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Aaron Klug - A Long Way from Durban
A Biography


  • Author: Kenneth C. Holmes, Max-Planck-Institut für Medizinische Forschung, Heidelberg
Mark Gevisser
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  • Date Published: February 2017
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107147379

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About the Authors
  • The atomic structures of macromolecules provide the key to understanding how life works. Aaron Klug led the way in the development of methods for solving such structures and is one of the pioneers of structural molecular biology. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1982 for his work. Illuminating both his personal life and scientific achievements, this unique biography begins with Klug's youth in Durban and his studies at Johannesburg, Cape Town and then Trinity College, Cambridge. Holmes proceeds to explore Klug's career from his work on the structure of viruses with Rosalind Franklin at Birkbeck College, London to his time as Director of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge and as President of the Royal Society. Drawing on their long-term collaboration, interviews and unique access to Klug's archives, Holmes provides a fascinating account of an innovative man and his place in the history of structural molecular biology.

    • The first biography to capture both the personal life and scientific achievements of Aaron Klug, an innovative man who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, became Director of the prestigious Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and then President of the Royal Society
    • A history of Klug's life is perforce a history of the development of the subject of structural molecular biology
    • Describes the principles of virus structure, the structure of tobacco mosaic virus, transfer-RNA, the nucleosome, and zinc fingers from a historical viewpoint, making the results easier to assimilate
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'This biography highlights both the sense in which Klug was self-made and driven, and the importance of his collaborations, mentors, peers and his own students in shaping the man he became and his intellectual achievements. The biography also offers a fascinating insight into macromolecular scientific discovery while keeping a very human touch throughout. A fitting tribute to a great scientist and role model.' Max Price, University of Cape Town

    'Kenneth C. Holmes' lively biography of Aaron Klug narrates the fascinating story of a man who had a central role in the transformation of modern biology into a molecular science. Holmes embeds Klug's scientific innovations in the wider context of mid-to-late twentieth-century intellectual and social history; his descriptions of the left-wing Zionism of Klug's youth in South Africa and of the machinations of reactionary dons in Peterhouse, Cambridge, have the same absorbing clarity as his explanations of how Klug and his co-workers created a science of quantitative image analysis in electron microscopy. At once a vade mecum to structural biology and a document of the postwar academic scene in Britain, this book is also quite simply a very good read.' Stephen Harrison, Harvard University

    'Holmes has created a portrait of Aaron Klug as a gentle and likeable man whose achievements can only be explained by his great intellect, enormous curiosity and work ethic. In this excellent biography Klug's youth and years as a young academic are presented within the socio-political context of the time, but the main thrust of the text is Klug's pursuance of scientific enquiry. Holmes succeeds brilliantly in providing insight into Klug's creative genius. This book throws light on the long and dedicated process followed by scientists as they strive to add to knowledge. It is essential reading for anyone interested in science.' Stuart Saunders, University of Cape Town

    'In this biography of the great scientist Sir Aaron Klug the eminent scientist Dr. Kenneth C. Holmes skilfully braids Klug's extraordinary intellectual journey, with his personal Odyssey from Durban South Africa to Cambridge. Holmes has written a lucid, accessible book. In telling Klug's story Holmes also tells the story of the extraordinary scientific enterprise of the past half century which discovered the fundamental structures of cells genomes and viruses. The book is fascinating and reads like a complex novel replete with heroes, unforgettable characters and a complex plot line. Best of all - it's all true.' Vivian M. Rakoff, University of Toronto

    'Aaron Klug is my scientific father. He introduced me to how I should think and work as a scientist. He taught me how I should conduct my own research. Kenneth C. Holmes' book brings back all my lovely memories of Aaron and provides an insight into how a great scientist works.' Mitsuhiro Yanagida, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, Japan

    'Aaron Klug is one of the towering figures of modern structural biology who made contributions to major areas such as virus structure, chromatin organization and laid the foundations of how electron microscopy can be used to determine the structures of large molecules. At the same time, he was also a conscientious citizen who provided leadership to both the UK and Israeli science communities. Kenneth C. Holmes is one of the most knowledgeable people to write this book, and in this tour de force, he describes Aaron's journey from his birth in Lithuania, childhood and schooling in South Africa to his lifelong career in Cambridge. What emerges is a complete picture of what it was like to be a pioneer in postwar molecular biology.' Venki Ramakrishnan, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge

