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

3.87  ·  Rating Details  ·  11,701 Ratings  ·  578 Reviews
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 sci
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 16th 2011 by Touchstone Books (NY) (first published 1968)
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Petra 1. Your question is... not a question.
2. Yes, James Watson is a(n) [insert swearword] as a person. Anyone who has taken any note of this guy past the…more
1. Your question is... not a question.
2. Yes, James Watson is a(n) [insert swearword] as a person. Anyone who has taken any note of this guy past the discovery of the double-helix structure should be aware of it.
3. You are right about the contributions of others being kinda brushed under the table (and NOT just Franklin's).
4. And yet - the exact construction of the DNA was, undeniably, the brain-product of Watson and Crick that other scientists failed to come up with before them. It IS terrible behavior to diminish other people's contributions and steal their work (especially if your part required - pretty much - no experimentation of your own), but it is also true that all scientific discovery is based on previous work. It is possible to discuss endlessly who in the process are the exact people who deserve an award. Opinions will reasonably differ.
5. Worth repeating: James Watson is a terrible human being.
6. For clarification: The merit of a scientific discovery should be judged independently from how much of a terrible person someone is. Even under this aspect, the awarding may still be questionable, but it is still an important point to note.
7. That people are calling Watson out for misogynism, racism and other horrible statements is a good thing - and I am glad they do. (less)
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2nd out of 6 books — 4 voters
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May 02, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
“In the end, though, science is what matters; scientists not a bit.”
― Steve Jones in, James D. Watson's The Double Helix


I gave it three stars last night (DNA night, thanks Riku), but that just didn't seem right. The structure wasn't stable, and I felt it probably deserved four stars (one for A, one for T, one for G, one for C; also one for Watson, one for Crick, one for Wilkins, and yes one for Franklin).

Short, interesting, personal and important but also sexist, biased, & according to Cric
Feb 24, 2014 Nikki rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I ended up skimming this. I really hope his more recent book DNA: The Secret of Life is considerably more interesting and considerably less sexist. It should be a fascinated story, but really it's mostly about James D. Watson bouncing around between different supervisors and making sexist comments about Rosalind Franklin -- sorry, "Rosy", who would've been much better in his eyes if she'd done something with her hair.

I can understand his fascination with DNA, but that's just about all I could ge
Jun 20, 2014 Douglas rated it really liked it
I made the mistake of reading this over a long period of time. I see now that it really needs to be read in just a few sittings. Also, a basic background in chemistry and physics (none of which I have) would be beneficial. Thank goodness for Wikipedia.

This is the riveting story of the discovery of the secret of life, the helical structure of DNA. Even though the Nobel award was given to both James D. Watson and Francis Crick, the pendulum of recognition swings to Watson for this well-known acco
Sep 20, 2012 Tony61 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
James D. Watson became a controversial figure later in life, but this story recounts the seminal event in his life: the 1953 discovery of the structure of DNA for which he received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology with his collaborator Francis Crick and another, Maurice Wilkins.

Watson is an excellent storyteller, something which cannot be said of most scientists. He successfully ensnares the reader into the drama of the moment, describing the personalities involved and making the science atta
Feb 02, 2009 Carlos rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shows how arrogant, misogynistic, and plain stupid the "discoverers" of DNA's double helix were.

Pros: Emphasizes the importance of being able to access a free, open, creative, in some ways childish state of mind in order to allow for truly creative and "defocalized" states of mind that allow for scientific discovery. Tunnel vision can be a scientist's worst nightmare.

Cons: Shows how childish, pretentious and socially inept the scientific establishment can be. Also shows how a great scientist wh
Mar 26, 2013 heidi rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have no doubt that James Watson was a (pretty) competent scientist - although the way he writes it, every thing seemed to favor him up to the discovery of the double helix structure. He chose the field by a mix of chance and cunning, having eliminated other fields which would require more effort, by his own words (I suppose some people call it self-disparaging, but somehow to me it reads like a humble brag) and less likely to yield the chance to make a huge discovery. If that's not cheating sc ...more
James Watson and Francis Crick made arguably the greatest discovery of the 20th century: proving that DNA is the building block of life and providing a solid structure for it. This short autobiographical account written by Watson provides an in depth - and biased - look into the discovery and also reveals the world of science, where fair play isn't always adhered to.

I remember my mother talking about Crick and Watson when I was a kid learning about DNA in school and telling me how these two me
Tariq Alferis
Sep 24, 2014 Tariq Alferis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
اللولب المزدوج . الحمض النووي . اصل الحياة

الأن فترة استعداد لي إمتحان القادم في بايو كمستري ، كان نصيب الأمس في دراسة شيت "شابتر"الأحماض النووية ، وبالطبع الدكتور شرح مقدمة علي مكتشف الدنا ، وطبعا فضولي النابع من الحسد للمكتشفين

واصحاب جائزة نوبل خلاني نبحث عليه لعند ماوصلت لتحفة ورواية شخصية لي اكتشاف أهم اكتشاف علمي لحد الأن ،..!

