cover image Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome

Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome

Venki Ramakrishnan. Basic, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-465-09336-6

Ramakrishnan, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the ribosome, shares his excitement about the scientific process in this enlightening if pedestrian memoir. As he traces his journey from India to the United States to attend graduate school at Miami University in Ohio, through various research and teaching positions in the U.S. and England, three things become clear: Ramakrishnan is an incredibly talented scientist; he is a kind and generous person; and he is a workmanlike writer. He describes the process and challenges of mapping the ribosome, the part of every cell that enables proteins to be constructed, in almost excruciating detail (while diligently giving appropriate credit to his collaborators and competitors). He is at his best reflecting upon the nature of the scientific enterprise, as when explaining that the “willingness to challenge is the great thing about science: no matter how important a discovery, people will attack any parts of it that they think are not right.” Ramakrishnan also reflects on the politics of scientific awards, including the Nobel Prize, humbly noting that many well-deserving people are overlooked. Despite this work’s literary shortcomings, one can’t help celebrating with Ramakrishnan when, near his story’s conclusion, the call from Stockholm arrives. Agent: John Brockman, John Brockman Inc. (Nov.)