I have been reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book The Gene: An Intimate History. It’s absolutely fascinating. An approachable history of the genetics side of biology. I’m only about halfway through; I wasn’t planning on recommending it until I was done, but it’s too good to wait. If you’re at all interested in modern molecular biology, biochemistry, or history of science… it’s worth your time.
I’m finding it personally interesting for another reason: I knew, as professors at MIT when I was a student and when I worked in the biology department after I graduated, many of the people whose work on DNA and genetics is discussed in this book. For the first time, I understand the internal politics and the in-fighting that went on up and down the halls. I understand why one professor’s work was lauded and another’s criticized. I didn’t have the historical perspective then that I have now, which is one part of it; another part is that I was simply naive about how much out-and-out competition was going on, for scientific glory (and money).
I also understand now why my undergraduate advisor, the man who elucidated the sickle cell gene (obit here) was totally the wrong person to advise undergraduates. Well, this undergraduate, anyway.
And I’ll just mention here that MIT sure must have been anxious to get their toes in the water… they hired a lot of people away from other places in the late ’60s and early ’70s.