A Passion for DNA: Genes, Genomes and Society is a collection o f essays by James D Watson, the American co-discoverer of the structure of DNA and one of the most famous scientists alive. When his groundbreaking work on the molecular blueprint of life was done in 1953, Watson was still only 25 years old and was working in the University of Cambridge with the English scientist Francis Crick. So important was their work, that both Crick and Watson were awarded the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Three years later, as a professor at Harvard, Watson wrote a seminal text book on Molecular Biology of the Gene. Then, in 1968, his runaway bestseller The Double Helix--the behind-the-scenes version of how Crick and he had worked together to crack the problem of DNA structure--soon became the most-read popular science book ever. Brilliantly written, the book raised many hackles in the scientific world, especially in the rather conservative and secretive world of British science at the time.
Now some 32 years later, both men are senior citizens, but both are still active scientists in different ways. Watson tells how his career path "moved from a doer of science to my later roles as a manager of science...and occasional governmental advisor or bureaucrat". Designed for the general reader, the essays address what Watson regards as the big issues of the day: the War on Cancer, the arrival of Recombinant DNA procedures, the Human Genome Project, and GM foods, plus autobiographical sketches. Jim Watson's subsequent role as a statesman for science might seem an unlikely one for such a mercurial character but as these essays show, he has lost none of his magical touch with words and is never afraid to speak his mind, no matter how non-pc the result might be. As he says "moving forward will not be for the faint of heart".--Douglas Palmer