Catalogue


The century of the gene [electronic resource] /
Evelyn Fox Keller.
imprint
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2002, c2000.
description
186 p. : ill.
ISBN
0674008251, 9780674008250
format(s)
Book
More Details
added author
imprint
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2002, c2000.
isbn
0674008251
9780674008250
restrictions
Licensed for access by U. of T. users.
catalogue key
11947859
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. [169]-182) and index.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2000-08-01:
In scientific literature as well as the popular press, "gene talk" is rampant and, even when technical, can seem confidently glib. Keller (Refiguring Life: Metaphors of 20th Century Biology), a noted feminist historian and philosopher of science, wonders whether these writers really know what they are talking about. Over the last century, scientific conceptions of what a gene is and does have changed from its being viewed as a discrete element of heredity to an ingredient in a determinant program to a component of a dynamic, distributed, self-correcting network. Yet the word gene, with all of its ambiguities, has been retained. Keller puts this philosophical problem in a broad context, and while the historical stories of discoveries in genetics have been told many times, her interpretations of how they changed the meanings of gene carry the argument for a new vocabulary for the field. Especially compelling are her analogies between biological development and adaptive computer systems. This discussion is for scientists and historians/philosophers of science mostly. For general readers, a good overview of genetics and DNA is Dorothy Nelkin and M. Susan Lindee's The DNA Mystique (LJ 3/15/95).DGregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2000-09-22:
A former MacArthur fellow and a professor of history and philosophy of science at MIT, Keller (Keywords in Evolutionary Biology) tackles the contemporary revolution in genetic science. Although originally a critic of the Human Genome Project (the effort to sequence the entire human genome), Keller doesn't dismiss it out of hand anymore. "What is most impressive to me," she writes, "is not so much the ways in which the genome project has fulfilled our expectations but the ways in which it has transformed them." In this tight, clearly written survey, Keller does a wonderful job of explaining and demonstrating how our knowledge of genetics has accumulated to the extent that we can fathom what we don't understand. In her articulate and insightful, if abbreviated, history of genetics and molecular biology, she suggests that most of our common assumptions about genes are either too simplistic or simply incorrect. It turns out, for example, that a single functioning gene may be split and found in several locations on a chromosome, and it's rare that a gene can be determined to have caused any particular trait, characteristic or behavior. Keller argues that scientists have gained a great deal by refocusing their attention from individual genes to the concept of an integrated genetic program. Keller's ideas are provocative, and she is interested in contributing to a popular discussion about the politics of genetic research, but because she skips a lot of the scientific basics, the general reader won't be able to grasp all of her points. Even so, her reputation as a scholar of genetics means this will appeal primarily to hard-core biology/genetics devotees. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Choice on 2001-01-03:
Both the terms "gene" and "genetics" were coined in the first decade of the 20th century. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we look back on the last century as the "century of the gene," in which the science of genetics progressed from the baby steps of trying to understand the mechanisms of heredity, to the gigantic leaps of the Human Genome Project. Yet as we embark on a new century, geneticists are back to baby steps, striving to interpret the genome and develop the new science of proteomics. Keller (history and philosophy of science, MIT) argues that the concept of the gene as an all-sufficient causal entity is becoming increasingly problematic as we enter the second century of the gene. She uses discoveries in the genetics of development and evolution, as well as in the field of information theory, to support her argument. The overall thrust of her book is that we need to expand our current idea of the gene into something broader that takes into account the various contexts that influence gene function. Keller succeeds in presenting extremely intriguing ideas in a coherent, highly accessible manner. All levels. R. K. Harris; William Carey College
Reviews
Review Quotes
The Century of the Gene, by Evelyn Fox Keller, not only provides an insightful overview of the role of a gene in the creation of an organism but also traces the history of our perception of the gene's role in that creation...Keller provides several concise figures that allow a person with minimal knowledge of molecular biology to understand the basics of what a gene is and how it functions within the body. This book also captures past and present thought from critical scientists and philosophers who have contributed to our current understanding of molecular biology...[The] overall outlook provides a new understanding of the dynamics of gene regulation and predicts that a new era in which we can understand how to control our own evolution is approaching. From a research perspective, we hope to be able to use this knowledge to help correct medical disorders. However, from a moral and religious perspective, many new boundaries are being crossed. Read this book. You will challenge yourself in trying to figure out what the future will be.
