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DNA: The Secret of Life

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  2,088 Ratings  ·  98 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
Paperback, 464 pages
Published August 17th 2004 by Knopf (first published December 20th 2002)
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Lynne King
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: genetics
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
Mar 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tanja Berg
Dec 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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
Aug 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
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
Chris Rock
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, biology
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
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biology
I believe it’s more of an autobiography; which is not what I was expecting, but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless!
Aug 03, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
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
Tom Evans
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
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???
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology
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.
Stoyan Nenov
Mar 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Точната книга по тази тема за пълни лаици като мен. Много добра направа, удобен извор на комплексна информация в сферата на молекулярната биология.
Sayed Mustafa
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It all started when I was in the twelvth grade, I was passionate about genetics and DNA, Though I disagree with much of the authors' views about society and religion, I gained so much knowledge about the past history of eugenics, genetics, DNA, recombinant DNA, biotechnology, genetically modified products, and genetic diseases.

Watson is a great scientist who I praise due to his passionate love for humanity and improving the lives of others.
Oct 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: popular-science
Great, but not a classic like his original book
Douglas Robertson
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Good but I felt with whole genome sequencing being performed routinely it could do with a bit of an update. The historical bits were good though.
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating to read about how Erwin Shroeder can give rise to one of the most important scientific discoveries. An excellent read
Last Ranger
Aug 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Ralph Hermansen
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Kelly McEntee
Sep 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Great information and history as the reader would expect from James Watson, weighed down by Mr. Watson's opinion and hubris, as the reader should also anticipate (not a surprise to me).
Sep 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Pawel Dolega
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My background: I read couple of books and did some courses on molecular biology and genetics specifically. I have no formal education neither in genetics nor in biology.

This is definitely one of the best popular science books written on this subject. Suffice to say that the author, James Watson, is Nobel prize laureate in this exact field.

Although some of the chapters were pretty boring to me (e.g. first and 1 or 2 others - mainly because I knew these particular information before) most of the b
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
Jul 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Hard to rate. Parts were very interesting to me as a former research scientist: gave me perspective on the history of molecular biology leading up to my entry and pulled together a lot of my knowledge of the scientists behind the work into one cohesive story. Fun to see names of people I knew or heard speak about their work. However, Watson is extremely opinionated about controversial topics (doesn't bother showing the other side of the argument) and doesn't mind dissing his enemies in print. So ...more
Jan 10, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good survey of the subject, although somewhat outdated for 2016. There's a certain glibness about the prose, though; Watson lacks the rigorous pedagogical skills needed to impart subtle molecular processes in a way that sticks. This makes for better skimming than careful reading. I learned a lot about the subject, although I used various aides to help me understand the various concepts Watson glosses over. This was most useful for helping me discern the contours of genomic history of the past ...more
Dec 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, american
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
Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 08, 2012 rated it liked it
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
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Bio-Nerds: DNA: The Secret of Life by James D. Watson 1 11 Dec 22, 2013 12:43AM  
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  • Cartoon Guide to Genetics
  • Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist
  • The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould
  • Molecular Biology of the Cell
  • Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life
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
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