A while ago I announced that I’ve been working on a popular science book about biophysics, and a few months ago I noted that the first draft is done. Since people have asked about the present state of the book, I thought I’d make a quick post about it. Princeton University Press sent the manuscript to external readers, and I was delighted to learn a few days ago that the readers as well as the Editorial Board were unanimously positive in their assessments. They like the text as well as the illustrations, which is heartening. All the lights are green, though there are some revisions to do.
If you haven’t read the earlier posts or heard from me about the book, here’s a short summary. Physical principles govern and unify the dazzling variety of forms, behaviors, and interactions that living things display. The book explores this biophysical perspective, not only illustrating how it lets us make sense of natural phenomena like the packaging of DNA in viruses or the proper placement of your limbs, but also how it enables technologies like DNA sequencing and genome editing (e.g. CRISPR). We also learn why elephants can’t jump. By the end, we’ve hopefully gained a deeper appreciation of the wonders of life, and life’s connections to more general laws of nature.
The section that will take the most thought is the introduction, which was one of the hardest parts to write. Ideally, an introduction should hook the reader, explain the rationale for writing, and give a sense of the structure of the book without being tedious or opaque. I find this especially challenging because I generally don’t care about introductions; I often skip them. (My editor was scandalized by this admission.) Nonetheless, the introduction will need some re-thinking in the coming weeks — more by far than any other part of the book
What’s the name of this book?*
A change I’ve started, though I don’t know how it will end, is to scrap the title of the book. It was Building Life, which I was never very fond of. (This was actually the third or fourth title I came up with over the years.) By the time of the first complete draft this summer, I changed it to Sculpting Life, or technically Sculpting Life: How universal rules and random chance shape the living world. I find it annoying that every book these days has a subtitle, but trying to change this is hopeless. Neither my editor nor I really like Sculpting Life, though . What’s something catchy but elegant that conveys “Biophysics?” Suggestions are welcome!
* See here for the reference
When will the book come out?
What’s the current timeline? About nine months separates the final version of the manuscript from the book’s debut as something people can buy. The two possible targets for publication are early November 2021 and January 2022. The former requires me to get all my revisions done in the next few weeks, which is daunting. The latter gives me a bit more breathing room. We’ll see what happens…
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There are a handful of illustrations I will revise. My least favorite of them all was a drawing I made of DNA wrapped around histone proteins. I re-did this recently, and I like the new version much better. Here’s a photo, not a nice scan, of the old (colored pencil, above) and new (watercolor, below) versions.
— Raghuveer Parthasarathy, December 18, 2020