[This] book opens up exciting possibilities of new ways of thinking about biological organization, which are not overshadowed by traditional language or by "historical baggage"...Evelyn Fox Keller has put down a marker in this important book. The time has come for us to take on a richer understanding of genetics and with it some new language and concepts.
In this elegantly written book Evelyn Fox-Keller tells the fascinating story of how the heuristic power of genetic experimentation interacts with the narrative power of the word "gene." Both are built on and reinforce each other. I never saw an equally convincing and well informed narrative on how language mediates the interaction between experimental research and its social context.
In The Century of the Gene Evelyn Keller gathers together her considerable skills as a mathematician, physicist, historian and philosopher and applies them to the central problem of the last 100 years of biology, namely the relation of the genes to the building of an organism. The scholarship is masterly, not only because of her wide reading of the literature, but her deep, penetrating understanding of what she reads. To cap it all she writes clearly and elegantly so that the book is a pleasure to read. This is a conspicuously intelligent book.
Genes have captured the scientific and popular imagination. But in The Century of the Gene, Evelyn Fox Keller provides us with a powerful analysis of the limits of the gene as an explanatory concept. Indeed, the success of molecular biology and greater understanding of biological development have exposed the wide gap between genetic information and biological meaning, undermining the very concept of the gene. Yet gene talk with all its historical baggage persists in shaping both science and popular perceptions. Keller argues convincingly for a new language, for new concepts that will enable us to deal with the real complexity of biological organization. This is a critically important book to be very widely read.
Genes have captured the scientific and popular imagination. But in The Century of the Gene , Evelyn Fox Keller provides us with a powerful analysis of the limits of the gene as an explanatory concept. Indeed, the success of molecular biology and greater understanding of biological development have exposed the wide gap between genetic information and biological meaning, undermining the very concept of the gene. Yet gene talk with all its historical baggage persists in shaping both science and popular perceptions. Keller argues convincingly for a new language, for new concepts that will enable us to deal with the real complexity of biological organization. This is a critically important book to be very widely read.
Evelyn Keller has the disturbing ability to make you think again from scratch about things you thought you had already understood. It is a long time since I have thought so hard about fundamental problems in genetics as I did when reading The Century of the Gene.
Evelyn Keller has the disturbing ability to make you think again from scratch about things you thought you had already understood. It is a long time since I have thought so hard about fundamental problems in genetics as I did when reading The Century of the Gene .
Among the many books on cloning and genetic therapy, The Century of the Gene, an overview of current research and thought by philosopher of science Evelyn Fox Keller, seems especially promising.
Among the many books on cloning and genetic therapy, The Century of the Gene , an overview of current research and thought by philosopher of science Evelyn Fox Keller, seems especially promising.
Evelyn Fox Keller's The Century of the Gene is a clear, concise and challenging contribution to our understanding of the history of genetics and of modern biology more generally. There can be no doubt that Keller's analysis of "gene talk," that is, her analysis of the variety of contexts and ways in which biologists have deployed the word "gene", is more than timely.
For anyone fascinated by biology, the technology used to explore it, and the medical promises implicit in the information contained within our genetic material, Keller's overview makes for clear, engaging, and exciting reading.
[In] a lucid analysis of the mind-boggling advances in genetics and molecular biology in the twentieth century, Keller says it's time to change the way we think about the gene.
In this tight, clearly written survey, Keller does a wonderful job of explaining and demonstrating how our knowledge of genetics has accumulated...In her articulate and insightful...history of genetics and molecular biology, she suggests that most of our common assumptions about genes are either too simplistic or simply incorrect.
[Keller] is at the same time enthusiastic about the light that has been shed on the nature of life and critical of the oversimplifications that she feels have been made...She is well qualified to draw [her conclusions]. She has an admirable grasp of recent research in molecular genetics...and has read widely in the history of genetics...She has also thought hard about both the history and the current state of the subject...We need Keller's voice.
