There is the Richard Lewontin non-biologists know, the author of acerbic, thoughtful, witty, unhesitatingly leftist books such as his essays from The New York Review of Books collected in It Ain't Necessarily So. This is the other Lewontin, the hard-core scientist, one of the most insightful evolutionary biologists going.
The Triple Helix is a manifesto for the life sciences: "The time has come when further progress in our understanding of nature requires that we reconsider the relationship between the outside and the inside, between organism and environment". Lewontin is not arguing for what he calls "obscurationist holism", but for a more complex interaction between gene, organism and environment, in which they construct each other:
.... it is the biology, indeed the genes, of an organism that determines its effective environment, by establishing the way in which external physical signals become incorporated into its reactions .... Whatever the autonomous processes of the outer world may be, they cannot be perceived by the organism. Its life is determined by the shadows on the wall, passed through a transforming medium of its own creation.Lewontin argues for a life science that faces up to reality, that tackles the problems of studying subtle processes in complex systems where three-dimensional shape is crucial. The journal Nature "cannot recommend [it] too highly for the many commentators and headline-writers who think that DNA is the blueprint for the organism"--or for their readers. --Mary Ellen Curtin [via]