Title: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA
Author: James D. Watson
Fun Fact: Not even Watson always knew what he wanted to research. (This may not seem like a fun fact to all of you, but to those of you who are also in research – you’re welcome.)
Review Summary: This was a great candid look at the process of research and the drama of the personal interactions that are sometimes involved.
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.
Who should read this? Anyone interested in the history of biology, anyone who reads history for the human element, and definitely any grad students who are feeling a little lost