Keller traces the evolution of genetic science over the course of the twentieth century, during which Gregor Mendel's theories of inheritance were rediscovered, the structure of DNA revealed, and the human genome mapped--world-changing achievements that have taken our understanding of genetics far beyond the level at which the now too-simple word gene was coined.
[Keller writes] with a peculiar, elegant blend of linguistic skill, historical reflection, conceptual analysis and synthetic outlook, and with the generously encompassing gesture of someone who participated in and followed the developments of molecular biology and genetics over several decades...Keller sees her book as a plea for scientific and political realism. Indeed it is. But it is more than just that. It engages historians, philosophers, scientists and the educated lay public alike in a discussion that self-consciously resists the temptation of polemics...about the conceptual and experimental developments in life sciences during the course of the twentieth century.
Sometimes, with great luck, you happen on a book that is wondrous in its ability to take a topic apart and explain it lucidly. Sometimes, the joy is to be found in the way an author is able to put those pieces back together. And sometimes, it is the elegance both of analysis and synthesis that makes a book truly great. The Century of the Gene, by Evelyn Fox Keller, reaches that level and then vaults past it into the category of rare volumes that are unforgettable. This is the sort of book that, once found, can never be relinquished. The breadth of intellect is so strong, the importance of the subject so acute, the language so beautifully wrought, that you find yourself drawn to read it again and again, only to find a new dimension each time...In fact--and this is one of the most intense pleasures of the book--Fox Keller's explanation of how the thinking about the gene has evolved over the past century is both as simple and as complex as the gene itself. Her topic is also her metaphor.
Once again, with the prescience her readers have come to expect from her, Evelyn Fox Keller is ahead of the curve in identifying and illuminating new questions for our attention...[Keller] addresses myths and misunderstandings that surround the concept of a gene...[Her] informed and entertaining volume takes the reader on a quick historical tour through the gestation and birth of molecular genetics and then, with a few helpful illustrations, into current perceptions of gene structure and function in sufficient detail to explain her critical arguments...Her fascinating tale should raise your interest in the biological mysteries that remain.
The very word 'gene' symbolizes our self-obsessed culture. All we do, know, learn, and sacrifice is somehow explained away by appealing to this tiny and elusive biological structure. Yet according to at least one scientist, it's time for us to shift our focus and branch out to other possible, and perhaps more suitable, interpretations of our natures. In The Century of the Gene , Evelyn Fox Keller urges the genomic society to break free of the linguistic (and therefore conceptual) restraints and the historical baggage inherent in the use of the term 'gene'--a break she sees as imperative and, ultimately, inevitable.
The notes...are detailed and useful...Her book is a thought-provoking review of the history and philosophy of genetics and genomics.
The very word 'gene' symbolizes our self-obsessed culture. All we do, know, learn, and sacrifice is somehow explained away by appealing to this tiny and elusive biological structure. Yet according to at least one scientist, it's time for us to shift our focus and branch out to other possible, and perhaps more suitable, interpretations of our natures. In The Century of the Gene, Evelyn Fox Keller urges the genomic society to break free of the linguistic (and therefore conceptual) restraints and the historical baggage inherent in the use of the term 'gene'--a break she sees as imperative and, ultimately, inevitable.
The Century of the Gene is unusual among popular histories of science in that it largely avoids both technical minutiae and sociological or historical background. Rather, it is almost exclusively a history of ideas, even a history of just one idea--the concept of the gene. Keller's aim, one that she achieves admirably, is to give readers just enough information about discoveries in molecular biology so that they can appreciate the consequence of those discoveries for our understanding of what genes are.
Sometimes, with great luck, you happen on a book that is wondrous in its ability to take a topic apart and explain it lucidly. Sometimes, the joy is to be found in the way an author is able to put those pieces back together. And sometimes, it is the elegance both of analysis and synthesis that makes a book truly great. The Century of the Gene , by Evelyn Fox Keller, reaches that level and then vaults past it into the category of rare volumes that are unforgettable. This is the sort of book that, once found, can never be relinquished. The breadth of intellect is so strong, the importance of the subject so acute, the language so beautifully wrought, that you find yourself drawn to read it again and again, only to find a new dimension each time...In fact--and this is one of the most intense pleasures of the book--Fox Keller's explanation of how the thinking about the gene has evolved over the past century is both as simple and as complex as the gene itself. Her topic is also her metaphor.
