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The classic personal account of Watson and Crick’s groundbreaking discovery of the structure of DNA, now with an introduction by Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind.

By identifying the structure of DNA, the molecule of life, Francis Crick and James Watson revolutionized biochemistry and won themselves a Nobel Prize. At the time, Watson was only twenty-four, a young scientist hungry to make his mark. His uncompromisingly honest account of the heady days of their thrilling sprint against other world-class researchers to solve one of science’s greatest mysteries gives a dazzlingly clear picture of a world of brilliant scientists with great gifts, very human ambitions, and bitter rivalries.

With humility unspoiled by false modesty, Watson relates his and Crick’s desperate efforts to beat Linus Pauling to the Holy Grail of life sciences, the identification of the basic building block of life. Never has a scientist been so truthful in capturing in words the flavor of his work.

Topics: DNA, Genetics, Popular Science, Scientists, 1960s, England, and Creative Nonfiction

Published: Scribner on Aug 16, 2011
ISBN: 9780743219174
List price: $12.99
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The great name of the geneticread more
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Watson’s retelling of his and Francis Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA. Really a story about academic infighting, which Watson recounts with enough humor to make it quite amusing. The science stuff is really mostly beyond me, but the book is enjoyable if, like I said above, you’re interested in how human thought processes work, and in the social foibles of very smart people. I loved Watson’s opening description of Crick: "I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood…It has nothing to do with his present fame. Already he is much talked about…but that was not true [in] the fall of 1951…At that time he was thirty-five, yet almost totally unknown. Although some of his closest colleagues realized the value of his quick, penetrating mind and frequently sought his advice, he was often not appreciated, and most people thought he talked too much." Heh.One curious thing about this book is the treatment of Rosalind Franklin, one of the rival scientists at King’s. In telling the story as it happened, Watson depicts Franklin in an often not-so-favorable light, as for a long time he did not like her, but at the end he goes out of the way to credit her and say how much he came to like her later. This seems reasonable within the context of the narrative, yet some of the reading I did afterward suggests that there is further controversy about Watson and Crick’s use of Franklin’s results, etc. I’d be curious to read a book about Franklin and see what perspectives it has to offer.But, controversy aside, this is a great example of science as an adventure story, and I quite enjoyed it.read more
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This book is almost the sine qua non of why personal memoir is not history. The Double Helix is an essential document in understanding Jim Watson -- but considerably less helpful in understanding the real story of how DNA was discovered. Watson's account of the discovery of DNA is twisted by his sincere sexism and self-aggrandizing nature. Crick had long since acknowledged Franklin's role, and that her (basically uncredited) data was critical to their paper.read more
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The great name of the genetic
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Watson’s retelling of his and Francis Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA. Really a story about academic infighting, which Watson recounts with enough humor to make it quite amusing. The science stuff is really mostly beyond me, but the book is enjoyable if, like I said above, you’re interested in how human thought processes work, and in the social foibles of very smart people. I loved Watson’s opening description of Crick: "I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood…It has nothing to do with his present fame. Already he is much talked about…but that was not true [in] the fall of 1951…At that time he was thirty-five, yet almost totally unknown. Although some of his closest colleagues realized the value of his quick, penetrating mind and frequently sought his advice, he was often not appreciated, and most people thought he talked too much." Heh.One curious thing about this book is the treatment of Rosalind Franklin, one of the rival scientists at King’s. In telling the story as it happened, Watson depicts Franklin in an often not-so-favorable light, as for a long time he did not like her, but at the end he goes out of the way to credit her and say how much he came to like her later. This seems reasonable within the context of the narrative, yet some of the reading I did afterward suggests that there is further controversy about Watson and Crick’s use of Franklin’s results, etc. I’d be curious to read a book about Franklin and see what perspectives it has to offer.But, controversy aside, this is a great example of science as an adventure story, and I quite enjoyed it.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This book is almost the sine qua non of why personal memoir is not history. The Double Helix is an essential document in understanding Jim Watson -- but considerably less helpful in understanding the real story of how DNA was discovered. Watson's account of the discovery of DNA is twisted by his sincere sexism and self-aggrandizing nature. Crick had long since acknowledged Franklin's role, and that her (basically uncredited) data was critical to their paper.
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A fascinating first-person account of the discovery of DNA's structure.A great read, and several no-holds-barred assessments of some of the characters that played a role.
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When I started reading this book I though the author obnoxious and unethical, probing around other peoples research and intruding in research fields that weren’t his specialty. By the end of the book I realized that it narrates about a time that sets what was going to be modern science: dynamic, fast paced and result driven. Great book, will read it again.
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This is a memoir of a Nobel prize-winning Scientist that reads like a cross between a personal autobiography and a detective story. Add the insights into the imagination of one of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century and you have a unique book. I read the book with wonder, delight and puzzlement alternatively as I encountered different aspects of the life of James Watson. He is unafraid to compliment his colleagues and competitors yet is also uncompromising in his criticism of those scientists (Linus Pauling, for example) who are either on the wrong track or just wrong-headed in their ideas or both. I was impressed with his methods which involved serious study combined with leisure activities, tennis being a favorite, that did not seem to detract from his scientific thinking and probably helped his imagination achieve more than it might otherwise have. The book describes a different time, the 1950s, when the "Red scare" was predominant in the United States and Europe (not without reason) to the detriment of the free exchange of scientific ideas (again Linus Pauling is a prominent example in his sufferings at the hand of the United States government). But more importantly it describes the collaboration of two colleagues (James Watson and Francis Crick) with very different personal styles of scientific endeavor in their pursuit of the goal of identifying the essential nature of DNA. This includes giving credit to those who provided helpful details that made their discovery possible. Written with a lucid style that put this reader at ease this is one of the best memoirs of any kind that I have read. While there are a number of scientific details and references, they are not terribly difficult to digest and I would particularly recommend this memoir to readers who might otherwise shy away from scientific tomes - Watson makes scientific endeavor the most interesting if not exciting thing in the world.
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