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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
ISBN: 9780743219174
List price: $12.99
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Superb account of how science is actually done, recounting one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time. A very compelling read, even for someone like me who has long forgotten the tiny bit of chemistry I ever learned. more
The great name of the geneticmore
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.more
Science sometimes includes a surprising amount of personal drama and just playing around with models until they fit the facts. This account of the discovery of the structure of DNA, by one of the key participants Dr. James D. Watson, includes a lot of both. Written as though from his perspective at the time, The Double Helix presented a fascinating and candid look at the work which led up to this amazing discover.For the non-scientist, this book is an important reminder that scientists are human too. For the scientist, this book is an important reminder that scientists are human too. It’s just nice to know that at times even the great scientists struggled with their choice of research topic or felt a little adrift too. It also makes for a great read, very casual and easy to follow with lots of drama and personality clashes. The science included is pretty minimal and is explained well with helpful pictures, so I think this would be a pretty easy read even for people with no science background.The casualness is occasionally a downside, as people are referred to by their first or last name at random and there’s no cast list. Despite that small flaw, I would still say the relaxed writing style is strongest point of the book. Watson’s surprising openness about everyone’s feelings for each other and his ability to convey the rush he and Crick were in to finish the structure made this a very engaging book. It was pretty cool to feel like you were actually there during the race to discover the structure of DNA.more
Read all 21 reviews

Reviews

Superb account of how science is actually done, recounting one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time. A very compelling read, even for someone like me who has long forgotten the tiny bit of chemistry I ever learned. more
The great name of the geneticmore
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.more
Science sometimes includes a surprising amount of personal drama and just playing around with models until they fit the facts. This account of the discovery of the structure of DNA, by one of the key participants Dr. James D. Watson, includes a lot of both. Written as though from his perspective at the time, The Double Helix presented a fascinating and candid look at the work which led up to this amazing discover.For the non-scientist, this book is an important reminder that scientists are human too. For the scientist, this book is an important reminder that scientists are human too. It’s just nice to know that at times even the great scientists struggled with their choice of research topic or felt a little adrift too. It also makes for a great read, very casual and easy to follow with lots of drama and personality clashes. The science included is pretty minimal and is explained well with helpful pictures, so I think this would be a pretty easy read even for people with no science background.The casualness is occasionally a downside, as people are referred to by their first or last name at random and there’s no cast list. Despite that small flaw, I would still say the relaxed writing style is strongest point of the book. Watson’s surprising openness about everyone’s feelings for each other and his ability to convey the rush he and Crick were in to finish the structure made this a very engaging book. It was pretty cool to feel like you were actually there during the race to discover the structure of DNA.more
A frank, humourous biography that captures the excitement of discovery, the arrogance of youth and the rivalry between researchersmore
I cannot believe that I had not read this before. I had been carrying around my father's copy for twenty-five years but only just read it. It is a fascinating, exciting and sometimes even funny account of the race to unravel the structure of DNA. It is unflinchingly honest in describing not only the thrill of scientific discovery but also the more ordinary impulses including scientific rivlaries and everything from the desire to win the Nobel Prize to the desire to win over girls. It is also a great account of collaboration, not only with Francis Crick but also with Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin, and Linus Pauling -- in the case of the later three the collaboration was mixed with a fervent desire that they not beat Watson and Crick to the discovery of the strucure of DNA. Finally, it is also an excellent detective story as Watson and Crick follow fragmenatory and contradictory evidence along several false leads but eventually stumble on the extremely elegant answer.The Double Helix is at the opposite extreme of Einstein's book Relativity which presents the pure science, derived from first principles, and explained to the lay reader. Instead in The Double Helix, the extensive descriptions of the science are all subsurvient to moving the story of the discovery forward. None of these scientific discsussions are derived from first principles or includes any explanation for the reader (and I, for one, started the book with no knowledge of x-ray crystallography or stereoscopic chemistry and only pieced together a dim understanding of them over the course of the book). And there is virtually no discussion of the implications of the discovery, what followed, or really much in the way of context. But it is hard to hold any of that against The Double Helix, especially when many, many other books have handled all of those topics, while this book uniquely and superlatively describes the process of discovery itself.more
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