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MATTHEW COBB is professor of zoology and associate dean at the University of Manchester. He has translated five books from French into English, and spent most of his adult life as a researcher in Paris, before returning to the UK in 2002. He has a long track-record of popular science writing and blogging (Times Literary Supplement, Daily Telegraph, Nature Reviews Genetics, Journal of Experimental Biology,,; has given talks and lectures around the world to the general public as well as students, scientists and historians; and is scientific advisor to Brian Cox’s BBC TV series ‘Wonders of Life’ and the accompanying book.

Featured titles


The Story of the Race to Crack the Genetic Code


The cracking of the genetic code in 1961 was one of the greatest discoveries in human history, with far-reaching consequences for our understanding of ourselves and of our place in the cosmos. It forms the most striking and profound proof of Darwin’s central hypothesis that all organisms are related; holds tremendous promise for radically improving human health and well-being and shows that organisms are more than just bags of chemicals – those chemicals contain information.


Everything that you think about genes, about why you look like your parents, about humanity’s place in the natural world, can be traced back to two decades of discovery in the 1940s and 1950s, when biologists were adopting the words and concepts of computing – codes, information, programs. They showed that genes were made of DNA and then realised that the DNA contains a code that instructs organisms how to grow and behave. Yet, amazingly, few people know about this discovery and the shift in our worldview that it brought about – or the names of most of those involved.


LIFE’S GREATEST SECRET is the first popular book to tell the story of the dramatic race to crack the genetic code. It is a story that contains remarkable insights, theoretical dead-ends and ingenious experiments; explores the competition between some of the twentieth-century’s most outstanding and eccentric minds including Erwin Schrödinger, George Gamow, Claude Shannon, Richard Feynman, François Jacob, Jacques Monod, Oswald Avery, Jim Watson and Francis Crick; and unusually spans all the main scientific disciplines – biology, physics, chemistry, computing and mathematics. It also spans the globe, from Cambridge to Paris to Moscow, passing through most of the main research labs in the United States before concluding with Nobel prizes for some of the scientists, but not for others. It is a story not only of how science is done but also of the future discoveries and potential implications and applications opened up by this monumental revelation – from 'junk DNA' and genetic determinism to gene therapy and designer babies.

Publisher: Profile

Delivery: Spring 2014

Publication: Autumn 2014

Status: Proposal

Length: 120,000 words


All rights available excluding:

World English Language (Profile)



The Liberation of Paris in 1944

The story of a momentous point in 20th-century history – a history that still lives in the streets.


In August 1944, in a tiny Belgian village, 12-year-old Henri Baiverlin looked on in amazement as his father heard of the liberation of Paris: 'He just sat there, tears streaming down his face, saying over and over again "Paris is a beautiful city, a great city".' All over the world, reactions were the same. From Manchester to New York, from Quebec to London, bells were rung, people rejoiced, tears were shed and hope sprang anew. As the British government publication Cadran put it: 'All the war news fades when faced with the liberation of Paris. For the whole world, Paris is a symbol of civilization and of liberty: the first echo of victory could be heard in the bells of Notre Dame... By liberating themselves, the Parisians showed the world that the soul of a people is invincible, stronger than the most powerful war machine.'


The liberation of Paris was a momentous point in twentieth-century history, yet it is now largely forgotten outside France. ELEVEN DAYS IN AUGUST is a pulsating hour-by-hour reconstruction of these tumultuous events that shaped both the end of the Second World War and the whole future of France, told with the pace of a thriller. Full of the atmosphere and spirit of the French capital, it shows how, in eleven dramatic days, people lived, fought and died in the most beautiful city in the world. As well as describing the drama, it examines the conflicting national and international interests that played out in the bloody street fighting. The tense, heart-wrenching story is told from conflicting points of view, using eyewitness and diary accounts and unpublished archive material from ordinary Parisians, Resistance fighters, the Free French, the Allied High Command, Allied and French spies, the German High Command, rank-and-file German soldiers and French collaborators.


Each of these groups of people experienced these August days in very different ways, praying for different outcomes, fighting for different futures. Hundreds of civilians and soldiers died, some leaving their names on fading plaques on Parisian buildings, but most are now forgotten by history. This book brings their stories back to life, capturing the emotion, the excitement, and the terror of insurrection and fighting, and revealing the history that lives in the streets. 


Publisher: Simon & Schuster (UK)

Pub Date: 11 April 2013

Length: 544 pages

All rights available excluding:

UK & Commonwealth


The French Fight Against the Nazis

Winner of the Franco-British Society's Enid McLeod Book Prize 2009

Cobb comes perhaps closer than any other historian to explaining why the Resistance matters – THE SPECTATOR

A fabulous book, painstakingly researched, even-handed and dripping with poignancy… A good book about the Resistance has long been overdue – THE HERALD

Impeccably sourced… A fine piece of work, illustrated with excellent photographs… a successful tribute to extraordinary men and women – THE SUNDAY TIMES

Heart-wrenching detail, bringing to life the bravery, horror and hope that filled the lives of the Resistants – MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS

Makes the excitement and danger of the period palpable, and allows a greater understanding of what it must have been like to be involved in such a dramatic conflict – IRISH TIMES

Matthew Cobb has pulled off the very difficult feat of capturing both the complexity and the high drama of the French resistance. Everyone with an interest in modern France will learn something from reading his work – Professor Richard Vinen, author of THE UNFREE FRENCH: Life under the Occupation and A HISTORY IN FRAGMENTS: Europe in the Twentieth Century


An exciting, tragic and perceptive account of one of the most striking events of the twentieth century – and how one of the most powerful modern myths came to be forged.

