Women in Science History Review: Dorothy Hodgkin

March 11, 2017 Uncategorized 4 ★★★★

Women in Science History Review: Dorothy HodgkinTitle: Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life
Author: Georgina Ferry

Dorothy Hodgkin was an incredible scientist, one of the founders of the field of protein crystallography. Using cutting edge techniques, she discovered the structures of insulin, penicillin, and vitamin B12. She was awarded the Nobel prize for this work and remains the only British women to have received this honor (c’mon, Nobel prize committee, do better!). She also worked hard to create an international community of scientists and her protegees continue to make important discoveries around the world today.

This book started didn’t start out well. The author seemed like she was writing a book report and wanted to prove she’d discovered every fact even tangentially related to Dorothy’s life. Before getting to Dorothy’s birth, we first learned about her grandparents and how they met; her parents and how they met; and her aunts’ and uncles’ lives.  However, this bothered me less as I got into the story more and their were fewer new characters to introduce. The author did still sometimes go off on tangents, but they were more engaging to me than those at the beginning. The inclusion of primary sources throughout helped. I loved hearing much of the story in Dorothy’s own words!

There were also some tangents that I thought were important for giving context to Dorothy’s work. I particularly enjoyed learning about the many female scientists Dorothy worked with and about the way different women dealt with the prejudice they faced in academia. Dorothy’s political activism was fascinating to read about as well. Despite all these tangents, the author did do justice to Dorothy’s scientific achievements. While occasionally I thought a picture would have been helpful, for the most part, the author made her work very accessible. The technical challenges Dorothy had to overcome were explained with enough detail that I could appreciate how impressive her solutions were. And the importance of her work for medicine and for the future of crystallography were always clear.

This is probably not a book I’d recommend to anyone who doesn’t read much nonfiction. It’s one of the few nonfiction books that I’ve found guilty of reading a bit like a textbook. However, I genuinely enjoyed reading this book once I got into it and I think nonfiction aficionados interested in this topic will find it well worth a read.

4 Responses to “Women in Science History Review: Dorothy Hodgkin”

  1. Naomi

    For a woman to be presented the Nobel prize is a big deal – she must have been an amazing person!
    Did her family have anything to do with her choice of profession, or did she just decide on her own to go into science?

    • DoingDewey

      It’s true! Her parents (and especially her mother) valued education very highly, including doing things like getting a home tutor for her and her siblings who taught them chemistry and buying her a book about protein structure. It seemed like she had a lot of inspirations.

  2. Jane @ Raincity Librarian

    I often think that one of the major challenges for nonfiction writers must be figuring out what information to leave in a story, and what details can be taken out. Sometimes authors manage to find a wonderful balance between entertainment and education….and sometimes they don’t!

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