The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA

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9781501264009: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA

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 brilliant young zoologist 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 unsolved 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 the life sciences, the identification of the basic building block of life. He is impressed by the achievements of the young man he was, but clear-eyed about his limitations. Never has such a brilliant scientist also been so gifted, and so truthful, in capturing in words the flavor of his work.

“He has described admirably how it feels to have that frightening and beautiful experience of making a great scientific discovery.” —Richard Feynman

“Like nothing else in literature, it gives one the feel of how creative science really happens.” —C. P. Snow

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Review:

"Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward logical manner imagined by outsiders," writes James Watson in The Double Helix, his account of his codiscovery (along with Francis Crick) of the structure of DNA. Watson and Crick won Nobel Prizes for their work, and their names are memorized by biology students around the world. But as in all of history, the real story behind the deceptively simple outcome was messy, intense, and sometimes truly hilarious. To preserve the "real" story for the world, James Watson attempted to record his first impressions as soon after the events of 1951-1953 as possible, with all their unpleasant realities and "spirit of adventure" intact.

Watson holds nothing back when revealing the petty sniping and backbiting among his colleagues, while acknowledging that he himself was a willing participant in the melodrama. In particular, Watson reveals his mixed feelings about his famous colleague in discovery, Francis Crick, who many thought of as an arrogant man who talked too much, and whose brilliance was appreciated by few. This is the joy of The Double Helix--instead of a chronicle of stainless-steel heroes toiling away in their sparkling labs, Watson's chronicle gives readers an idea of what living science is like, warts and all. The Double Helix is a startling window into the scientific method, full of insight and wit, and packed with the kind of science anecdotes that are told and retold in the halls of universities and laboratories everywhere. It's the stuff of legends. --Therese Littleton

From the Back Cover:

Since its publication in 1968, 'The Double Helix' has given over a million readers a rare and exciting look at one highly significant piece of scientific research--Watson and Crick's race to discover the molecular structure of the gene. In this critical edition, Watson's lively and irreverent account is placed in historical perspective by Gunther Stent's introduction and by retrospective views from two major figures in the adventure, Francis Crick and Linus Pauling, and by Rosalind Franklin's last student, Aaron Klug.

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