Avoid Boring People
Lessons from a Life in Science
By James D. Watson
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780375412844, 368pp.)
Publication Date: September 25, 2007
List Price: $26.95*
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From a living legend—James D. Watson, who shared the Nobel Prize for having revealed the structure of DNA—a personal account of the making of a scientist. In Avoid Boring People, the man who discovered “the secret of life” shares the less revolutionary secrets he has found to getting along and getting ahead in a competitive world.
Recounting the years of his own formation—from his father’s birding lessons to the political cat’s cradle of professorship at Harvard—Watson illuminates the progress of an exemplary scientific life, both his own pursuit of knowledge and how he learns to nurture fledgling scientists. Each phase of his experience yields a wealth of age-specific practical advice. For instance, when young, never be the brightest person in the room or bring more than one date on a ski trip; later in life, always accept with grace when your request for funding is denied, and--for goodness’ sake--don’t dye your hair. There are precepts that few others would find occasion to heed (expect to gain weight after you win your Nobel Prize, as everyone will invite you to dinner) and many more with broader application (do not succumb to the seductions of golf if you intend to stay young professionally). And whatever the season or the occasion: avoid boring people.
A true believer in the intellectual promise of youth, Watson offers specific pointers to beginning scientists about choosing the projects that will shape their careers, the supreme importance of collegiality, and dealing with competitors within the same institution, even one who is a former mentor. Finally he addresses himself to the role and needs of science at large universities in the context of discussing the unceremonious departure of Harvard's president Larry Summers and the search for his successor.
Scorning political correctness, this irreverent romp through Watson’s life and learning is an indispensable guide to anyone plotting a career in science (or most anything else), a primer addressed both to the next generation and those who are entrusted with their minds.
James D. Watson was director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York from 1968 to 1993 and is now its chancellor. He was the first director of the National Center for Human Genome Research of the National Institutes of Health from 1989 to 1992. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, he has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Science, and, with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962.
“a deliciously detailed account of his life both in and out of science… insightful, useful and on target about science, competition, leadership, teaching and academic success…His remarkable recall of events…gives the reader the feeling of being there…full of insight into Watson and into a life in science…He is at all times blatantly but entertainingly honest about his likes and dislikes…Watson remains one of the most fascinating scientists of our time, as iconic in some respects ash is double helix.”
-- Huntington F. Willard, Nature
“the ne plus ultra of gadflies, James D. Watson…from his near-octogenarian heights, he passes on what he can to young scientists coming up and to the rest of us as well...Particularly entertaining”
-- Sara Lippincott, Los Angeles Times
“Among James Watson’s gifts is the flying gibe…those who can ignore Watson’s latest gaffe will not be bored.”
-- Brenda Maddox, The London Times
“James Watson is both a scientific genius and a larger-than-life personality...If you want to learn how science gets done in the real world, with all its competitiveness, personal rivalries, collaborations, and pure persistence, Watson makes for a wonderful guide…readers get an entertaining front-row seat on this glitzy world that runs on brains, gossip, and (sometimes) backbiting…The science contained in Avoid Boring People is explained in lucid prose [and] many of Watson’s practical ‘lessons’ will surely help academics of any discipline.”
--Chuck Leddy, Boston Globe
"Aspiring Nobel laureates, pay attention. The road to the prize is laid out for you here. A book to be highlighted and handed down."
"Vintage Watson: brash, bumptious, brilliant--and never boring."
"Watson proves as engaging as ever."
--Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
"Entertaining and historically revealing."
--Carl Zimmer, Publishers Weekly