05nathanb's Reviews > The Double Helix

The Double Helix by James D. Watson
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Mar 01, 12

Read in February, 2012

The parties, the science, and the award. The Double Helix by James D. Watson is a story about himself that actually happened in the which he and his partner, Francis Crick, were able to find the chemical bonding of DNA and the overall structure of the code of life. This story is the story of how they slaved over the DNA molecule until they finally could make a model that well explained the structure of the DNA molecule. They received a Nobel prize for their efforts and both wrote a book recollecting what had happened. The Double Helix is a good book because it is not 100 percent science, it is very behaviorally interesting, and it grabs and takes your attention from the first few pages, although sometimes I disliked it because it was a little over my head in scientific matters. I liked reading this book most of the time,though.
James Watson starts off his book in the first few pages by saying "One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that . . . a goodly number of scientists are . . . narrowminded . . . dull. . . [and] just plain stupid." He then goes on to tell how Francis Crick and he met and became lab partners who found that they were both interested in the structure of DNA. At this time, everyone wanted to be the first one to find out the structure of DNA because of the fame and rewards it would bring. With some help from Maurice Wilkins, a scientist their elder, and his assistant Rosy, they were able to discover that DNA was a double helix with bases on the inside and sugars and phosphate groups as the molecules that held the base "rungs" together. After their discovery was proven right by other scientists, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins all received the Nobel prize. This almost autobiography about the discovery of the structure of DNA is fascinating and spellbinding, and I enjoyed reading it.
There were very few things about this book that I didn't like, although they are existent. A reason that made the book harder to read was how you understand the science. The times when James Watson makes an observation about a certain molecule in DNA, you want to know more about it because it is driving you crazy to know how he arrived at the solution that he did. For example, when he talks about the number of hydrogen atoms in a certain molecule and how they can be "fudged" somewhere else, I get that he knew that and how it works, but I don't know how it works, and I don't want him to explain it to me. Another small reason that made this book more difficult to read was that there were so many places and people to keep in line. There were a lot of scientists that Watson and Crick worked with from a lot of different places. Sometimes, the book could be slightly confusing, but I liked it overall.
There are many things that I liked about this book, but to name a few: the ease on science, the anticipation, and the way that people interact with each other in this book. First, I like that the book wasn't all about science, it was about the people who made the science. You don't have to wade through difficult theorems and postulates to know what is going on, and sometimes, it is just plain funny how people react in this book, like the way everyone thinks that James Watson has the weirdest American hairdo, just because he likes it that way. Another thing that I liked about this book was that you knew that they were going to win at the end, but all through the book, you are wondering how they did it. Sometimes it seems like they are so close, you just want to tell them what it is. I also liked the way that the people interacted in this book. This is not a book about a bunch of dull scientists mumbling furiously about the structure of a deoxyribose, this about many colorful and unique personalities that all helped in making the discovery of the structure of DNA possible. For exapmle, take Francis Crick, an overexcited lab-nut who wants to tell everyone about how great or bad a certain theory might be, or Rosy, a stubborn loner X-ray diffraction scientist who wants to find the structure of DNA entirely though X-rays. They are all very different and unique, making this a fun book, not a science textbook.
Overall, I give this book a good rating of four stars because, even though it may be slightly confusing at times, it was very well written and was made about people instead of science. Anyone can read a science textbook and say that it was boring, but it's hard to read this book and say that it was boring. It is very intricate and well crafted, a book deserving 2 thumbs up. I liked the human characteristics of this book and how they interacted, although I did not like the complex science sometimes involved and all the people that you had to remember. This book is a very good book that I recommend you read.
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