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Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA Hardcover – 17 Jun 2002

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; First Edition edition (17 Jun. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0002571498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0002571494
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 16 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 712,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Brenda Maddox's Rosalind Franklin: the Dark Lady of DNA is the "untold" story of the scientist whose work was paramount in the discovery of the double helix. In 1953 scientist Francis Crick famously burst through the doors of a Cambridge pub to announce that he and his colleague James Watson had discovered the secret of life. He and Watson really had discovered something extraordinary--the structure of DNA. Nine years later the two of them, together with Maurice Wilkins, won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. The ghost at the Nobel feast in 1962 was Rosalind Franklin, who had died of ovarian cancer at the age of 37 four years earlier. Franklin was an exceptionally gifted scientist whose work had been central to the unravelling of the problem of the structure of DNA. Without it the insights of Crick and Watson would not have been possible.

In recent years Rosalind Franklin has become a kind of feminist icon, "the Sylvia Plath of science", as one commentator has called her. The manifest unfairness of her exclusion from the glory attached to what may be the most important scientific discovery of the second half of the 20th century was underlined by the bitchy and misogynist portrait of her in Watson's bestselling book The Double Helix. Brenda Maddox, in her biography, attempts to present a balanced portrait of Franklin and of the assorted giant male egos with whom she came into contact. She acknowledges that Franklin was a spiky personality who not only did not suffer fools gladly but did not suffer them at all. She also emphasises her capacity for friendship, her tangled relationships with her multi-talented and demanding family, her joy in travel and the range of the scientific work she accomplished in her short life. After this biography it will no longer be possible to confine Rosalind Franklin's complex personality within either the straitjackets of Watson's condescension or feminist idolatry. --Nick Rennison


' ...Maddox is a dab hand at drawing a heroine out from behind the long shadows cast by men ' -- Daily Telegraph

' ...a moving and powerful account of the all-too-short life of a remarkable woman of science ' -- Radio Four's Book of the Week

'A joy to read' -- The Observer

'absorbing...pleasurable in its maturity of persepective' -- Sunday Telegraph

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First Sentence
THE FAMILY into which Rosalind Elsie Franklin was born on 25 July 1920, stood high in Anglo-Jewry. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on 8 Jan. 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Rosalind Franklin The Dark Lady Of DNA", is a biography, and is not so laden with science that the lay-person cannot read and enjoy the work. But I did read, and will comment, as a lay-reader who is fascinated by the people and the methods they used to uncover one of the great discoveries in the History of Science.
I found this book recommended in The Scientific American magazine. Despite its reputation for being for the trained scientist, or very well studied amateur, the magazine routinely suggests very approachable books for the inquisitive reader. The biography is very readable, and when science becomes integral to the story, the explanations offered together with the diagrams, make the science accessible to the lay-reader. The discussion of DNA is limited to the parts that were to play such a controversial role in who was given credit, received Nobel Prizes, or in this book, the woman, Rosalind Franklin, who was pushed aside. The reasons she was kept from the honors and recognition she deserved are many, and the book covers them in great detail, but as strong a reason as any was the fact she was a pioneer as a female in what was then, virtually an entirely all men's discipline. She also became terminally ill just as the papers and announcements regarding the discoveries of the famed double-helix were being published, and this made her marginalization all that much easier.
The names Watson and Crick are synonymous with the discovery of the double helix of DNA. What is less well known is that their discovery happened when it did, not only because of their work, but the absolutely critical and essential work done by Rosalind Franklin.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By "accounts62" on 10 Oct. 2002
Format: Hardcover
This a book for anyone who has an interest in women in history or general science. It shows the human side of a story that has had scientists and feminists debating since the award of the Nobel prize to Crick, Watson and Wilkins for the discovery of the DNA strand. Was Rosalind Franklin robbed by not only those around her but because she was a brilliant woman ahead of her time. Or did her uncompromising nature and standards make collaboration hard? There is just enough science in this book to explain how important the discovery was but mostly, it is a beautifully written account of the woman herself. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and even now find myself reading the odd chapter. I highly reccommend it.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm not usually a fan of biographies. As an academic (and a female) I read enough non-fiction/science in a week to last me for some years to come. My voluntary reading is usually intended to help me escape into other worlds and dreams. So, it was with trepidation that I started this book, a birthday gift from friends. What a gift! I couldn't put it down.

I was only vaguely familiar with Rosalind Franklin, and that was a shame. Maddox's impeccably researched book shines light onto a remarkable, if complex, individual. Maddox places Franklin in context; the context of her upbringing, her financial status, her religious roots, her family, her country, her gender, and the place of women in science during the 1950s - across the UK, Europe, and the U.S. It is a fascinating set of circumstances. At times I felt as if Maddox held a camera, Franklin stood in the centre, and Maddox ran around her, filming her from different vantage points, then running back to a point she'd just been at, and filming her again. The result is like the story of the blind men and the elephant, except in this instance, we get to hear the report of every blind man and so we are in a position to weave together all of their reports about what the "elephant" (in this case Rosalind) was. And who and what she was was remarkable. She straddled many different worlds and cultures. Although she did not always do so gracefully, she did so in order to pursue her intellectual curiosity and impeccable scientific standards. I am humbled by what she managed to pursue in her short life. It is breath-taking, even more so because it was so difficult for a woman to do at that time (and even now, sadly).

Although Rosalind has been a cause de celebre for feminists, Maddox is careful to keep her own opinions in check.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Quite why Nobel Prize winner James D Watson, in his 1968 best seller "The Double Helix", chose to portray Rosalind Franklin as a second rate scientist and a thoroughly unpleasant woman is anybody's guess. Barbara Maddox's biography does nothing to solve the mystery, since, as she demonstrates, the two scientists appear to have been on good terms, personally and professionally, in the years following the discovery of the structure of DNA.

"The Dark Lady of DNA" sets out to uncover the truth about Rosalind Franklin and the result is a well researched and highly readable account of her life from her birth into a well-heeled and well-connected family to her untimely death in 1958.

The woman who emerges from the darkness is a first class scientist with a rich personal life. Although she is best known for her work on DNA, she did important and far reaching research on the structure of coal and, having moved into biochemistry, the structure of viruses. As a person, Franklin was certainly not perfect: she could be prickly and argumentative, but many knew her as a thoughtful, generous and loyal friend.

This is an excellent biography. Maddox has done a good job of explaining the science and its importance to a general readership and has drawn a balanced portrait of this able and complex woman whose posthumous fame is well deserved.
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