Recombinant DNA book - authors seek advice

j a witkowski witkowsk at
Wed Jun 15 11:04:28 EST 1994

This posting is to ask for comments about a specific book and to stimulate a
discussion about biology textbooks.

Recombinant DNA  by JD Watson, M Gilman, J Witkowski & M Zoller (1992) is
the second edition of a book originally called Recombinant DNA: A Short
Course, published in 1983 by WH Freeman. In about three months time, we are
going to begin planning the third edition. We would like to know how it
could be improved from people who have been using it, and also from people
who decided not to use it.

We tried hard to make the book interesting and enjoyable to read by
including things that we thought were interesting and fun. We were also
determined to avoid the encyclopedic approach of other textbooks and this
meant being very selective in our choices of topics. The questions that
arise from doing it this way are: did we leave things out that should have
gone in? Did we put things in that were better left out? This selective
approach raised other problems. Is our selection of topics too narrow for
the book to be used as a primary text? Is its appeal limited to a small
number of courses? Would the addition of some extra features like questions
at the ends of the chapters be worthwhile?

We had many discussions with the publisher about doing overheads and slides
for the second edition, but we were outvoted. Would people using the text
for teaching find overheads and slides useful? And what about alternative
ways of presenting this material, for example a hypertext version on CD-ROM?
Imagine having Quicktime movies replacing figures where appropriate?!
We are so close to the book that it is hard for us to identify what changes
would be useful and we would like to hear from you if you have comments on
the shortfalls of the present edition. Please mail comments directly to
witkowsk at - there is no need for everyone to learn what the
shortcomings are!

For more general discussion in a news group, we wonder if our concerns about
this book reflect the changing nature, and perhaps role, of textbooks. Are
encyclopedic textbooks that cover everything (including much that students
are never going to use) necessary? If not, what can replace them? Is it
possible to write texts (or use new forms of communicating information) that
cover the ground required for undergraduate and graduate courses without
producing a book too heavy to lift?

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