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Of Flies, Mice, and Men [Paperback]

François Jacob , Giselle Weiss
1.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 2 2001 0674005384 978-0674005389 New edition

Who could have guessed that the lowly fruit fly might hold the key for decoding heredity? Or that the mouse might one day disclose astonishing evolutionary secrets? In a book infused with wisdom, wonder, and a healthy dose of wry skepticism, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist François Jacob walks us through the surprising ways of science, particularly the science of biology, in this century. Of Flies, Mice, and Men is at once a work of history, a social study of the role of scientists in the modern world, and a cautionary tale of the bumbling and brilliance, imagination and luck, that attend scientific discovery. A book about molecules, reproduction, and evolutionary tinkering, it is also about the way biologists work, and how they contemplate beauty and truth, good and evil.

Animated with anecdotes from Greek mythology, literature, episodes from the history of science, and personal experience, Of Flies, Mice, and Men tells the story of how the marvelous discoveries of molecular and developmental biology are transforming our understanding of who we are and where we came from. In particular, Jacob scrutinizes the place of the scientist in society. Alternately cast as the soothsayer Tiresias, the conscienceless inventor Daedalus, or Prometheus, conveyer of dangerous knowledge, the scientist in our day must instead adopt the role of truthteller, Jacob suggests. And the crucial truth that molecular biology teaches is the one he elaborates with great clarity and grace in this book: that all animals are made of the same building blocks, by a combinatorial system that always rearranges the same elements according to new forms.


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From Amazon

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

1.8 out of 5 stars
1.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Goes nowhere Dec 1 2002
By Frank
Format:Hardcover
I agree with the other reviews -- this book, by a Nobel Prize winner, no less, has a fascinating topic; yet, over and over, the author starts building up to a conclusion, and just as he's about to reach that conclusion and share the learned insights, he goes off on another path.
He also makes glaring mistakes about relativity and astronomy when he claims "that if you travel long enough and fast enough through the galaxies, you'll become young again" and "our entire world came into being in a few hundredths of a second."
Instead, very fast travel will make you age more slowly than your non-traveling and relatively fast-aging peers, but you won't "become young again," and the Earth was formed in a very slow process -- it was the initial Big Bang, not the creation of the Earth, that was fast.
Was this review helpful to you?
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read, yet lacking the inefable June 7 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This book is nice to read. It has a wonderful chapter on good and evil, in which you are shown an array of new perspectives. However, it lacks a common argument. It nibbles here and there, without apparent coherence. Also, Jacob, as a research scientist, understandably seems to feel the need to quote someone to corroborate everything he says, which means that the book quotes nearly everyone who's name is known, and these quotations lack relevance and insight most of the time.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Neither fish nor fowl July 10 2000
Format:Hardcover
Perhaps it's the translation, but this book dances around its point, and lacks coherence. It's meant, I think, to convey a sense of how it feels to work on science, particularly biological science, but it never really draws us in. Written more as a series of independent essays, it turns out to be not all that memorable, and not all that interesting.
Was this review helpful to you?
1.0 out of 5 stars Starkly Mediocre May 29 2001
Format:Paperback
Like music out of the romantic period, this book starts going nowhere, then promises to go somewhere, but ends up going nowhere.
The middle chapters talking about Lysenko and his anti-science... and the parts about genome research were interesting.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 1.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Neither fish nor fowl July 10 2000
By Jay Ackroyd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Perhaps it's the translation, but this book dances around its point, and lacks coherence. It's meant, I think, to convey a sense of how it feels to work on science, particularly biological science, but it never really draws us in. Written more as a series of independent essays, it turns out to be not all that memorable, and not all that interesting.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Goes nowhere Dec 1 2002
By Frank - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I agree with the other reviews -- this book, by a Nobel Prize winner, no less, has a fascinating topic; yet, over and over, the author starts building up to a conclusion, and just as he's about to reach that conclusion and share the learned insights, he goes off on another path.
He also makes glaring mistakes about relativity and astronomy when he claims "that if you travel long enough and fast enough through the galaxies, you'll become young again" and "our entire world came into being in a few hundredths of a second."
Instead, very fast travel will make you age more slowly than your non-traveling and relatively fast-aging peers, but you won't "become young again," and the Earth was formed in a very slow process -- it was the initial Big Bang, not the creation of the Earth, that was fast.
5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read, yet lacking the inefable June 7 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is nice to read. It has a wonderful chapter on good and evil, in which you are shown an array of new perspectives. However, it lacks a common argument. It nibbles here and there, without apparent coherence. Also, Jacob, as a research scientist, understandably seems to feel the need to quote someone to corroborate everything he says, which means that the book quotes nearly everyone who's name is known, and these quotations lack relevance and insight most of the time.
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Starkly Mediocre May 29 2001
By Thomas NeSmith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Like music out of the romantic period, this book starts going nowhere, then promises to go somewhere, but ends up going nowhere.
The middle chapters talking about Lysenko and his anti-science... and the parts about genome research were interesting.
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