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A Spectator of the Game of Science

By Craig K. Comstock

A review of Horace Judson, published in the Oakland Tribune

Nearly 10 years ago, Horace Judson, then a journalist, assigned himself to one of the most absorbing and consequential stories of our time: the revolution in biology which brought to light the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), broke the genetic code, and began to reveal how protein molecules work. In 1979 Judson presented us with a 686-page account of this revolution, focusing not so much on what is known as on how the individual discoveries were made and knit into a conceptual network.

This deeply pleasurable book, The Eighth Day of Creation, drew its authority from interviews with nearly all the participants, a triumph of shoe-leather journalism in the city of the intellect. As essayist James Agee and sociologist Daniel Bell had done before him, the author rose above the demands of a job with Time, Inc. and created a genre by writing a classic in it.

In Judson’s case, the genre was not the popularization of scientific knowledge, a cause well served by that most prolific of village explainers, Isaac Asimov. Rather, it was a re-creation of the circumstances of discovery, allowing us to share the uncertainties, the force field of problems as they arose, the guesses—mostly wrong, but finally right.

To offer us this pleasure while respecting the evidence is a feat rare in any area of history. In the history of science it has been almost unheard of, mainly because science in the form of its findings offers so few clues, to an outsider, of what science is like as a search….

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