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A Life Decoded

My Genome - My Life
Auteur(s): J. Craig Venter
Narrateur(s): Dick Hill
Durée: 16 h et 54 min

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Growing up in California, J. Craig Venter didn't appear to have much of a future. An unremarkable student, he nearly flunked out of high school. After being drafted into the army, he enlisted in the Navy and went to Vietnam, where the life-and-death struggles he encountered as a medic piqued his interest in science and medicine. After pursuing his advanced degrees, Venter quickly established himself as a brilliant and outspoken scientist.

In 1984 he joined the National Institutes of Health, where he introduced novel techniques for rapid gene discovery. He left in 1991 to form his own nonprofit genomics research center, where he sequenced the first genome in history in 1995. In 1998 he announced that he would successfully sequence the human genome years earlier and for far less money than the government-sponsored Human Genome Project would - a prediction that came to pass in 2001.

A Life Decoded is the triumphant story of one of the most fascinating and controversial figures in science today. In this riveting and inspiring account, Venter tells of the unparalleled drama of the quest for the human genome, a tale that involves as much politics as science. He also reveals how he went on to be the first to read and interpret his own genome and what it will mean for all of us to do the same. He describes his recent sailing expedition to sequence microbial life in the ocean, as well as his groundbreaking attempt to create synthetic life. Here is one of the key scientific chronicles of our lifetime, as told by the man who beat the odds to make it happen.

©2007 J. Craig Venter (P)2007 Tantor Media Inc.

Ce que les critiques disent

"[Venter is] not just trying to understand how life works; he's trying to make it work for him, and us." ( The Atlantic Monthly)
"Well worth reading for the fascinating perspective it offers on one of the major scientific discoveries of all time." ( Publishers Weekly)

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  • Au global
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Roy
  • Beaumont, TX, United States
  • 2009-06-02

Take it with a Grain of Salt

Craig Venter in "A Life Deoded" sets out to detail his involvement in the unraveling of the Human Genome. This is a great story and a wonderful read. Opening autobiographical sections drag a little, but things pick up when his research begins. His sections on the establishment of TIGR, Celera, and JCVI are more interesting than one might imagine.

That said, an autobiography must be biased and one sided (as the author points out in the introduction). Yet his descriptions of political hazards of funding biological research are worth reading. The listener will benefit from the information about Genes and the research in general.

Craig's first two marriages came apart. He missed out on raising his son from the first. Craig seems to regret his loss, but never really reflects on the price paid by his son for his glory. His son paid for the Human Genome project as well. I wonder if Craig ever took his son along to share his visits with the Clinton's in the White House?

4 personnes sur 4 ont trouvé cette évaluation pertinente

  • Au global
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Nathan
  • Atlanta, GA, USA
  • 2008-02-01


-The storyline is classic: a horrifying vietnam experience motivates Venter to "live life to its fullest". Provides great insight into the personal motivations of a world class scientist.

- Good balance of the "tabloid politics" with the hardcore science of sequencing the human genome. Note, prior genetics knowledge is not required, but it will definitely enrich the experience.

-Also, I thought the Narration was excellent.

6 personnes sur 7 ont trouvé cette évaluation pertinente

  • Au global
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Histoire
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Amazon Customer
  • 2015-03-02


