Very interesting, would recommend for anyone with even a casual interest in genetics or biology. For those who already have knowledge of biology, it might seem a little dumbed-down at first, but once you get past Mendel's pea plants and white-eyed fruit flies that are covered in every Bio 101 class, things start getting pretty interesting again. And it kind of drags in the middle when we get into all the academia and business politic, but it picks up again with the science soon enough.
Jaap Hoogenboezem
The first 175 pages or so are wonderful: a well written, clear, at times funny history of genetics, from Mendel to modern times. After that the book loses some of its direction and speed. I found myself skipping parts that were not directly about genetics but about how big science works (the chapter on the Human Genome Project is a case in point: there is much on grant applications and money but in fact very little about genetics). A whole chapter on the use of DNA in criminal investigations was ...more
Katie Mcsweeney
Read this as a genetics undergrad and it was one of those books that confirmed my love of the subject, along with The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry. A fascinating area! But poor Rosalind Franklin where is her Nobel Prize???
Tom Evans
A great book by a brilliant mind. The only disappointment is that the author's mind seems to be closed to the metaphysical and spiritual angle and, as a result, in my opinion is missing what DNA is really about completely. You don't have to be a geneticist to know this by the way (and note I am an engineer not a woo-woo la-la screwball)

Technically and scientifically, the author and the book is brilliant.
Rohini
Every time I read this book, it brings me more insight and amazement into the intricacies of Life. It all boils down to the simple intertwined thread of molecules called the DNA. Simple, yet so complex. Elegant yet so savage. Also, in Watson's words, the journey of a scientist is depicted so vividly. I would definitely want to read this book again.
Last Ranger

Pieces of the Puzzle:

At the heart of every cell lies a collection of molecules that hold the key to biology's incredible diversity: DNA. In his 2003 book "DNA: The Secret of Life" molecular biologist James D Watson gives the reader an in depth tour of genetics, it's history, where it stands today and where it's going tomorrow. In the early 1950s Watson, along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, codiscovered the hidden structure of DNA, for which they shared the 1962 Nobel Prize. That discove
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Meredith
Read by Dan Cashman. I can't decide what to rate this. I was listening in short batches in the car, so I probably missed a lot. This is a good review of what I learned in basic biology, plus an update of ramifications of research (well, a ten-years-old update). Even with its age, the book still talks about things that are still coming up today: BRCA1&2 testing (Angelina Jolie!) and GM crops.
Watson approaches most of the issues surrounding this research from a purely scientific/biological st
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Mark
The man that characterized the shape of DNA with Crick delivers a very informative book about the genetic revolution with very good clarity that does not require a biology degree. He discusses early genetics, including genetic engineering along with an overview how molecular processes are affected by DNA. He continues this discussion to the present age where genetic mapping is extremely common and gene therapy will likely be the newest tool to fight human illness. Along the way he discusses tang ...more
Ralph Hermansen
If you want to know something about the role of DNA in the 21st century, who could be a better source of information than the man, who discovered its structure and pioneered its technology. That man is James Watson, the author of "DNA The Secret of Life".

