Cover: Making Genes, Making Waves: A Social Activist in Science, from Harvard University PressCover: Making Genes, Making Waves in HARDCOVER

Making Genes, Making Waves

A Social Activist in Science

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Product Details


$29.50 • £23.95 • €26.50

ISBN 9780674009288

Publication Date: 10/15/2002


254 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

4 halftones, 3 line illustrations


Making Genes, Making Waves consists of a generally chronological series of vignettes detailing Beckwith’s role in raising the consciousness of the genetics community and the public (‘making waves’) interspersed with brief descriptions of his laboratory research problems at various times (‘making genes’). The prose is crisp, the episodes engaging and, as a heuristic of a successful modern American scientist with a social conscience, the book is probably without peer.—Jonathan Marks, The Nation

In 1969, a Harvard Medical School group headed by Jon Beckwith accomplished a first in molecular biology—the isolation of a gene… When their paper appeared in Nature, they held an extraordinary press conference in which they described their work and warned of the danger that it might lead to… The press conference received international media coverage, and Beckwith found himself embarked on a double career—a continuing one in research and a new one of social activism in science. His Making Genes, Making Waves is an absorbing account of how these two strands in his life were woven into a durable braid. The prose is straightforward, and Beckwith is refreshingly frank, revealing the divagations and doubts that marked his course in research.—Daniel J. Kevles, American Scientist

In this beautifully written autobiography, Beckwith…vividly describes aspects of the ‘cultural revolution in science that molecular biology brought with it,’ epitomized by…major public controversies about genetics in the United States from the 1960s… Beckwith has portrayed a fascinating period in the history of modern biology and of the interaction of science and society in the Western world. Thanks to him and other activists, social injustices resulting from the application of genetics are now widely discussed and, in democracies, meet with legal measures and regulation. In this book Beckwith, a committed scientist…calls for greater humility about what science can and cannot accomplish. This is a call that scientists would do well to take seriously.—Ute Deichmann, Nature

Jon Beckwith in Making Genes, Making Waves reminds us that he first warned about the social impact of genetic engineering back in 1969. His autobiography shows what hard work it is to combine science and politics, to keep different networks of interests alive.New Scientist

This autobiography charts [Beckwith’s] journey through both aspects of his life in the second half of the 20th century: the research of his professional career, and his personal crusade to inform society of biological developments and involve us all in deciding how the new knowledge should be applied. Since he has made a significant contribution in both areas, the book is a fascinating read. He provides a frank but kindly description of his collaborators and other researchers, and an insightful account of science as practiced in several very different laboratories… Society is very much the better for the efforts of those such as Beckwith who clearly enjoy the challenge of describing complex issues to non-specialists and participating in debates as to how new knowledge should be used.—Ian Wilmut, The Times Higher Education Supplement

Making Genes, Making Waves is a compelling history of the controversies in genetics over the last half century.—Carmen Chica, International Microbiology

Making Genes, Making Waves has special credibility coming from one of America’s most distinguished microbiologists. It is a must read for any young scientist who is concerned by the tension between the beautiful rationality of science and the sometimes disconcerting outcomes of its application.—David Baltimore, President, California Institute of Technology, and winner of the 1975 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine

The renowned scientist Jon Beckwith wrote Making Genes, Making Waves so that students could learn an oft-hidden truth: it is possible to become a successful scientist and still be a social activist within science.—Anne Fausto-Sterling, Professor of Biology and Women’s Studies, Brown University

Jon Beckwith presents a compelling story of his career-long attempt to integrate two roles, that of the research scientist and that of the social activist. With luck, his lucid narrative will inspire others to follow his example.—Philip Kitcher, Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University

Beckwith’s Making Genes, Making Waves shows that the commitment to social responsibility is entirely compatible with commitment to science; that love of science can coexist with serious qualms about its social consequences.—Dorothy Nelkin, Professor of Law and Sociology, New York University

It is rare to find an honest man describing how he became a first-rate scientist while his mixed feelings about the role and function of science turned him into an effective social activist. Making Genes, Making Waves is an excellent account, by a participant, of the debates about science and society that occurred in the last 30 or 40 years. It is especially interesting that the same man who was engaged in social activism was producing the best of the science that generated so much passion.—François Jacob, Winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine

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