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Francis Crick and James Watson: And the Building Blocks of Life

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The names of James Watson and Francis Crick are bound together forever because the scientific discovery they made was truly a joint enterprise. As Edward Edelson reveals in this intriguing biography, Watson and Crick were the first to describe the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, the molecule that carries our genes and determines everything from the color of our eyes to the shape of our fingernails. Even though Watson and Crick's collaboration lasted only a few years, their achievement was enough to ...
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Overview


The names of James Watson and Francis Crick are bound together forever because the scientific discovery they made was truly a joint enterprise. As Edward Edelson reveals in this intriguing biography, Watson and Crick were the first to describe the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, the molecule that carries our genes and determines everything from the color of our eyes to the shape of our fingernails. Even though Watson and Crick's collaboration lasted only a few years, their achievement was enough to tie their names together forever in the history of science and to establish a firm footing for what was then a radical new branch of science: molecular biology. In doing so, they paved the way for the early detection of genetic diseases such as sickle-cell anemia, and for new scientific leaps such as animal cloning.

Describes the collaboration of Watson and Crick in the effort to discover DNA.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A fast-paced journey through the sometimes twisted tale of the discovery of the structure of DNA.... Edelson add much to the tale by integrating the DNA research with classical Medelian genetics, chemistry, and genetic engineering, cloning, politics, and evolution. He presents an exceptionally clear view of some of the key characteristics of scientific endeavors of this type. It is in Edelson's emphasis on scientific process that this book shows an exceptional strength.... An enjoyable telling of one of the most significant discoveries in science. It is a fast read, packed with no small amount of the drama of human endeavors."--Science Teacher

"More than a simple biography of the two best known modern biologists; it is also a history of the development of modern molecular biology.... The science is well presented and quite current."--Science Books & Films

"While the men's genius is revealed, Edelson is also careful to present their human faults and flaws.... Balanced presentation...a realistic picture of modern research."--School Library Journal

"Given the prominence of genetics in late-twentieth-century science and the dearth of books available for young people, libraries may find this a useful addition to their collections."--Booklist

"While the men's genius is revealed, Edelson is also careful to present their human faults and flaws... Balanced presentation...a realistic picture of modern research."--School Library Journal

"Intriguing... This biography examines the personalities of its subjects as well as the thought process leading to their discovery... Libraries will find this a useful addition to their collections. Recommended."--Book Report

KLIATT
These two books are part of the same series and share a similar format. They both have lots of pictures and interesting material in asides set off by boxes. However, they are very different in their approach to their subjects. Hager has drawn a warm, caring portrait of Linus Pauling, focusing more on the man and his life than on the science that made him so well known. On the other hand, Edelson's book might have been titled "A Portrait of DNA." While he does give some insights into the lives of Watson and Crick, his main concentration is on the development of molecular genetics, particularly the story of the discovery of the structure of DNA. In a brief opening chapter, Edelson sums up the entire book. The next chapter brings the separate lives of Watson and Crick up to the point where they meet at Cambridge University where their work on DNA was done. Edelson then spends two chapters giving a brief summary of the work in genetics, beginning with Mendel, which led up to the conclusion that DNA was the carrier of genetic information. The story of how Watson and Crick came to the idea of the double helix structure of DNA is told in a single chapter. Edelson then follows the rest of the lives of Watson and Crick as they went their separate ways. He first discusses the development of the understanding of the way in which DNA controls the form and actions of all biological molecules, emphasizing the contributions made by Crick. Then in a final chapter Edelson tells the story of the human genome project and the role that Watson played in it. The writing is general enough that it should be accessible to anyone who has taken introductory courses in biology and chemistry. In his book on LinusPauling, Hager writes entertainingly of how Pauling pursued his interests in chemistry. He writes about Pauling's career in chemistry: his enrollment in Oregon Agricultural College at age 16 (without a high school diploma), his graduate studies at Cal Tech, his year in Europe where he learned firsthand about quantum mechanics as it was developing, and his return to Cal Tech where he spent most of his professional life as a chemist, culminating in the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1954. Hager follows Pauling's interest in molecules of biological interest and the many ideas that he contributed in this area. He tells of Pauling's failed attempt to beat Watson and Crick to the structure of DNA and of his interest in the chemistry and use of vitamins and minerals, particularly in large doses of vitamin C. Into this presentation of Pauling's life as a chemist, Hager integrates the story of Pauling as a crusader for peace, particularly his work on banning atmospheric testing of atomic weapons that led to Pauling's Nobel Peace Prize in 1963. He also tells of the important place that Pauling's wife Ava Marie Miller played in his personal and professional life. This book is a warm, admiring portrait of one of the outstanding chemists and advocates of peace of the 20th century. It should serve as inspirational reading to any student interested in pursuing a career in the sciences. It should be easily accessible to anyone who has had a brief introduction to chemistry. (Oxford Portraits in Science) KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1998, Oxford Univ. Press, 110p, 24cm, 97-42791, $11.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Chuck Weber; Science & Math Teacher, Rochester, MN, September 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 5)
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Crick and Watson's long and, at times, frustrating investigative work before discovering the double helix is related here in detail. While the men's genius is revealed, Edelson is also careful to present their human faults and flaws. He discusses Watson's well-known feuds with Rosalind Franklin, a major contributor to his and Crick's research, and, later, with National Institutes of Health director Bernardine Healy. The balanced presentation also credits the research of earlier scientists, providing evidence that each breakthrough was based on the work of many individuals and with the cooperation of colleagues. Along the way, substantial sidebars on "Mendelian Genetics;" sickle-cell anemia; cloned mammals; and even the invention of the Waring Blendor, used to separate molecular components in cells, supplement the technically detailed chapters. Black-and-white photos and simple illustrations appear throughout. They are not as informative as the graphics found in Linda Tagliaferro's Genetic Engineering (Lerner, 1997). Nonetheless, the combined views of scientists as real people rather than idealized heroes with the tedious minutiae of scientific investigation make this a realistic picture of modern research.-Ann G. Brouse, Big Flats Branch Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews
This latest addition to the Portraits in Science series is somewhat disjointed and unfocused. Edelson attempts to cover the lives of two extraordinary scientists from very different backgrounds who came together for a brief period of time (three years) and were considered the first to describe the structure of DNA in 1953. James Watson, an American biochemist from Chicago, met Francis Crick, an older British physicist, at the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University in England in 1951. Both brilliant, their genius was in their collaboration in "determining the structure of the molecule that made up human genes, deoxyribonucleic acid, abbreviated as DNA." The tone of the book is both direct and complex, e.g., "Now Watson and Crick had their model: two DNA chains, coiled as alpha helixes 20 angstrom units in diameter, making a complete turn every 34 angstrom units, with the bases in each chain 3.4 angstrom units apart." An already complicated portrait of Watson and Crick is further diffused by sidebars on the topics of Mendelian genetics, the Waring Blendor, solving the Sickle-cell puzzle and the first cloned mammals. Well-versed scientists may find this volume interesting; however, others will find it just too difficult. (b&w photos and drawings, chronology, further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 12-15)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195139716
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/1/2000
  • Series: Oxford Portraits in Science Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward Edelson is a freelance science writer based in New York City. The author of 19 books on science, including two college chemistry textbooks and several young-adult books, he was the science editor for the New York Daily News from 1971 to 1991 and an editor for Family Health magazine from 1969 to 1971.

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