52 Books a Year: #37 - The Double Helix

Posted by Brian Sat, 19 Dec 2009 05:11:58 GMT

The Double Helix
By James Watson


If you want a fairly thorough guide to The Double Helix you can find one here.

The Double Helix is an autobiographical telling of the discovery of the structure of DNA by James Watson and others. It gives a rare unfiltered account into one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the 20th century.

Watson’s writing is breezy through most of the book, but things get bogged down on occasion when dives into chemical structures without giving the reader much background. Today’s editors would most likely not let his technical explanations through.

It caused a fair amount of controversy when published. Co-discoverers Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins objected to the publishing. He is very clear up front that the story is told as how he felt at the time of the events. He is not using hindsight to correct his youthful views. He also freely admits that his telling of the events may not be accurate, but they are how he remembers them, taking no others viewpoints into account. There is also a prevalent thread of sexism throughout towards a co-worker of Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin, whose work greatly contributed to their discovery. My edition attempts to soften this in the epilogue, but in comparison the rest of the book it isn’t much. We must remember that this was the 1950’s though and attitude was quite common at the time.

Books like this may be common today, but when published in 1968 it really stuck out. It is now considered a classic work of non-fiction. Highly recommended for anybody interested in how scientific discoveries are made and the effect the personalities of the people involved has on the process.


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