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Designs for Life: Molecular Biology After World War II

By: Soraya de Chadarevian

423 pages, B/w photos, figs

Cambridge University Press

Hardback | May 2002 | #122579 | ISBN: 0521570786
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NHBS Price: £81.99 $107/€93 approx

About this book

Molecular biology has come to dominate our perceptions of life, health and disease. In the decades following World War II, the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge was a world-renowned centre of this emerging discipline. It was here that Crick and Watson, Kendrew and Perutz, Sanger and Brenner pursued their celebrated investigations. Soraya de Chadarevian's important new study is the first to examine the creation and expansion of molecular biology through the prism of this remarkable institution. Firmly placing the history of the laboratory in its broader institutional and scientific context, she shows how molecular biology was built at the lab bench and through the wide circulation of tools, models and researchers, as well as in governmental committees, international exhibitions and television studios. Designs for Life is a major contribution both to the history of molecular biology, and to the history of science and technology in post-war Britain. Nominated as one of the top 5 Science books of 2002 by The Sunday Times.

'De Chadarevian's historical account is recommended to all who are interested in the development of molecular biology.' Nature Nominated as one of the top 5 Science books of 2002 by The Sunday Times. 'The author combines painstaking scholarship with superb narrative skills, and a gift for explaining technical matters accessibly ! required reading for anyone interested in the politics, personalities and mechanics of science - from sixth formers to government ministers.' John Cornwell, The Sunday Times 'This is a scholarly work ! but it is also very readable ! the book is a 'must' for academics teaching molecular biology, and for anyone with even a passing interest in the history of what perhaps will be the most pervasive science of the 21st century.' Microbiology Today 'De Chadarevian meticulously traces the place of biophysics in the heady post-war expansion of British science ![A] composite portrait of the ways a new science is shaped by local circumstance.' Times Higher Education Supplement '! the book provides a fresh perspective on well-trodden ground and should fuel the continuing controversy about how, where and why molecular biology first came into being.' BioEssays 'De Chadarevian is to be congratulated on the fascinating wealth of information which she has assembled about this classic period in the development of biological science in Britain.' Endeavour '! Designs for Life is a very useful addition to the history of molecular biology.' Ambix


Introduction; Part I. Postwar Reconstruction and Biophysics: 1. World War II and the mobilisation of British scientists; 2. Reconstructing life; 3. Proteins, crystals and computers; 4. Televisual language; Part II. Building Molecular Biology: 5. Locating the double helix; 6. Disciplinary moves; 7. The origins of molecular biology revisited; Part III. Bench Work and Politics: 8. Laboratory cultures; 9. On the governmental agenda; 10. The end of an era; Conclusions.

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Soraya de Chadarevian is Senior Research Associate and Affiliated Lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of Zwischen den Diskursen: Maurice Merleau-Ponty und die Wissenschaften (1990), and co-editor (with Harmke Kamminga) of Molecularizing Biology and Medicine: New Practices and Alliances 1910s--1970s (1998). She is advisory editor of Studies in History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences.

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