The New Optimists Recommend Science Books: Roger McFadden delves into DNA structure and natural history
Rounding off this first week of our ‘New Optimists Recommend’ series, Roger McFadden – senior lecturer in pharmacology at Birmingham City University – takes a look at some books he’d like to recommend to you.
James D. Watson – The Double Helix: This extremely readable book is a personal account of perhaps the greatest scientific discovery of the last century – the structure of DNA. Reading Watson and Crick’s 1953 seminal (but understated) paper one might imagine that the discovery was a fairly dry affair, a matter of tedious laboratory experimentation etc. However, behind the scenes there was a real melodrama – intense rivalry between different labs, personal conflict, secrecy and serendipitous good luck that eventually lead to two young postgrads getting the Nobel Prize for their discovery.
Nick Lane – Power, Sex and Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life: A biochemist by training, Nick Lane has published several popular science books on subjects close to his area of speciality. The main title is perhaps designed to attract the browser in search of something more salacious (who will be mightily disappointed with their purchase), but for anyone interested in the origins of cellular life on earth then this book is definitely worth a read. Informative, if occasionally rather speculative, this book examines one of the most fascinating and enigmatic of structures on the planet – mitochondria.
Stephen Jay Gould – The Flamingo’s Smile, Bully for Brontosaurus, Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes etc. Above all else, Gould was a superb storyteller with a fine feel for the English language. He had the unusual ability to write at a level comprehensible to the casual reader whilst still retaining the interest of those educated in science. His short monographs, many published in Natural History, are readable, often quirky, sometimes wandering off into strange regions such as baseball statistics but always thought-provoking and conveying a message relevant to the world beyond evolutionary science.
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