Watson and Crick beat Chemistry's superstar, Linius Pauling, in the race to decipher DNA's chemical structure in 1953. Since then, science has made amazing progress in broading and applying that knowledge. Watson tells that story in this book. H
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Jesse
This book is a classic bait and switch. You see the title, and you read the little bits about it, you notice its author (DNA structure co-discover) and you think you may have a real winner. The parts of the book that focus on hard science are fascinating. They delve into the subject matter in a way that those with some college biology can understand fairly well. I have taken college level biochemistry (and did terribly), so my view on what is required to understand this book may be warped. But f ...more
Heather Browning
A great exploration of the science of DNA and all that surrounds it. Watson's central place in DNA-based science makes him ideal for describing the people, methods and politics of the DNA discoveries of the past 50 years. He also covers applications in GM food, DNA profiling for crime-solving, and identification and treatment of genetic diseases. Although my own opinions don't always match his, I liked that there is someone intelligent and knowledgeable fighting for less fear and greater accepta ...more
Gary
The book doesn't suffer at all from its age. It explains complex material in simple to understand prose. The author writes the book as a series of essays but links them all together as a coherent whole. I've read more recent books on DNA and its ramifications, but none of them covered these topics better than this book did.
Steven
Curiously, the first chapter in James Watson’s new book about the discovery of the double helix is entitled “Beginnings of Genetics: From Mendel to Hitler.” While the focus on the Nazi atrocities makes for fascinating reading in a voyeuristic way, it seems to diminish the impact of the discovery of the structure of DNA. What is really of great interest are the stories of how the paradigm-changing discoveries in molecular biology were made late in the previous century. The abuses of the Nazi regi ...more
Heather
Feb 06, 2008 Heather rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Discerning people who are interested in one side of the genetics story
I gave this book 4 stars because it really is an excellent history of genetics from one of the co-discovers of DNA, James Watson. I have used this book in some papers and in my Genetic Engineering talks because Watson is the quintessential reductionist. He truly believes that everything boils down to our chemistry; his language does not hide just how sacred this view it to him. The reductionist logic will always break down for many reasons, but as an apologist this book was very helpful in under ...more
Ben
A full history of the discovery of DNA and the double helix, along with all the science behind it, as well as present and future potential applications. The first third was very dense science, kind of hard to get through. The last two thirds blended the human genome, patents and political/corporate interests, and treatments and prevention. As long as you don't go into this book expecting to be entertained, you will get out of it a decent well-rounded knowledge of how genes work. Sprinkled with a ...more
Nilesh
A relatively easy book on a highly esoteric subject. Many great books are written on physical sciences, including complex topics like relativity and superstrings, for non-scientists. The same perhaps does not hold true for DNA and relatied fields, which are perhaps revolutionizing the world more than computer technologies and mobile communication. This book explains some of the topics relatively easily although it has not been sufficiently dumbified. But definitely a good start for anyone wantin ...more
djcb
Together with Crick, Watson famously figured out the structure of DNA molecules, back in 1953. In this book he goes through what happened then, and what happened in the field of genetics in the next half-century. Nice overview of all the small steps, discoveries and so on; also, the various controversies and ethical implications.

Books is slightly dated in such a fast-moving field (ie., the Human Genome Project had not been completed yet, Watson still thinks there are ~50K genes in the human geno
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Holly
A genetics book, by the one of the co-discoverers of the double helix structure of DNA. There's a few chapters about the science, about the history of genetics and then a variety of topics, genetically modified foods and the controversy, DNA evidence in solving crimes, genetic diseases, ancient racial ancestry, ethical questions, bio-tech politics. He got preachy near the end, which I didn't mind, even though I didn't agree with everything he said. Parts of the book made me wish I had gone into ...more
Dave
This book was a good crash course in genomics. James Watson has the ability to write in layman's terms well even though he is credited with the partial discovery of the DNA double helix. I liked the way he was able to write about many aspects of emerging DNA science with great knowledge of the peoples, actions and events such that it reads with more depth than a mere encyclopedia, even though at times, the author sounds a bit as if he feels that he can do no wrong...a possible by-product of a la ...more
Jack R
"DNA: The Secret of Life" by the co-founder of the double helix himself, James D. Watson, is one of the best expository books I've read. This book is excellent at informing people who were ignorant of genetics prior to reading it, and does a amazing job of introducing people to the beautiful science that is genetics and its history. This book is also very satisfactory for the aspiring scientist. I can certainly say I now know more about genetics than I did prior to reading this excellent book.
Amanda
I know I should have liked this book... but Watson just grates my nerves in the wrong way, and I couldn't.
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In 1928, James D. Watson was born in Chicago. Watson, who co-discovered the double helix structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) at age 25, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His bird-watching hobby prompted his interest in genetics. He earned his B.Sc. degree in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1947, and his Ph.D. ...more
More about James D. Watson...
The Double Helix Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science Genes, Girls, and Gamow: After the Double Helix A Passion for DNA: Genes, Genomes, and Society Molecular Biology of the Gene

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