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Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  162 ratings  ·  34 reviews
A Nobel Prize-winning biologist tells the riveting story of his race to discover the inner workings of biology's most important molecule

Everyone has heard of DNA. But by itself, DNA is just an inert blueprint for life. It is the ribosome--an enormous molecular machine made up of a million atoms--that makes DNA come to life, turning our genetic code into proteins and ther
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 6th 2018 by Basic Books
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4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  162 ratings  ·  34 reviews

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Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
I seldom read biographies or memoirs. By me, the world is best understood by those who are not at the center of the story being told because a solipsism seeps through otherwise.

Within the story is the real nature of how science progresses with its messiness, competition and sometimes luck ('chance favors the prepared mind').

A wonderful quote from Blake 'the fool in his persistent folly becomes wise'. That quote is applicable for all of us who are thrown into this world without certainty and wh
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thoroughly sublime read. Dr. Venki's humility and honesty shines through in each chapter. His perseverance in his work despite failure and competition is a true testimony to the nature and spirit of science. Here are some of the quotes I highlighted while reading the book:

"But that wasn’t all. Over the course of a single night, Brian had located one protein after another, until he had located all seven previously known protein structures in the 30S maps. Actually, although he knew where it was
Jennifer Glass
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An inside look at how an outsider rose to the “pinnacle” of science: winning the Nobel Prize in 2009, along win Ada Yonath and Tom Steitz, for contributions to understanding the structure and function of the ribosome. Venkatraman (“Venki”) Ramakrishnan was trained as a physicist but fell in love with biology as a PhD student. This book reads as Venki’s memoir. The book contains approachable descriptions of myriad scientific techniques, primarily in X-ray crystallography, that eventually enabled ...more
Bimal Patel
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
First of all, thank you Perseus Books for giving me this opportunity to review this book before it's publication.

Almost everyone with some formal education behind them knows or have at least heard about DNA, the genetic library of our cell but how about Ribosomes? The very machinery that translates the genetic material to protein, not as glamorous as DNA right? In Gene Machine by Dr. Venki Ramakrishnan takes us on a journey that ended with discovery of structure of the ribosome to be precise it'
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I remember reading Craig Ventner's book about racing to sequence the human genome. It read like a novel. I couldn't look away as Ventner spilled all the secrets about his personal life as well as all the nasty, behind the scenes antics that arise when scientists compete. I remember thinking he seemed a bit bitter, but I didn't care because I wanted to know everything I could about this usually hidden side of scientific discovery. Ramakrishnan's book is very similar in that it allows the reader t ...more
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Gene machine is both a memoir reminiscent of "The Double Helix" as well as a well-written review of the journey to resolve the structure of the ribosome. I learned new details about the ribosome including the fact that the ribosome is really a ribozyme with many RNAs participating in the catalyzing reactions of translation. Dr. Ramakrishnan gave a nice summary of the history of X-ray crystallography, as well as the best explanation I've seen on forming a crystal and what the different structural ...more
Dan Graser
Dec 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
2009 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, Venki Ramakrishnan, details in this brief yet engrossing work the process by which he came to be considered for this prize. Along the way we hear of his rocky start in physics as well as the Indian immigrant student experience from the early-mid 1970's in the US, and how it came to pass that he would eventually work in chemistry/molecular biology. While many are familiar with DNA and genes as common terms very few are familiar with his research focus, the r ...more
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Overall good book. It was definitely more technical than I would have expected for a book meant for a very general audience. The book was a bit slow to start and also a bit scattered, however after a couple chapters it pulled itself together and the overall direction of the book started to make sense.
My only real complaint was, even though he seemed to try and tone it down, the personal anomosity between Venki and Ada still seem to be a focus of far too many comments. I think most people know th
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
One of my favorite books of the year! Well-written. Fascinating stories about the ribosome and the scientists who collaborated and competed to discover its secrets. Hearing about the struggles of university scientists to obtain funding confirmed my own choice of career! The story of the phone call from the Nobel Prize Committee was wonderful. A bit technical in places for non-scientists, but clear descriptions helped.
If this isn't longlisted for the Wellcome Prize this year then I'll eat my bobble hat.
Oct 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent memoir/history of science but technical in parts

I loved this book. Author Venki Ramakrishnan tells a great story about his work on the ribosome, the part of the cell that reads the genetic code and translates it into proteins. He describes in detail the techniques used and the results. This is perhaps one weakness of the book, as Ramakrishnan used the very complex technique x-ray crystallography. I didn’t understand much of the finer details but I did understand enough to get the broa
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
What it is really like to be a scientist, especially a scientist who has been awarded the “most nobel” scientific prize of all?

