"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 and for which she received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964. It is also 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 previous neglect.
Ferry manages the near-miraculous in explaining the theory behind X-ray crystallography in 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 although 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 which led 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. It is this skilful sensitivity that not only enables her to coax the quietly inspirational scientist out from the laboratory but also to challenge the notion that science and scientists 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