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Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA Hardcover – 17 Jun 2002
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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
Top customer reviews
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. A photograph she took, entitled simply number 51, was shown without her knowledge together with other information that made the announcements of Watson and Crick possible long before they otherwise would have been possible to proclaim.
Rosalind Franklin was to die at age 37, and 4 short years later Nobel Prizes were given out to those that benefited directly and substantially from her work. The better part of half a century has passed, and despite the naming of buildings, science research facilities, and attempts to revise the historical record to give this amazing woman her due, it will never be enough.
Brenda Maddox has written an important work for everyone as she is helping to document a historical record that was deeply flawed, and now slowly is being corrected. This book is important to so many for the same reason the name Watson and Crick are so important. Rosalind Franklin was one of the keys to the discovery of DNA, her work made Watson and Crick's announcements possible, and History should be taught correctly. Students today should know the most accurate version of what took place, not simply what has become generally accepted wisdom
Equally important is why her work was shared unethically, without her knowledge, and why such behavior was tolerated. This book goes a long way toward exposing these valid questions and why it is so important the record be accurate.
There is no way to know whether Rosalind Franklin would have been given The Nobel Prize along with Watson and Crick had she lived. The number of women honored by that society is absurdly small, and again the author demonstrates not only how many amazing women have been excluded, but how many men you would expect to see rewarded were passed over for names that will surprise you. The examples given cover literature, and the honorees and those ignored will amaze you.
One fact is certain, The Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously, and unless that were ever to change any persons who may have been deserving will never be recognized. Maybe it is enough that the historical record is being corrected, for even if it is not, certain manners of honoring historic contributions to science will always be closed to Rosalind Franklin and that is simply unjust.
Brenda Maddox has written, in some ways, a sadly familiar tale. We like to think that 'science' is Noble, Pure and Of High Ideals - the great god science may indeed be NP + OHI - however, scientists being mortal men and women (and more often than not, mortal men) are as subject to self-serving, naked ambition, power hungry greed as the rest of us.
There's a rush to get your name on the paper, to get the citations - and the desire for this is not just 'this discovery is for the good of all', but its good for ME.
The cut and thrust world of scientific fame and glory is particularly difficult, even now, for women.
Maddox uncovers a warts and all portrait of the difficult, often unlikeable, brilliant Franklyn. Undoubtedly she lacked charm, she lacked the ability to schmooze, she lacked a graceful character (women of course are particularly 'supposed' to be charming, graceful and likeable) The naked ambition which was palpable (and par for the course) in her male colleagues is seen as unacceptable in a woman.
This book is a fascinating - and to a feminist -'keep those flames of feminism burning' - book. Maddox writes extremely well about the fascinating scientific journey of discovery, and about the dirty politics. She doesn't turn Franklyn into a latter day saint - but it is also clear that whatever her defects of character, being a brilliant woman, a brilliant Jewish woman, in a boys' club, would never be an easy ride.
And..............if you feel tempted to think, but that was a long long time ago, read a more recent account of the alpha male wolf pack atmosphere of big business, nobel prize winning glory prize science in Candace Pert's Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel One edition of this latter book, due to the often buggy method of listing foreword writers as well as authors, even has this book, written by a female scientist, as being credited to the foreword writer - so the author is given as Deepak Chopra. A amusing mistake unintentionally illustrating 'the back room girls do the work, the boys elbow their way into the spotlight of fame!'
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