Where does A Life Decoded rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Dr. Venter’s autobiography is an amazing journey inside the mind of a super-achiever ultra-egotist. Do the two go hand in hand? In this case, I would say the answer is tentatively yes. He definitely seems to be driven to extremes by the rivalries, intrigue, money, and prestige that playing the game at that level entails. Of course all of this is reading between the lines. While he professes to want to stay above the fray in one paragraph, in the next he will react to a rumor of what one of his rivals is saying about him with all of the grace of a 12 year old boy. A great example of the man’s chutzpah is that he writes early on in his scientific career about how much of an admirer he is of Louis Pasteur. He says that `the people’ built Dr. Pasteur a research institute to thank him for his great contributions to society. By the end of the book we learn that `the people’ have also built Dr. Venter an institute with his name on it. Actually Venter founded the institute and put his own name on it, but, who knows, perhaps Dr. Pasteur wasn’t as humble as we’d all like to imagine he was either.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Craig Venter isn’t a politician. The story of the dark times he went through seems genuine and probably isn’t the kind of thing a politician would admit to. But he’s definitely trying to solidify his legacy with this memoir. Much of the 2nd half of the book seems designed to convince the reader that Dr. Venter deserves essentially sole credit for the sequencing of the human genome and more generally for all the amazing advances in genome sequencing that have occurred in the past 2 decades. Reading the reviews of this book it seems that many if not most people agree on 2 points: that Craig Venter should be credited with winning the “Gene Wars” and that he’s a jackass. I think he’s probably very happy with that conclusion because the credit for winning (far from agreed upon within the scientific community) is all he really wants.

What about Dick Hill’s performance did you like?

Dick Hill seems to have found Venter's true voice. I just hope the performance didn't do too much damage to Mr. Hill's psyche!

Any additional comments?

So what can we all learn from Dr. Venter’s life? Should everyone who aspires to greatness try to follow his game plan of self-aggrandizement? It certainly seems to work for sports stars’ paychecks and certain scientists. Many humble men and women have achieved great things in science and other fields. Are your chances of recognition better if you toot your own horn louder than anyone else does? Sadly, that is probably true. But can shameless self-promotion and assault on your competitors actually drive *true* achievement and greatness? Did Venter’s penchant for picking fights and fostering pettiness in science spur him on to greater and greater feats? It would seem so. Should we all do the same? Or maybe A Life Decoded is just an exciting adventure about growing up and doing big science. It is half a tale of phenomenal achievement and half embarrassingly bombastic train wreck. All I know is that it was a lot of fun and I couldn’t stop listening.

1 personnes sur 1 ont trouvé cette évaluation pertinente

  • Au global
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Tadhg
  • 2008-05-21


If you are interested in science and the genome in particular then this will probably have enough to interest you. I can't vouch for its appeal to a more general audience.

It unashamedly presents one side of the story. You'll have to look elsewhere for an unbiased version. Personally I like the edge given by the authors obvious bias towards one side of the story.

1 personnes sur 1 ont trouvé cette évaluation pertinente

  • Au global
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Histoire
    5 out of 5 stars
  • CKDexter
  • 2017-06-20


Fantastically interesting, but undoubtably one-sided telling of Craig Ventnor's single-minded determination to sequence the human genome. This is his version of events and his objectivity is questionable. But whether you like him or not, it is a compelling read. Be forewarned that some parts are quite technical.

  • Au global
    5 out of 5 stars
  • R. Morris
  • 2009-03-25

From a non-Science person

I had to read this book for a book report due for one of my classes. I didn't have the patience to read the actual book so I just listened to the audiobook. I took a full year biology class last year and I believe that that was needed because he does talk about biology a lot.

Moreover, with my limited background in biology, I enjoyed this book. Especially, the time he spent in Vietnam. It did get a bit dry around times. And his story is extremely and overtly biased. But that doesn't take too much away from the story. If you don't know anything about biology, I don't know if you will enjoy this book. I at least had some background from a college course and that was sufficient enough to enjoy the book. Again, if you're like me, the enjoyment is intermittent but overall a good read (listen)

  • Au global
    5 out of 5 stars
  • E.
  • 2008-06-15


This book makes you think, both as recent history and a biography with some depth. There is good balance between both and not too much of either. Obviously Ventner is an excellent writer as well as scientist.

  • Au global
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Bennett
  • south lyon, MI, United States
  • 2010-09-04

The best scientist of our era!

This book is by far the best book I've listened to on audible. As an aspiring scientist I found Craig Venter's story to be riveting and revealing.

0 personnes sur 1 ont trouvé cette évaluation pertinente