The French resistance to Nazi occupation during the Second World War was a struggle in which ordinary people fought for their liberty, despite terrible odds and horrifying repression. Hundreds of thousands of French men and women carried out an armed struggle against the Nazis, producing underground anti-fascist publications and supplying the Allies with vital intelligence.

Based on hundreds of French eye-witness accounts and including recently released archival material, THE RESISTANCE uses dramatic personal stories to take the reader on one of the great adventures of the twentieth century. The tale begins with the catastrophic Fall of France in 1940, and shatters the myth of a unified Resistance created by General de Gaulle. The Resistance was made in France, not London. De Gaulle never understood the Resistance, and sought to use, dominate and channel it to his own ends. In response, the Resistance struggled to stop de Gaulle and the Allies from taking control of their movement. Brave men and women set up organizations, only to be betrayed or hunted down by the Nazis, and to die in front of the firing squad or in the concentration camps. Eventually, through the determination of Frenchman Jean Moulin, the Resistance was unified. But the French were not alone: without the sacrifice of British Special Operations Executive agents and RAF pilots flying into makeshift airstrips on moonlit nights, there would have been no radio contact with London, little money and fewer arms.

In 1943, thousands of young men took to the hills (the maquis) to avoid being sent to work in Nazi Germany. The question of who would control these men – de Gaulle, the Allies or the Resistance – took on a crucial importance after D-Day, when hundreds of thousands of Resistance fighters harassed the retreating Nazi forces and helped two million Allied troops liberate France. Liberation threatened to transform itself into Revolution – the outcome that both De Gaulle and the Allies feared most, and did their utmost to prevent. Victorious, De Gaulle was able to neuter the Resistance, turning its revolutionary force into part of the establishment. Over the next half-century, the true story of the Resistance got blurred and distorted, its heroes and conflicts were forgotten as the movement became a myth.

By turns exciting, tragic and insightful, THE RESISTANCE touches on some of the strongest themes in life – courage, self-sacrifice, betrayal and struggle. In telling the story through the actions and words of the people who dared to defy the Nazis, and those who failed to do so, it leads readers to look deep inside themselves and ask: What would I have done?

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (UK)
Pub Date: 1 June 2009
Length: 416 pages

All rights available excluding:
UK & Commonwealth



The Seventeenth-Century Scientists Who Unravelled the Secrets of Sex, Life and Growth

Winner of the Zoological Society of London's 2008 Prize for Communicating
Science (The Thomson/Zoological Record Prize)

It is a story as relevant today as it was in its own time, and Matthew Cobb tells it with great scholarship and tremendous panache – Tim Birkhead, author of PROMISCUITY and THE RED CANARY

A fascinating subject, full of arresting material and personalities – Lisa Jardine, SUNDAY TIMES

Lively… You can almost smell the formaldehyde on the page – FINANCIAL TIMES


Where do we come from? Where do animals come from?


For thousands of years we had no idea how living things were created – great thinkers like Aristotle and Hippocrates had attempted to explain what became know as the problem of ‘generation’, but none of them had the tools or the insight to solve the mystery. The result was a wealth of weird and wonderful ideals about the components necessary to create new life – blood, ‘vapours’, invisible particles in the air. It was widely accepted that animals could sometimes produce different species, for example; the notion that two sheep can only ever make another sheep is a surprisingly modern idea.

THE EGG AND SPERM RACE is the story of the exciting, largely forgotten decade during the seventeenth century when a group of young men – Jan Swammerdam, the son of a Protestant apothecary, Nils Stensen (also known as Steno), a Danish anatomist who first discovered the human tear duct, Reinier de Graaf, the attractive and brilliant son of a rich and successful Catholic architect, and Antoni Leeuwenhoek, a self-taught draper – dared to challenge thousands of years of orthodox thinking about where life comes from.

By meticulous experimentation, dissection, and observation with the newly invented microscope, they showed that like breeds like, that all animals come from an egg, that there is no such thing as spontaneous generation and that there are millions of tiny, wriggling ‘eels’ in semen. But their ultimate inability to fully understand the evidence that was in front of them led to a fatal mistake. As a result, the final leap in describing the process of reproduction – which would ultimately give birth to the science of genetics – took nearly two centuries for humanity to achieve.

Including previously untranslated documents, THE EGG AND SPERM RACE interweaves the personal stories of these scientists against a backdrop of the Dutch ‘golden age’. It is a riveting account of the audacious men who swept away old certainties and provided the foundation for much of our current understanding of the living world.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (UK)/Bloomsbury (US)*
Pub date: 3 April 2006 (UK)/8 August 2006 (US)
Length: 332 pages

All rights available excluding:
UK & Commonwealth, US, Netherlands (De Bezige Bij), Turkey (Everest) 

*Published in the US as GENERATION