Life’s Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code
by Matthew Cobb
Basic Books, 2015 (($29.99))
After Catholic monk Gregor Mendel discovered the laws of inheritance—how traits are passed on from parents to offspring—in the 1860s, his work was ignored for 35 years. But in 1900 three scientists rediscovered Mendel's findings and popularized them, spawning what zoologist and science historian Cobb calls “the century of genetics.” Cobb goes on to recount the way researchers gradually cracked the genetic code—and, indeed, how they came to think of it as a code in the first place. The idea, finally described in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick, that the ordering of chemical bases on DNA contains the instructions for life was not obvious, and the tale of its discovery takes many turns. By thinking of the genetic code as a repository of information, Cobb argues, the study of genetics helped to usher in the modern information age.