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DNA at 50

The Eighth Day of Creation revisited: writing the classic account of the birth of modern molecular biology.

If there was some deep, unacknowledged motivation driving The Eighth Day of Creation, I suppose itís the fact that I ought to have been a scientist, but am not. When someone at a cocktail party asks me what I do, Iím likely to answer, “Iím a theater critic out of work”—and thatís true. But the earliest encounter that eventually shaped The Eighth Day occurred in my first year at the University of Chicago, when I came to know Matthew Meselson.

We were absurdly young: he, 16; I, 15. And bright. Hardly anyone now recalls the remarkable, 20-year educational experiment at the University of Chicago, created by Robert Hutchins, chancellor, and his sidekick Mortimer Adler. Every student in the college took exactly the same courses.

In 1946, when Meselson and I began, these comprised three years of the humanities, three years of the social sciences, three years of the natural sciences, one year of language, one year of mathematics, one year of history, and one year of philosophy. Only oneís final year left room for electives. The language course included an extra quarter, of linguistics. Mathematics was taught from first principles, beginning with symbolic logic. The essential feature of the Hutchins plan was that everything was taught from original materials. No textbooks.

“Ah, the Great Books,” people say. Much more than that. Great teachers, drawn from the universityís best faculty. For the second year in the humanities sequence, my section was taught by Eliseo Vivas, a humanist and moral philosopher of the greatest distinction. We began with Herodotus and Thucydides, went on with the Antigone and Aristotle on tragedy—but I digress.

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Reviews

» DNA at 50

The Genetic Frontier

Closer to God

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THE EIGHTH DAY OF CREATION: MAKERS OF THE REVOLUTION IN BIOLOGY
By Horace Freeland Judson
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
714 pages, $42
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