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Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life Hardcover – 26 Nov 1998

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Hardcover, 26 Nov 1998
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 423 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; First Edition edition (26 Nov. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862071675
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862071674
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.2 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 928,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Georgina is the author of Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life, a biography of the only British woman scientist to win a Nobel Prize and THE COMMON THREAD (with John Sulston) which is short listed for the 2002 Samuel Johnson Prize. Born in Hong Kong, Georgina has lived in Oxford for the past 19 years. She has worked as a science writer and broadcaster.

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Amazon Review

"The lives of scientists, considered as lives, almost always make dull reading". Georgina Ferry has taken it upon herself to defy the late Peter Medawar's words with this delightful life of Dorothy Hodgkin. Dorothy who? Precisely Ferry's point. This book represents a first for both women; surprisingly this is the first biography of Hodgkin, who devoted her life to solving the structure of large complex molecules such as insulin, penicillin and vitamin B12, for which she received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964, and it is the first book by Ferry, a burgeoning talent in the field of science journalism. That both women emerge with their reputations considerably enhanced goes some way to compensating for the previous neglect.

Ferry manages the near-miraculous in explaining the theory behind X-ray crystallography using clear and accessible terms that do not demand the powers of concentration that were perhaps Hodgkin's own greatest asset. Her personal life was characterised by distance; her childhood was spent mostly separated from her parents, she lived mainly apart from her husband Thomas, though the marriage lasted until his death in 1982, and the intellectual commitment she gave to her work inevitably affected the time she had for her children. However, she maintained a lifelong friendship with her mentor, J.D. "Sage" Bernal, legendary for his Marxism, voracious mind and even more voracious appetite for women, and until her death in 1994 she believed passionately in resolving international disputes through dialogue, leading her to become president of the anti-nuclear group Pugwash, and even to lobby a former student of hers, a certain Margaret Thatcher. Ferry treats her revelations regarding Hodgkin's relationships with an understated tact of which Hodgkin herself would have been proud and it is this sensitivity, allied to no little skill, that enables her to coax the quietly inspirational scientist out from the laboratory and in the process to belittle the notion that science, and people of science, cannot be extraordinary. --David Vincent


This life of Hodgkin is in the top rank of scientific biographies, hooking the reader from the first page and keeping you absorbed to the end. --John Gribbin, Sunday Times

Ferry has brilliantly captured the flavour of a century of science --New Scientist

Georgina Ferry gives us a genuinely illuminating account of Hodgkin s life, neatly balancing the personal with the scientific... This agreeable and well-written biography... deserves great success. --Janet Browne, Times Literary Supplement --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Dec. 1998
Format: Hardcover
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1919-1994) became an outstanding scientist in a period when it was harder than now for women to succeed in science. "with a list of honours including the Nobel prize, the Order of Merit, the Lenin Peace Prize- and the freedom of Beccles - she always gave her name as plain Dorothy Hodgkin,and insisted that the most junior of her colleagues call her simply Dorothy" It is not often that a work of scholarly biography makes the reader laugh aloud on page three without compromising the scholarship. Georgina Ferry manages to write mainly about the science, crystallography, that was Dorothy's life-long preoccupation without losing sight of the scientist herself. I am no crystallographer but the techniques and discoveries are so clearly described here that it is possible to share in the excitement of the discovery of the structure of Vitamin B12 and the frustrations in the persuit of the structure of insulin. Dorothy's marriage to Thomas Hodgkin and her life long relationship with Desmond Bernal are dealt with honesty and a sensitive understanding of what it might be like for a woman in a social circle where every one,the men at any rate, believed in free love. She does not gloss over the painful moments nor does she dwell on them with embarrassing prurience. Not only Dorothy but Thomas and Bernal emerge as convincing and likable characters. This book gives a much clearer and more sympathetic account of the political, scientific and social friendships of that group of left-wing British intellectuals than either Gary Werskey's Visible College or Maurice Goldsmith's biography Sage, which cover a similar area. The book is truthful at a scientific and a personal level . It is also very readable.Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Jenkinson TOP 500 REVIEWER on 30 Nov. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This excellent and very readable biography of eminent scientist Dorothy Hodgkin manages to make her come alive as a person and also manages to make the complex science approachable – although my non-scientific brain did struggle quite a lot. (My fault, not the book’s.) At least now I can at least pretend to know a little about crystallography. Hodgkin led an extremely interesting life, both within and without the purely scientific arena, and Georgina Ferry’s detailed and meticulous research has paid off. She writes clearly and succinctly and remains balanced and objective, although her admiration for her subject is obvious. And certainly Hodgkin deserves such admiration, having successfully juggled her scientific career (she received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964) and the demands of being a wife, mother and mentor to her many students and research assistants (including Margaret Thatcher who remained in awe of Dorothy to the end). An extremely enjoyable and informative biography which hopefully will bring this fascinating and important woman before a wider audience.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By palace pier on 28 April 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very balanced review of Dorothy Hodgkin..her work and life in general. If you are not of a 'science bias' then I would say 'read it at a relaxed pace'..there is so much to digest. What a wonderful example of a mother balancing intensive research with a home life..they sounded like a super family. This is the book for you if you have only vaguely heard of Dorothy and her work and want to know more. Inspiring. This is the book for every girl who has the 'science bias' ,but has doubts due to lack of encouragement in her chosen subject.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent biography that provides a rounded picture of a remarkable woman.
Dorothy Hodgkin's scientific work on its own could have formed the basis for a book of this size. Working in a fairly new field, developing innovative techniques and pursuing some projects over decades, struggling to obtain funding, equipment and working space, not to mention reasonable pay for herself; it is a heroic story. However the author also gives the reader two other well researched descriptions; the wife and mother providing a loving home environment without too much concern for convention and the international figure, stimulating research in many countries, encouraging collaboration and seeing science as a tool for encouraging international understanding.
The main strength of this book is the balance between the different facets of Dorothy's life - it would have been easy to stress too much the relationship with Bernal or the later political work - this balance comes from Georgina Ferry's extensive underlying research. The book also gives a good picture of how successful science is carried out, describing the collaborative nature of much of Dorothy's work and her recruitment of helpers in unlikely ways. The descriptions of X-ray crystallography are kept fairly simple and non-technical. There is a small selection of black and white photos, including one of Dorothy at work in her school chemistry lab.
I greatly enjoyed reading this book. It is not the easiest read, as a result of the need to follow a number of themes over a long period of time, but the language is clear and the style entertaining.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By oxford blue on 2 Dec. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
as a former colleague of dorothy's i really enjoyed all the crystallographic work and people. however it is written in a very easy style and would appeal to non-specialists who have an interest in an amazing woman.
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