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Who could have guessed that the lowly fruit fly might hold the key for decoding heredity? Or that the mouse might one day disclose astonishing evolutionary secrets? In a book infused with wisdom, wonder, and a healthy dose of wry skepticism, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist François Jacob walks us through the surprising ways of science, particularly the science of biology, in this century. Of Flies, Mice & Men is at once a work of history, a social study of the role of scientists in the modern world, and a cautionary tale of the bumbling and brilliance, imagination and luck, that attend scientific discovery. A book about molecules, reproduction, and evolutionary tinkering, it is also about the way biologists work, and how they contemplate beauty and truth, good and evil.
Animated with anecdotes from Greek mythology, literature, episodes from the history of science, and personal experience, Of Flies, Mice & Men tells the story of how the marvelous discoveries of molecular and developmental biology are transforming our understanding of who we are and where we came from. In particular, Jacob scrutinizes the place of the scientist in society. Alternately cast as the soothsayer Tiresias, the conscienceless inventor Daedalus, or Prometheus, conveyer of dangerous knowledge, the scientist in our day must instead adopt the role of truthteller, Jacob suggests. And the crucial truth that molecular biology teaches is the one he elaborates with great clarity and grace in Of Flies, Mice & Men: that all animals are made of the same building blocks, by a combinatorial system that always rearranges the same elements according to new forms.
François Jacob is Professor of Cellular Genetics, College de France, and a member of the French Academy. In 1965 he shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work in genetics.
"Using his own storied career as a backdrop, Jacob reveals the ways of a scientist in unraveling the mysteries of life [...] He tells, for instance, how the minuscule fruit fly revealed the passing of genetic traits and how mice became a primary organism for research. Above all, he scrutinizes the role of the scientist in society, often recalling the legacy of the ancient Greeks."
– Science News
"Jacob's book is masterly in combining erudition, wit, and wisdom. It is marvelously clear in describing what we know about the fundamental questions of life and the laws that determine the growth of each species – and what we don't know."
– M. F. Perutz, New York Review of Books
"A humane and beautifully written account of the progress and prospects of biological science."
– Matthew Meselson, Harvard University
"François Jacob is one of the few scientists who write comprehensively and eloquently [...] If there were more books like this, genetics might not be under such an attack as it is now."
– Benno Müller, Nature