    'This wonderfully readable biography of Aaron Klug interweaves the life of a giant in science with the history of a new discipline, structural molecular biology. Written by someone whose career spanned both worlds, we learn the story of Aaron's precocious talent which first came to light in South Africa, scholastic achievements that led to Cambridge and the world of scientific pioneers, and exceptionalism which resulted in the Nobel Prize in 1982 and an astounding array of other outstanding contributions. Self-effacing and private, Aaron's influence and analytical mind imbued the Presidency of the Royal Society, the Human Genome project, Ben Gurion University Israel, and the translation of fundamental discoveries into applications. For those privileged to work with him and who thought they knew him, many will find this biography richly endowed with facets of which we knew little. Yes, we knew he was a polymath with a phenomenal memory but who knew that he wished he had studied the history of Rome!' Brian Heap, University of Cambridge

    'A brilliant account of a brilliant scientist working worldwide, both provincial and national. … The impressive life of a migrating distinguished South African scientist. … Excellent. A South African physicist climbs to the very top worldwide.' Lewis Wolpert, University College London

    'This is a remarkable biography because of the exceptional qualities of the person in focus, Aaron Klug, and because the author, as a witness to the events he describes, is occasionally referred to in the third person. Klug … has a talent for envisioning key unsolved problems and thereby becoming one of the founding fathers and long-time standard bearers of the field of structural biology. Many of the leading scientists in the field were trained in his laboratory. He actively brought about a major transformation of the activities at the famous Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge [and] also shouldered the Presidency of the Royal Society at times of turbulence and found ways forward. The book presents a comprehensive picture of the life of an exceptionally erudite and capable person, sometimes shy in his demeanour but aware of his mission.' Erling Norrby, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden

    'Kenneth C. Holmes succeeds with this rich account of the life and work of one of the world's most outstanding scientific minds, to portray the whole man. Aaron Klug leaps from the pages; brilliant, innovative, curious, original, energetic, determined, conscientious and inspirational and at the same time, modest and loving. His groundbreaking science, the one for which he received the Nobel prize as well as the trail-blazing research thereafter, benefits mankind. His devotion to Israel and immense contribution to the development of science in this small desert land, led to the creation of the National Institute for Biotechnology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. This Institute, that houses the Klug Integrated Center for Biomolecular Structure and Function, is a living legacy of Aaron Klug's vision, creativity and passion for scientific excellence and the wellbeing of human kind.' Rivka Carmi, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

    '… excellent … irresistible.' The Jewish Chronicle

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2017
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107147379
    • length: 378 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 160 x 24 mm
    • weight: 0.78kg
    • contains: 60 b/w illus. 13 colour illus.
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. From Durban to Birkbeck College:
    1. Durban and Johannesburg
    2. Cape Town
    3. Cambridge
    4. The first visit to Israel
    5. Back to Cambridge
    6. Birkbeck-1
    7. Birkbeck-2
    Part II. Science at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology:
    8. The Laboratory of Molecular Biology
    9. Spherical virus structure
    10. Tobacco mosaic virus
    11. From Thon rings to modern dance
    12. Tomography
    13. Transfer RNA
    14. Chromatin and nucleosomes
    15. Zinc fingers
    Part III. Duties and Rewards:
    16. Peterhouse
    17. Director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology
    18. Presidency of the Royal Society
    19. Ben Gurion University
    20. Prizes
    21. Envoi
    Appendicies: Appendix 1. Aaron's Birthplace - Zhelva, Lithuania Mark Gevisser
    Appendix 2. Diffraction
    Appendix 3. Aaron Klug's scientific publications

  • Author

    Kenneth C. Holmes, Max-Planck-Institut für Medizinische Forschung, Heidelberg
    Kenneth C. Holmes is Emeritus Director of the Department of Biophysics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research (MPI), Heidelberg, Germany. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and recipient of the Aminoff Prize, the Gabor Prize, and the European Latsis Prize. Holmes' long-term collaboration with Aaron Klug began in the late 1950s at Birkbeck College and continued at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge before his move to MPI in 1968.


    Mark Gevisser

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