Troy's Reviews > The Double Helix

The Double Helix by James D. Watson
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Feb 01, 11


My one-line rundown: anyone who thinks the scientific process is a dry affair, barren of drama, silliness, oddity or personality, should read this book.

I started trying to keep up with the great quotes from this book, but eventually gave up; there are too many. Take the opening salvo of the first chapter: 'I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood.' Or Watson's contention, as a 24 year-old graduate student, that 'in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.'

Watson details a number of ridiculous sub-plots throughout the book, including forays into the sex life of bacteria, his attempt to set his sister up with Maurice Wilkins (to both keep her away from some 'mental defectives' and secure himself a direct line to Maurice's X-ray work on DNA), and deals made with disinterested lab supervisors which made it possible for him to live and work outside the institution required by his fellowship. Add I love the idea of cutting edge 1950s biochemistry revolving around people manipulating plaster-and-wire models.

I have utterly no interest in biochemistry generally, and even less in trying to understand the specific details of the X-ray crystallography technology from a half-century ago. I just enjoyed reading Watson's sardonic references to 'dressing for dinner', girls, and the necessity of growing his hair into a wild mop to avoid being mistaken for those other local Americans - Air Force personnel. It helps me remember that, while this discovery was arguably the most important contribution to genetics since Mendel, the scientific endeavor is rarely if ever free from that entertaining and most fallible entity: humanity.
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