The Century of the Gene , by Evelyn Fox Keller, not only provides an insightful overview of the role of a gene in the creation of an organism but also traces the history of our perception of the gene's role in that creation...Keller provides several concise figures that allow a person with minimal knowledge of molecular biology to understand the basics of what a gene is and how it functions within the body. This book also captures past and present thought from critical scientists and philosophers who have contributed to our current understanding of molecular biology...[The] overall outlook provides a new understanding of the dynamics of gene regulation and predicts that a new era in which we can understand how to control our own evolution is approaching. From a research perspective, we hope to be able to use this knowledge to help correct medical disorders. However, from a moral and religious perspective, many new boundaries are being crossed. Read this book. You will challenge yourself in trying to figure out what the future will be.
Top-drawer science reading.
Although brief, this book is packed with good things. The historical analysis is unfailingly interesting, the scientific reportage lucid. Best of all, perhaps, is the sheer excitement the book communicates about the state of genetics and the need to get that state into proper focus, using all the intellectual resources going...I am impressed by the diversity of gene concepts within what Keller sees...as a single concept...Her own contribution to the case for conceptual unity is an important one.
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Summaries
Main Description
In a book that promises to change the way we think and talk about genes and genetic determinism, Evelyn Fox Keller , one of our most gifted historians and philosophers of science, provides a powerful, profound analysis of the achievements of genetics and molecular biology in the twentieth century, the century of the gene. Not just a chronicle of biology's progress from gene to genome in one hundred years, The Century of the Gene also calls our attention to the surprising ways these advances challenge the familiar picture of the gene most of us still entertain. Keller shows us that the very successes that have stirred our imagination have also radically undermined the primacy of the gene-word and object-as the core explanatory concept of heredity and development. She argues that we need a new vocabulary that includes concepts such as robustness, fidelity, and evolvability. But more than a new vocabulary, a new awareness is absolutely crucial: that understanding the components of a system (be they individual genes, proteins, or even molecules) may tell us little about the interactions among these components. With the Human Genome Project nearing its first and most publicized goal, biologists are coming to realize that they have reached not the end of biology but the beginning of a new era. Indeed, Keller predicts that in the new century we will witness another Cambrian era, this time in new forms of biological thought rather than in new forms of biological life.
Bowker Data Service Summary
This study provides a profound analysis of the achievements of genetics and molecular biology in the 20th century. It calls attention to the surprising ways these advances challenge the familiar picture of the gene, and the need for a new vocabulary.
Main Description
In a book that promises to change the way we think and talk about genes and genetic determinism, Evelyn Fox Keller, one of our most gifted historians and philosophers of science, provides a powerful, profound analysis of the achievements of genetics and molecular biology in the twentieth century, the century of the gene. Not just a chronicle of biology's progress from gene to genome in one hundred years, The Century of the Gene also calls our attention to the surprising ways these advances challenge the familiar picture of the gene most of us still entertain. Keller shows us that the very successes that have stirred our imagination have also radically undermined the primacy of the gene--word and object--as the core explanatory concept of heredity and development. She argues that we need a new vocabulary that includes concepts such as robustness, fidelity, and evolvability. But more than a new vocabulary, a new awareness is absolutely crucial: that understanding the components of a system (be they individual genes, proteins, or even molecules) may tell us little about the interactions among these components. With the Human Genome Project nearing its first and most publicized goal, biologists are coming to realize that they have reached not the end of biology but the beginning of a new era. Indeed, Keller predicts that in the new century we will witness another Cambrian era, this time in new forms of biological thought rather than in new forms of biological life.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Life of a Powerful Word
Motors of Stasis and Change: The Regulation of Genetic Stability
The Meaning of Gene Function: What Does a Gene Do?
The Concept of a Genetic Program: How to Make an Organism
Limits of Genetic Analysis: What Keeps Development on Track?
Conclusion: What Are Genes For?
Notes
References
Acknowledgments
Index
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

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