المهم في بداية كانت صدمة أنه جمس واطسون دخل الجامعة شيكاغو وعمره 14 السنة ..! عبقرية ياسي ..!

لكن علي حسب السرد في الكتاب ، وحسب مقولة واطسون ..ان كل العلماء أغبياء .
Jun 26, 2016 Libby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Life Science Majors, Junior High School Students and Older, Biography and Science History Fans
Read this back in high school as an alternative approach to understanding my DNA lessons. It was an easy-to-read piece, and I enjoyed the historical and biographical components of the book as well.
محمد سلامة
"من الممكن حتى لهاوي طيور سابق أن يحل الحمض النووي ! " ~ جيمس واطسون .

العلم ليس كما كنا نظن .. ليس لمجموعة أشخاص بمعاطف بيضاء.. معزولين عن العالم ويعيشون في المختبرات مع فئران التجارب !
العلم في الحقيقة تجربة إنسانية من الدرجة الأولى .. تحوي بين طياتها مشاعر إنسانية مختلطة .. من حقد وكراهية وتنافس وخوف وتحدي وهزيمة وانتصار .. أكثر ما أعجبني في الكتاب هو تركيز واطسون - في أثناء بحثه عن التركيب المثالي للـ دنا - أنه لابد أن يكون جميلًا وبسيطًا .. و عندما اكتشف النموذج، كان على يقين تام بأن شيئًا ب
John Everett
In Broca’s Brain, a collection of essays published in the late 70s, Carl Sagan spoke of the practice of science in rather idealistic terms, suggesting a noble, relatively selfless, and grandly cooperative pursuit by men and women in far-flung locations. In a review of that book, I suggested The Double Helix as a corrective; it made clear that competition, hunger for personal acclaim, and a desire to show up the famous guy (a role played here by Linus Pauling) all figure into the progress of scie ...more
Mar 26, 2014 Safae rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sciences
لطالما قرأت عن ثرثرة كريك فرانسيس وجايمس واطسون
وهذه الرواية أكدت لي الكثير من هذه الحقائق
ورغم اني كنت مريضة خلال قرائتي لها فقد زادت من سوء حالتي بعض فصول هذا الكتاب
مازاد إثارتي هي الفصول الاخيرة واقتراب اكتشافهما لبنية الحمض النووي
Sep 17, 2011 Shawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Shawn by: Jason Reuter
This book was probably ten times as fun to read as I suspected it would be. The very idea of it, and its drab wrappings, led me to believe it would be dull, full of scientific mumbo-jumbo, slow, and poorly written. It was none of these. It's one of the few books that I have had a hard time putting down. The race between team Watson and Crick vs Linus was riveting, and even though I knew how it would generally work out, I was worried and on edge until their paper was published. I was especially i ...more
Glad I finally read this classic. It's a quick-reading sketch, two or three hours, a half day at most if you need a break. Watson's prose is obscurely ironic at times, which keeps the reader on his toes (or bores him as the case may be) along with quite a bit of humor if you are looking for it. The science, not difficult even at its original full strength, is hardly toned-down for the popular reader, which is a disctinct positive. Watson avoids confusion by simply skipping a few topics, like the ...more
So...umm. Hmm. Okay right off the bat, if you're not someone with a lot of biochem in their brain, this book is one-half to one-third wholly unfuckingcomprehensible. I say this as someone whose college sciences were Astrology and Geology. This was never meant to be the weird, scandalous, ego-driven smash hit it ended up being, is my impression. It didn't seem like Watson entirely expected the backlash and sensation of it. But there the book was, on Time Magazine's Top 100 non-fiction books, and ...more
Troy Blackford
Watson is one of those figures who's opinion of himself is so high, you can't help but be dissuaded from feeling the respect you would have been willing to give him merely on the basis of his accomplishments. Reading this book was full of cringe-worthy moments of self-aggrandizement, and times when his accounts of trying to pick up French girls at parties and things of that nature were just unwanted. Written in the late sixties about events that happened in the early fifties, I shouldn't be surp ...more
Mar 12, 2012 04victorias rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Who on earth would want to read an entire book about genetics and DNA? I certinly wouldn't, but I did because I had to for my grade in Biology. This book was very boring and confusing. There definately was a lot of information that might interest scientist or people studying that subject. Informative books are very great resources for research though. If you are researching stuff about DNA or genetics this would be a great book for you.

