Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix, The Hardcover – 6 Nov 2012
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'No one can write what Watson has written...The Double Helix is one of the most successful descriptions of how science is actually done. By the rather stuffy academic standards of the time, it was a frank, cavalier description of the race for DNA... The Double Helix was not boring and it is still a great read...and remains a brilliant and, thankfully, still controversial book' --Irish Times
'Watson s 1968 memoir of his discovery of the DNA double helix with Francis Crick has become a classic. This updated edition will fascinate historians of science.' -- --Financial Times Summer Books Guide (28 June)
About the Author
James Watson studied zoology at the University of Chicago, subsequently moving to Europe to work in Copenhagen and Cambridge, where together with Francis Crick, he solved the structure of DNA, for which they received a share of the Nobel Prize in 1962. From 1961 he was Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Harvard. Steve Jones is Professor of Genetics and head of the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College, London. He is a television presenter and a prize-winning author and he has a regular science column in the DAILY TELEGRAPH.
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This new annotated edition adda many interesting details, especially concerning Franklin, and her important role in making perfect x-ray-images of the dna-crystals. Images, that made Watson convinced of a helical structure of dna
Both amusing and informative, giving an insight more into scientific processes, rivalries and politics than hard science.
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The annotations in this edition of The Double Helix are often revealing, and the appendices, including one on the difficulties in getting the book published initially due primarily to fear of libel suits from the many people potentially offended by Watson's descriptions, are full-blooded and well worth reading on their own (with the exception of the exert from Watson's other book which discusses receiving his Nobel and his trip to Stockholm, the style of writing of which does not match that of The Double Helix).
The last lines of the last chapter of the book are among my favorite closing lines of any book, fiction or non: "But now I was alone, looking at the long-haired girls near St. Germain de Prés and knowing they were not for me. I was twenty-five and too old to be unusual." Does this sound like a dull book on science? If you have a curious mind, read this book and make your own judgments.
- it is a vivid account of a historically important scientific event that has eventually affected our lives. Unlike a book of history, this can be read almost as a novel, thus making it amenable for a broad public (no prior technical knowledge is required either).
- it clearly shows how science works. How the personal biases introduced by culture, character, etc. clearly affect what you study, and how you study it. It is striking seen how Franklin and Wilkinson despising of abstract modelling impeded them to get the right answer, in spite of the clear experimental advantage they had.
- finally, even if written by Watson, the figure of Crick is pervasive. Crick had an incredible capability for abstract thinking, and his figure is often shadowed by that of Watson.
By my reckoning Watson's two greatest blunders were his move from Copenhagen to Cambridge in September 1951 before getting permission from the NRC Merck Fellowship Board (p. 38-39 and Appendix 3), and the embarrassing presentation to the King's College group in December 1951 (where he mis-remembered the water content of DNA, p. 91-93). Despite these setbacks, Watson's exuberance, keen curiosity, resilience after failure, and sense of humor carried him forward to the published solution on 25 April 1953. The Double Helix should inspire graduate students everywhere when research gets tough.
Page 182 should at last refute the longstanding claim that Photo 51, taken by Rosalind Franklin, was used by Watson and Crick without her knowledge or permission. *Permission:* Page 182 contains dual statements by Ray Gosling and Maurice Wilkins of the fateful handover. They both agree that as Rosalind Franklin was hurriedly preparing to leave King's College for Birkbeck College (also in London) in January 1953, she directed Gosling to turn over Photo 51 to Wilkins as a "present" to use as he wished.
Accordingly, on January 30, Gosling met Wilkins in the corridor, handed him the crucial X-ray diffraction image, and assured the surprised recipient that he could do whatever he wanted with it. Shortly thereafter (early February) came the angry encounter between Rosy and Jim Watson, leading to Maurice showing Watson Photo 51 (Chapter 23). Yes, the transfer was irregular, and Franklin's lack of formality here has cast suspicion that lingers to this day. But Rosalind Franklin did indeed turn over her DNA research results to Maurice Wilkins with explicit permission to use as he judged best. That usage properly included sharing the photo with research collaborators Francis Crick and James Watson.
*Knowledge:* Well, you just read this book review without my knowledge, didn't you?
Book review by Carl Drews, author of Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science
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