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A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and…

A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1983)

by Evelyn Fox Keller

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Barbara McClintock was a brilliant female scientist, unwilling to settle for a “woman’s job” teaching when she was clearly cut out for research. Her intelligence and insight eventually put her discoveries so far ahead of the rest of her field that it took decades for her to receive the recognition she deserved. In this biography, we learn about both her struggles as a women in science and the details of her Nobel prize winning research.

I very much enjoyed the human element of this book. As a woman in science, it always makes me feel appreciative to hear about the women whose uphill battle led to our equal recognition in the field today. It’s impressive, but also a little intimidating, to read about someone this brilliant and focused! Quotes and anecdotes were very well integrated into the story and I felt like we really got to know Barbara McClintock.

Unfortunately, not all of the science in the book was as enjoyable for me. I’ve never been especially interested in cellular replication and a while is spent on that. The less basic concepts are then explained much less clearly and in much detail. Even with a little knowledge of genetics, I sometimes found it hard to follow.There was some interesting discussion of some broader questions in science: the necessity of a common language and tacit assumptions which allow communication, the danger of letting our expectations and prior knowledge color our interpretation of data and what we throw out as anomalous. This made for an interesting read, but I did skim some of the more technical bits. ( )
  DoingDewey | Nov 6, 2012 |
This slenderish book has some large objectives — to describe the life and work of a prodigiously productive scientist, to describe experiments to a general audience that contemporary experts in the field couldn't understand, and to suggest a theory on the philosophy of science. There are some comical moments, as when a ridiculously complex bunch of paragraphs are tied up with something like, "Now that you understand that, I will now spend the next chapter briefly reviewing the history of genetics." On my second or third reading, I'm still not sure that I grasp what makes transposition quite so revolutionary. But there's something that draws me to this book, even when what I remember is mostly the inscrutable discussions of ring chromosomes and regulators. I think it might be McClintock's voice, which comes through so clearly. ( )
  bkohl | Jul 1, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 071671504X, Paperback)

Barbara McClintock was one of the premier investigators in cytology and classical genetics, but her work was pushed out of the mainstream by the revolution in molecular biology in the middle of this century. Thirty years later, the simple truths sought by research scientists whose training was closer to physics than biology continued to prove elusive, and the discovery of transposons in bacteria marked the beginning of a revival of interest in her work. Keller's analysis of McClintock's difficulty in finding a place to work and her relations with other investigators is insightful and thought-provoking, not only about women in science, but about the role of dissent in the scientific community.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:49 -0400)

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