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The Lure of Bacterial Genetics: A Tribute to John Roth

Editors: Stanley Maloy1, Kelly T. Hughes2, Josep Casadesús3
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Affiliations: 1: San Diego State University, San Diego, California; 2: University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah; 3: University of Seville, Seville, Spain
Content Type: Monograph
Format: Electronic, Hardcover
Publication Year: 2011

Category: History of Science; Microbial Genetics and Molecular Biology

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Over the course of his career, John Roth has inspired his students and colleagues not only with his achievements, but also with his sense of adventure and joy in solving difficult puzzles in bacterial genetics. In addition, he has instilled in them his unique, rigorous scientific approach. Endlessly curious, he is forever diagramming ideas, developing them into models, designing experiments to test those models, and then evaluating the results in order to develop new models and tests. Along the way, he encourages his colleagues’ feedback, engaging them at every step of the scientific process.

This book has been written and edited by colleagues and former students of John Roth, many of whom are also leaders and pioneers in the field of bacterial genetics. It provides a complete overview of the entire field of bacterial genetics, helping the reader to understand how the field has evolved through the years. Moreover, the book enables everyone to be inspired by and to learn from John Roth’s achievements and contributions to bacterial genetics.

Initial chapters introduce the reader to John Roth and his impact on science. Subsequent chapters offer valuable lessons in both the history and science of bacterial genetics. The authors take the reader behind the scenes for a look at some of the most important triumphs and mishaps that have occurred on the path to discovery. The final chapter, written by John Roth himself, offers a fascinating look into the future. Progressing through the book, readers will gain valuable insights into how scientists think, how scientific ideas evolve, and how scientists interact.

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The Quarterly Review of Biology

02 June 2013

Within each researcher, there is a raconteur with a ready anecdote about the caprice and capriciousness of their scientific careers. Such stories invariably include a mentor or a colleague who has made all the difference—the person who made September 2012 NEW BIOLOGICAL BOOKS 265 the measured comment, pressed for buried details, or had his/her own unique take on the topic. For the nearly 50 contributors to this volume that person is John Roth.

The book opens with an updated version of John’s instructive essay, Giving a Seminar: Suggestions for Graduate Students, in which he likens public speaking with lovemaking. This should be sufficient to convey why people tend to inch in when John begins to speak. His angle, in case you are still pondering the metaphor, is that “[e]ven your best friends won’t tell you when you do it badly—they will just avoid coming back to repeat the experience” (p. 9).

The charm of this book is the utter unevenness of the chapters, which range from short reminiscences and historical revisions to detailed reconstructions of the authors’ research endeavors. The contents might best be summed up by saying that the contributing scientists form a very curious lot (and that they are indebted to John for instigating and feeding their curiosity). My only disappointment is the price of this volume, which John would likely advise you to spend on a bottle of wine and some very expensive peanuts. In any event, this compilation speaks to both to the sociology and to the substance of science, and reminds us why we got into this racket anyway.

The Quarterly Review of Biology

Reviewer: Howard Ochman, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Review Date: September 2012

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