James D. Watson was the main character in the book. There we
Peter Mcloughlin
Very short memoir/history by Watson of his and Cricks unravelling of DNA and coming up with the double helix. Thanks to X-ray crystallography and studies by experimentalists like Rosiland Franklin and near misses like JBS Haldane's attempts to model DNA as triple helix Watson and Crick were able to figure out the double helix and the G to C and A to T pairings of the nucleotides and provide a foundation for Genetics. Many teams at the time thought DNA was probably the molecule responsible for c ...more
Feb 20, 2010 Rob rated it really liked it
The molecular structure of DNA was determined in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick. That was probably the most influential discovery in all of biology and chemistry during that century. This book was written by Watson (comparatively younger and inexperienced compared to Crick, at the time) about how they did it. In great detail, he explains how they did it by essentially using Rosalind Franklin's data without her permission, how the more notorius Linus Pauling nearly beat them to it, and ho ...more
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
I had to read this book for a science class in college. I've never forgiven that teacher.
Feb 27, 2009 Larry rated it it was amazing
This self promoting story of the conceptual breakthru that led to the discovery of the composition and structure of the DNA molecule has been in publication for over 50 years which attests to Watson's skill as a story teller. It does accomplish the goal of describing the agonizing task of unraveling the mystery and to that end is a darn good detective story. It also explains the science in terms understandable to us lay people but it only hints at the true magic of the discovery, the sequencing ...more
Jun 14, 2012 Battle_slug rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just finished this book. What can i say? It is totally worth reading, but if you are not afraid of some scientific words and descriptions. For me it is one of the best books ever, and i will explain why.
First of all this short book tells about how really big discoveries are being made: surprisingly the regular people are making them. But those people are keen to make something new. They don't bother about the money, or sex, or new car - the biggest passion possessing them is the science. Such bo
Vicki Doronina
Is it just me, or are there not many well-written scientific memoirs around? Even the words “scientific memoir” brings up an image of a long and boring book. There are a lot of good books written about scientists, but not by scientists. Maybe it’s because the scientists are trained to write logically, objectively and dispassionately: this approach results in good papers and science books, but not a compelling “after hours” reading.

“The Double Helix” by James Watson of Watson-Crick fame is a scie
Sep 12, 2008 Ellee rated it it was amazing
This book was fantastic! I wasn't sure whether or not it would be hard to understand, but there was very little about the technical aspects of Watson & Crick's discovery of DNA's form. The book is a very quick read and I thought, very exciting. :) The book is written as a scientific memoir about how Watson & Crick made their Nobel Prize-winning discovery.

This book would be great for people thinking of entering scientific fields who aren't sure they've got what it takes to make it. Very e
Aug 25, 2014 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the more that he persisted with his theory the more that they tried to persuaded him to put it a side but as outlined in the book his competitor's knew he was on to a winner and the snobby world of academia much like a ( covert group) there pecking order means that the professors are the ones that get all the credit, no the ones that do all, the hard work

but behind the glory lies a story of rivery, driving ambition, and controversy vivid accounts and the " birth of as new idea" the struggles, d
Erik Graff
May 18, 2015 Erik Graff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: sciences
Published fifteen years after he contributed to the discovery in 1953 of DNA's structure, Watson's account has been criticized for misappropriating credit for the work. I'm no expert on this controversy but reading it at least gave me enough background to follow articles on the matter.

Written for the layperson, this book gives enough background to appreciate what Watson, Crick et alia accomplished and presents an interesting view of the competitiveness--especially with Linus Pauling in this case
Lewis Weinstein
Nov 14, 2012 Lewis Weinstein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I had the great good fortune to meet Dr. James Watson, many times actually, and to have his kind assistance when I, a scientific novice, set out to save the venerable Public Health Research Institute in New York. Watson's major accomplishment, his role in determining the structure of DNA, is a fascinating tale well told in a form the lay reader can easily appreciate. For those who wonder how scientific discoveries are made, and indeed on the nature of scientific research itself, this is a great ...more
Jun 18, 2012 Arthur rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The well told story of one of the most important discoveries. As important a journey as Darwin's The Origin of the Species but a much better read. Four stars because:
- historical and scientific primary source
- engaging read
- accessibility to a non-science audience
If I were going to recommend a non-fic science book this would be it.

Again, concerning stars, I just can't bring myself to give everything good five stars so four is high praise. Five has to change everything.
May 20, 2015 Audrey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
Watson's story is readable for the layperson, although I won't pretend I understood a lot of the science. I enjoyed the way Watson portrayed science like a creative endeavor: a stop-and-start business with a lot of false turnings and sudden inspirations. Watson explains all of it thoroughly, although perhaps overestimating how conversant a layperson is with biochemistry. I didn't expect Watson to focus so much on the personalities of the scientists involved, and how their personal dynamics affec ...more
Andy Clayman
Learned some new things in this book:

1. How X-ray crystallography was used to help understand the structure of DNA, using Fourier transforms to find length measurements of the major structures and the orientation of the structures.

2. Why guanine and cystosine, and adenine and thymine are associated with each other on the "rungs" of the ladder staircase. In a nutshell it provides a length that is roughly 3 benzene rings long and the connections between the two amino acids rely on 3 Nitrogen atoms
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In 1928, James D. Watson was born in Chicago. Watson, who co-discovered the double helix structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) at age 25, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His bird-watching hobby prompted his interest in genetics. He earned his B.Sc. degree in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1947, and his Ph.D. ...more
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“In the end, though, science is what matters; scientists not a bit.” 2 likes
“On the other hand, the sun of Naples might be conducive to learning something about the biochemistry of the embryonic development of marine animals.” 1 likes
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