This engrossing biography by one of molecular biologys foremost scholars reveals the remarkable evolution of Francis Cricks scientific career and the shaping of his personality. From unpromising beginnings, he became a vital contributor to a remarkably creative period in science. Olby chronicles Cricks life from his early studies in biophysics, to the discovery of the structure of DNA, to his later work in neuroscience and the nature of consciousness. This account is woven together with insights into his personal life gained through access to Cricks papers, family, and friends. Robert Olbys book is a richly detailed portrait of one of the great scientists of our time.
About the author: Robert Olby, a prominent historian of science, is research professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh and author of the highly regarded Origins of Mendelism (1966, 1985) and The Path to the Double Helix (1974, 1994). He has published and lectured widely on 19th and 20th century topics in biology, genetics, and molecular biology. Olby is a member of the History of Science Society and the International Academy of the History of Science.
The heart of Olbys book is the long section on the code; it is carefully researched and written in a style that allows the science itself to drive the narrative, it is absorbing and captivating...The writing is pleasant and easy to follow, a nice mix of detail and reflection...[Olby] explains the ideas, the data and the changing viewpoints step by step.
...in terms of access to the subject, since Crick read and discussed much of this book before his death, as well as historical knowledge and attention to detail, this is the fullest account of the life of arguably the most important Englishman in science in the second half of the 20th century...Olby relates the scientific life with great skill, and has more space for key experiments and arguments. His book is an essential complement to other historians recent studies of the great days of molecular biology.
Crick could have wished for no more suitable biographer than science historian Robert Olby, who knew him for almost 40 years and who has had full access to family members and documents...Olby gives a vivid account both of Cricks work over a period of 60 years, and of his life, and there is much in this book that will prove to be unfamiliar, perhaps especially to geneticists...For exploring and documenting all these and other aspects of Cricks life in a readable, sensitive and not uncritical manner, readers from all backgrounds have much to thank Robert Olby for. His story will help to confirm Francis Crick as one of the key people responsible for the transformation of our understanding of life and its processes.
Olby has compiled a substantial but enjoyable biography with 50 pages of references. Pen portraits of 70 of the principal characters are a valuable aid in this fine exploration of a remarkable mind.
All throughout, Olby intersperses detailed accounts of the science with Cricks persona. Neither perspective is at the expense of the other and together they enable and elevate the book, the two wound together in the mutual relationship of a helix. The personal details are as interesting as the science and, if anyone was wondering yes, a genius like Crick was not uncomplicated...I suppose reviews of a biography could be divided into ones by those who knew the subject versus those who did not. I knew Francis Crick quite well and think Olby has gotten him right on all scores. Crick was guarded on first encounter but once he thought a person was OK he let all loose. He knew and trusted Robert Olby and the result has given us something truly memorable.
Olby brilliantly follows Crick through [his] creative years. By highlighting the scientists interactions with a growing group of others devoted to developing the field, he captures the excitement, false dawns and triumphs that followed the Watson-Crick model of DNA. Olby is fair to all of the early participants in DNA work: Linus Pauling, Maurice Wilkins and, above all, Rosalind Franklin and her collaborators at Kings College London...Issues of priority generate passion, but Olbys account can be recommended for its dispassionate analysis and mastery of archival sources.
This book provides a detailed and authoritative account of the life in science of this very remarkable man and should have a wide readership, not only among scientists.
...an outstanding work that probes the personal motivations and technical details of Cricks research on the structure of DNA, the genetic code, the mechanism of protein synthesis, and his later research in the neurosciences...Olby emphasizes the creative tension between Cricks imaginative theorizing and his critical demand for sound evidence. Highly recommended.
Robert Olby does a wonderful job of conveying how Cricks personality and environment shaped his science…He refrains from judging his subject, preferring to imply rather than spell out the sharper edges of Cricks character, and leaves it to the reader to assess Crick as a scientist and person...[Olby] offers a scholarly and well-researched (though highly readable) account of the life, quests and times of one of the most famous scientists of the 20th century.
Olby was the right person to write such a scientific biography, as all of the readers of his already famous book, The Path to the Double Helix (1984. London: Macmillan) can attest. They will appreciate the same qualities in the present work: a wealth of information and scrupulous honesty.
The readers of PSCF will be especially interested in the way in which Cricks uncompromising scientific naturalism informed and guided his choice of scientific problems and his approach to their solution...
Olby...was supremely qualified to undertake this project. He has long been recognized as a leading historian of genetics...(Crick and Olby) first met in Oxford in 1966, and it was out of this collaboration that the idea of a biography first emerged, but with Cricks stipulation that it would not appear until after his death...Olby...benefited from a trove of historical riches including Cricks personal papers, correspondence, manuscripts, laboratory notebooks, and autobiographical writings...Olbys volume, produced by a venerable historical of science at the pinnacle of his career,...will surely be regarded as the definitive scientific biography of Crick...This biography, in short, is not only a fitting tribute to Crick, but also a shining addition to Olbys distinguished corpus.
Olbys biography could be considered the product of an open conversation with Odile Speed Crick Cricks wife and others that extended for almost forty years. What is more, Crick himself read and critically commented on the first fourteen of the twenty-one chapters of the book, with only one condition imposed on Olby, for it to be published after his lifetime....In the preface of Olbys book, he states that he hopes for his work to make an additional contribution. Needless to say, he largely achieves this and in so doing, proves wrong those who, like myself, thought that enough was known about Francis Cricks life. Olbys book is written in a lucid style with an impressive display of sources and a smart and engaging narrative. Definitely a pleasurable read.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press has produced a handsome book, and Olby makes excellent use of schematic diagrams to explain the technical developments he discusses....Francis Crick: Hunter of Lifes Secrets is a book of indisputable scholarly value that will certainly draw readers from beyond our profession, and for this Olby should be commended.
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