Molecular biology seems to crystallize our feelings about science. The promises and threats of knowledge are made plain as we peek around the corner and see genetic counseling, genome mapping, and cloning staring back at us. Pioneering researcher François Jacob--who shared the 1965 Nobel Prize for medicine--offers his thoughts on the past, present, and future of science in Of Flies, Mice & Men
. As informal as a memoir, yet sharp and clever in its discussions of philosophy and politics, Jacob's book breaks new ground in popular-science publishing.
Not many scientists are comfortable quoting poets from Sophocles to Apollinaire, but Jacob weaves their words with his own beautiful prose to inspire the reader with new ways of thinking about science as a part of human life. His aim is not simply to retell the brief history of molecular biology but to put it in context and, more importantly, to show that this context is as important as the research itself. Jacob is one of the few scientists who recognize that science is easily abused, but that its course can't be stopped, or even slowed much. Rather than caving in to fatalism, he offers the hope that it can be guided, and he knows that a well-informed public is his best ally in this effort. The project is inspiring, if a little daunting; as he says, opening Pandora's box "condemned human beings to never-ending research." --Rob Lightner
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From Publishers Weekly
Part autobiography, part biology primer and part discourse on the role of scientific research, this slim volume by the winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology fuses an elegant history of molecular biology with a recounting of the development of Jacob's (The Possible and the Actual; The Statue Within; etc.) own landmark research into the mechanisms of gene regulation in microorganisms. "The history of molecular biology," Jacob writes in his introduction, "provides a model for understanding how original research takes shape." Using references to Greek mythology and literature, personal experience and historical anecdote, Jacob spices up his narratives with ruminations on the changing roles and responsibilities of scientists. In addition, because of its often controversial nature, molecular biology?genetics in particular?offers a model for understanding the relationship between politics and science. Jacob clearly believes that scientists should not work in isolation and that both the political and the investigative processes should shape the ways in which we use the discoveries made in the laboratory. To those who would limit the topics open to scientific investigation, he states simply and forcefully: "The biggest danger for humankind is not the development of knowledge, but of ignorance." Well written and accessible to nonscientists, his book provides valuable insight into the workings of a powerful thinker and the field to which he has chosen to apply himself.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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