The Double Helix: Annotated and Illustrated

Thoughts dhbyjw by Dr. James Watson, Simon and Schuster 2012 (orig 1968), 368 pages [Edited by Alexander Gann and Jan Witkowski]

Challenge: Classics Club 50
Genre: Science History
Type/Source: Hardback / Library

MOTIVATION for READING: I love science.

WHAT’s it ABOUT: How Watson and Crick used models to figure out how DNA was structured.

WHAT’s GOOD: I did not expect the breezy style. It is very readable.

What’s NOT so good:  Well, you may or may not like Dr. Watson at the end but he does tell a fun story, even if bits are regrettable. He was young and determined. He shares more than just the science, but also other activities these youthful scientists were up to – where and what they ate (gooseberry pie has a mention!), the girls they tried to meet, the famous people they encountered and traveled to visit. He talks about his troubles with the sponsor for his time abroad and quite a bit about the personalities of everyone he works with.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I am so glad to have read this. The big question:  did Rosalind Franklin get screwed out of the discovery and subsequent Nobel Prize. Question Mark. Let’s just say, it’s complicated and that I could say yes, but. It very much feels like facts happened and one’s viewpoint is X and the other is Y. This and that. Perspectives. And when you start to get snarky, it gets very ugly fast. Did circumstances make it difficult and thus makes it a helluva story? Oh yes.

She deserved more accolades and unfortunately she is getting it now and not in her lifetime. It is sad that she died so young. Was Watson a _____ (insert whatever nasty/relevant word you want here, but my answer is “he was a man”.)

And NOW:  I get to read more about Rosalind Franklin:


RATING: Four slices of gooseberry pie. If you are going to read this, I suggest the annotated illustrated edition.



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11 thoughts on “The Double Helix: Annotated and Illustrated

  1. I cannot weigh in with finality on this important gender question until I have read more (read: any) things about Franklin and Watson and then I can see what’s what. I will say that totally separate from whatever may have gone down with Rosalind Franklin, I have heard that Watson was a total jerk. So if someone has to be in the wrong here, I bet it’s him. :p

    1. Yea, I’ve heard more than once that he is a jerk. On one hand (devil’s advocate?), I imagine he was backed into a corner (self made!) and may have thought it easier to be a jerk. Still.

    1. My view – not that I disagree – is that Watson and Crick were extremely motivated and competitive to “SOLVE and be recognized” while Franklin just wanted to do her work. I am really looking forward to HER book.

  2. I just do not know enough about either to be able to weigh in on the debate, but given how women are treated in STEM fields, it would take a lot of convincing to get me to believe that Franklin got screwed. I will be waiting for your review of the Franklin biography to see what your final thoughts are on this!

    1. Please tell you that you left out the word NOT; as in “it would take a lot of convincing to get me to NOT believe that Franklin got screwed.” Right?
      Or this: “it would take a lot of convincing to get me to believe that Franklin DIDN’T get screwed.” … ah words.

      Now that I’m on a random thinking path, I really object or dislike the term ‘getting screwed’. ugh.

    1. The easy breezy style floored me. And how much FUN he got to have. We have such ideas that getting a PhD in science would have been extremely studious and stressful. Of course, that makes Rosalind’s case more dire because she really was not treated well on a day to day basis in her lab environment while the boys got to do what they pleased it seemed.

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