Written by 2009 co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Venkatraman “Venki” Ramakrishnan, an American and British structural biologist who grew up in India, Gene Machine: The race to decipher the secrets of the ribosome (Basic Books; 2018) is an engaging account of one man’s many scientific contributions to solve the structure of the ribosome, a small structure that
Meha Jadhav
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nobel Laurate Venki Ramakrishnan’s first book is about his experiences in the race to elucidate the structure of ribosome. I had read an excerpt from this book earlier, where he talked about how winning a Nobel prize may not be the best thing for the scientist and how prizes, at times can be unfair. I liked it very much and was keen on reading the whole book. I finally got the chance after borrowing a copy from a friend.

The book starts out with his experiences as a student of physics and his alm
Peter Herrmann
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful. Although I skimmed some - because I'm not a microbiologist - I got the gist. He does a great job explaining. I'm envious of a life well spent: researching an important and fascinating problem (and, of course, related problems). Has inspired me to dig into an intro text book on microbiology - just for my own appreciation and better understanding. (Has been 50+ years since I studied it in college - but was not my field, however). He raises the paradox of the ribosome being partly made u ...more
Peter Sidell
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be fascinating. I had expected a presentation of the biochemical foundations of genetics. While some of that was there, fundamentally this book is about the process of biochemical research and the author's experiences on his way to being awarded the Noble prize. Some reviewers have been critical of the competitive nature of scientific research, but judging from results the last 50-75 years of research have yielded truly remarkable insights. There may indeed be better ways to ...more
Ram Vasudeva
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book delves into the story behind the race to decipher the structure of the Ribosome, a fundamental entity present in every cell. It is written with such clarity that anyone interested in understanding how science works and how it should work will thoroughly enjoy it. As the cover says by another famous Scientist of his age, it will read and re-read. It is what I would call a complete story. This should be used as an example to encourage the next-generation of scientists engaged in answerin ...more
Karen Calhoun
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: physical-science
The somewhat cut-throat of science research is well known to me- so that part wasn't all that interesting to me. What was interesting? I graduated from medical school in 1979. There is so much that is 'background' knowledge that was unknown at that time: the existence of archea, almost everything about the ribosome, RNA polymerases, tRNA structure, etc, etc. A career in medicine forces one to focus narrowly on the developments in one's particular specialty, the things that can now, at this minut ...more
Nisha Sastry
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a honest take on cut throat competition that exists in research and the politics involved in recieving the recognition that one deserves. The author manages to perfectly describe how a dark horse with a physics background went on win noble prize in chemistry for his work which largely occupies a biological domain. If you are in academics or pursuing a career in research , you should definetly read this book
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The author effortlessly takes you to the new world of DNA structures and the role played by ribosome. The race towards finding the way the ribosomes function is comparable with any thriller that you may have come across. The ambition of the author is quite admirable and the lucidity he brings in while explaining truly technical terms is incredibly smooth. A must for every science aficionado.
Phil Tomson
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This isn't so much a tutorial about the ribosome, but more of a memoire of Nobel Prize winner. It's the story of his long circuitous route to the prize both in space and topics. Science is a human endeavor, and that really comes across here. There's a good bit of luck involved to go along with knowledge and skill.
vinayak karigar
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best book to get an overall idea about the inner working of something as complex as Ribosomes. The book precisely tells us how science happens in modern era. It’s evident that author has put lot of efforts to explain very complex ideas in simple manner for the benefits of general reader. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Santhosh Girirajan
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Largely a memoir and an account of the race to discover the structure of the ribosome. The author is very straight-forward about the competition, provides an honest description of the events surrounding the field, and give the reader a basic description of X-ray crystallography and structural biology.
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very good book on a scientist's career and the quest for the truth about the working of the ribosome which eventually led to a Nobel prize. This is a candid behind the scenes type of book that reminded me of Watson's classic: 'The Double Helix'.
Criss Lee.Storrs
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
A lot of science, but it also included the stories and the jounery of the those that were involved in the process.
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-oxford, science, owned
4.5 of 5 stars
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very technical, but a must read for anyone doing or thinking of doing academic research, especially in chemistry and/or the biological sciences.
Carl &
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A sometimes humorous look at how scientific breakthroughs actually occur - mostly painstakingly incremental with many more mistakes than successes. A great read for future and seasoned scientists
Dec 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, science
Imagine if all of these famous scientists could have taken a second postdoc in emotional intelligence. Oh, the possibilities!
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. Very engrossing manner of explaining the arcane world of crystallography and molecular biology. The intrigues of the Nobel Prize and other prizes in various sciences is a revelation.
Vicky Chijwani
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
If you're interested in just the science, this book is not for you. Go watch this amazing short video of RNA to protein translation:

This book is in the same vein as James Watson's The Double Helix , though not quite as engaging - but that's probably only because the ribosome is not as familiar to us and so the race doesn't feel comparably high-stakes. Nevertheless, a good look at the human side of scientific research. Some of my favourite parts were the ones discuss
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