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Gene Machine

The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome
Written by: Venki Ramakrishnan
Narrated by: Matthew Waterson
Length: 8 hrs and 11 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (6 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Everyone has heard of DNA. But by itself, DNA is just an inert blueprint for life. It is the ribosome - an enormous molecular machine made up of a million atoms - that makes DNA come to life, turning our genetic code into proteins and therefore into us. 

Gene Machine is an insider account of the race for the structure of the ribosome, a fundamental discovery that both advances our knowledge of all life and could lead to the development of better antibiotics against life-threatening diseases. 

But this is also a human story of Ramakrishnan's unlikely journey, from his first fumbling experiments in a biology lab to being the dark horse in a fierce competition with some of the world's best scientists. In the end, Gene Machine is a frank insider's account of the pursuit of high-stakes science.

©2018 Venki Ramakrishnan (P)2018 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

What members say

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    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting story but the author needs to be aware non-European scientific discoveries

He attributes discovery of calculus to European scientists in the 17th century whereas it is well known that from a study by universities of Manchester and Exeter which says it knows where the true credit lies — and it's with someone else completely.

The "Kerala school," a little-known group of scholars and mathematicians in fourteenth century India, identified the "infinite series" — one of the basic components of calculus — around 1350.

He also talks about being irritated by the multitude of emails from his country of birth when he won the noble. However he gives a weak reason for accepting knighthood in England.

While I liked the story, a part of me was disappointed by the author’s rejection of his roots.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Lucidly written, distinctly narrated

V Ramakrishnan's uses simple words, yet the language is vivid enough to help us visualise the (wo)men and molecules that inhabit this book. Waterson's narration is pleasant, even paced and distinct. A good listen!

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Race for cracking the ribosome structure

A good overview of the race for cracking the ribosome structure. The book gives a very good account of the author's and his competitors' work leading to cracking the ribosome structure. Along the way a reasonably good explanation of the ribosome and it's functions are given.

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Good experience

Love it a lot. Highly recommended to all my scientific friends and colleagues to read.

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  • Irina Bataeva
  • 15-02-19

biochemistry+autobiography+science politics

I rarely write the reviews, but I was surprised by this book too much not to write one.
The book follows the path of Venki Ramakrishnan - from his graduate studies and how he came across ribosomes to him winning the Nobel Prize for his work. The book also brilliantly explains the science(basic ribosome functions, crystallography, etc) on the level that any person could easily understand without being too simple, the fact I particularly liked as a bioengineering student myself who hasn't taken that many biology/biochemistry classes. What I absolutely love about the book is how honest and self-reflective the author appears to be. He is humble and tells somewhat embarrassing stories about his professional life, but most importantly he appears to have given credit to every person who has touched his life - he talks about his technicians, says how grateful he is to all of his amazing grad students and fellow scientists some whom he didn't actually know, but who provided him with compounds that he needed for the experiments. He extensively talks about politics in science - how the prizes are awarded, etc. His reflections on the Nobel Prize are mostly critical due to it being so restrictive about how many people are recognized for important scientific discoveries.
In summary, I would recommend this book to anybody interested in learning what it's like to be a scientist in the modern world of competition, collaboration, and how sometimes luck is what it takes to get there. In addition to that, the book is full of funny personal anecdotes and cool ribosome science, which makes it a must-read for anybody who is even remotely interested in science.
Oh, and the narrator is great!

106 of 108 people found this review helpful

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  • SRoszell
  • 01-04-19

Dense, chatty story

Gene Machine is an entertaining view of the scientific forays of a Nobel Prize recipient. He gives detailed explanation of crystals and their role in building understanding of the ribosome. Though technical, the story of the teams, personalities and struggles encountered adds humor and interest to the book.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Philomath
  • 08-11-18

The breathtaking complexity a molecular machine

This is not just an autobiography of Nobel Laureate Venki Ramakrishan, a structural biologist who has been recognised for his work on the Ribosome, the complex molecular living machine that produces proteins.

It is a unique inner glimpse at the specialised fields of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics, the people behind it, the fast paced advancements, competition, collaboration, politics, and the high stakes game of decades work coming to fruition.

If you were amazed by the mRNA Translation videos on ytube, showing the smallest most complicated living machine made of a million atoms, you will be even more amazed at the decades amount of work it took to achieve this knowledge.

This is also a story of modern science and what it takes to be at the top, and some of its shortfalls when it comes to recognition. So many people contribute for only a few to be recognised.

An incredible book. Highly recommended for its fascinating story, and the depth of science involved. Top Marks!!!

67 of 72 people found this review helpful

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  • William B Scott
  • 07-12-18

Interesting history

This book was more about the history of winning the Nobel prize then the science. I was disappointed because I wanted to learn about ribosomes and bio mechanics. Instead I got an interesting history of the politics in front lines science.

22 of 24 people found this review helpful

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  • wbiro
  • 30-04-19

Interesting on Three Levels

(1) The life of a research scientist, (2) the politics among research scientists (3) the life of a person. The book is not a science book, the author states in the beginning that the book is a memoir (of an entire career, it turns out).

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • David E. Clemmer
  • 02-12-18

An analysis of modern science

If you’ve ever wondered about what drives scientific discovery, this is for you - a passionate description of an amazing biological machine.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 14-04-19

Excellent book

It is an amazing book in ribosomes structural biology and Crystallography. I wish many more books will be available on audible in coming months/years.

Thanks

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • curtis feipel
  • 03-02-19

very good

very good story and comprehensive. about science, being a scientist, academia, and even the high accolades of the community.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Scott
  • 01-05-19

Not a scientifically informative book

While I knew from the reviews/description that this book was written from the perspective of a memoir, it also claimed to provide interesting information on the ribosome. After listening to the first 5 chapters of the background of researching molecular structures, and the author's life experiences, I started skipping through chapters trying to find some information about ribosomes. Sadly, I could find any (again, I did not listen to entire book - I just couldn't waste more time trying to find interesting information). I was not interested in the researcher's life.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • PowderRiverRose
  • 08-05-19

Technical yet very well written

I give the author high praise for his achievements and writing a book of quality. This book details the author’s journey to the Noble Prize for Chemistry and beyond but more than that he acknowledges those colleagues and friends who were instrumental in one way or another for his success and the many breakthroughs in their field.
As a lay person some of the terminology and science may be a bit above my pay grade but it is laid out clearly and, while not knowing, I do understand. I enjoyed the timeline as well as the difficulty of getting from then to now; there are both serious and humorous moments that will keep a person engaged.
The narrator is very good though does read rather clipped, however, the content is interesting so I didn’t let it bother me. If you are in the science field or especially if you are considering this path for your life then I urge you to listen.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Venkateshwaralu Srikarunyan
  • 06-12-18

Struggles of an India Born Scientist

This is a great account of what a typical work of a scientist looks like, in general. Particularly, I understood the struggle by student with an Indian background has to go through in an international arena while dealing with a bleeding edge topic in science.