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The Double Helix

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  15,753 ratings  ·  821 reviews
By identifying the structure of DNA, the molecule of life, Francis Crick and James Watson revolutionized biochemistry & won themselves a Nobel Prize. At the time, Watson was only 24, a young scientist 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 great ...more
Paperback, 143 pages
Published February 1st 1969 by Signet Books (first published January 1968)
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Popular Answered Questions
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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Emer (A Little Haze)
Jan 06, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Science undergraduates in particular biochemists and geneticists
Do not view my rating on this book as an indictment of the science. The story of the discovery of the structure of DNA is a fascinating one and makes for a compelling must-read book. The research behind it merited a Nobel Award... But as any first year science student worth their salt can tell you it is a story mired in controversy.

I was enthralled by the continuous advancement of ideas that led to the double helical model that we all are familiar with today, but what is deeply unsettling about
Dec 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
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 fascinating 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. [ETA: in total fairness to those who have difficulty recognising hyperbole, i ...more
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 Crick "a
Jun 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science-stuff
Gossip, backstabbing, petty squabbles, arrogance, snobbishness, and misogyny take a front row seat in this personal account of how the double helix structure of DNA was discovered.

I expected more from Watson's book.

And then there is the question about Rosalind Franklin's contribution to the discovery.
While Watson does spend some time in the epilogue to credit Franklin for her work on the subject, it seems too little, too late. He spends the entire book painting her as an uncooperative, dour, a
Nov 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
I had to read this book for a science class in college. I've never forgiven that teacher.
Sep 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Roy Lotz
After reading Bill Bryson’s wonderful A Short History of Nearly Everything, I’ve been effectively disabused of the notion that scientists are purely logical, rational, and reasonable folk, and that science progresses through mild-mannered and careful thinking. I bet it does, sometimes. But, like any dynamic human activity, science is populated by a diverse group of people. Some, I’m sure, are the workaday, tame people we like to imagine in white lab coats. But we also have half-deranged incorrig ...more
I was expecting a lot from this book and it surely didn't meet my expectations. I picked this book because genetics always have been fascinating to me. When I was in college I did a course on molecular biology and DNA was really interesting and important topic. My professor mentioned this book but I couldn't find time to read it that time.

Everything is wrong with this book from Watson's writing to his remarks on Rosalind Franklin. The only thing accurate here is the science which can't be overl
Aurélien Thomas
Battle of egos, blind ambition, tensions, quarrels, conflicts of interests... Sadly or not, science goes hand in hand with the little defects of human nature. The race having led to the discovery of the structure of DNA is obviously no exception, and James Watson, the young lad (he was only 24!!) who was among whose hitting such jackpot, reminds us so here with his own version of the events.

As every personal account such version is, of course, far from being objective! His arrogance is annoying.
Sep 11, 2011 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
Michael Perkins
Oct 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
"For a long time, the world believed that Rosalind Franklin had nothing to do with James Watson’s and Francis Crick’s discovery of DNA’s structure. In no small part, that’s because Watson said she didn’t, and we believed him. His 1968 autobiography Double Helix was the first full-length account of the discovery story. He refers to Franklin as “Rosy” throughout the book, and describes her physical appearance in blatantly sexist ways. He also omits the part of the story in which he and Crick used ...more
I'm going to talk about this in class in a few days, and I know we're going to spend the majority of the seminar on how the Old Boys of British science treated Rosalind Franklin. With good reason: her contributions to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA are now well-known, and they were all pretty big dicks to her. Watson's misogynist jabs are deeply frustrating to read, often detracting from the narrative itself -- which is structured as a fun academic mystery (AND Y'ALL KNOW HOW ...more
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Lewis Weinstein
Nov 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Liana Ohana
Mar 17, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I cant remeber ONE word i just read soooo boring not my cup of tea , hon just no dont read if easily bored
But if you like DNA and stuff? give it a go?
Becky Douglas
How to review The Double Helix? As a scientist who also happens to be a woman, I'm already biased against James Watson and Francis Crick, the two scientists credited with the discovery of DNA, because I'm aware of Rosalind Franklin. It's not very many pages into the book before Franklin appears and Watson's description of her makes me cross, but he's already failed to endear himself to me long before I get even that far.

I'm not sure how tongue in cheek he's being, but he comes across as lazy and
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
Jun 19, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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
John Jr.
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
Peter (Pete) 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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
This should be required reading for all biology and chemistry majors. Understanding the structure of DNA is especially important in the era of genetics, but this book also gives insight into the people behind the science, which is all too often overlooked.

An aside: I literally ran into Watson when I came barreling around a corner with my arms full of books and papers. He helped me pick it all up before continuing on his way.
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Full review coming soon.
Mar 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
vividly how scientific breakthrough were done, with very human touch.
Joe Ure
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars, rounded up:
+5 stars for a very honest, human retelling of the scientific process.
-1 star for uncomfortable and blatant sexism throughout.
-1 star for talking about parties for half the book.
+0.5 stars for a very well-written epilogue.
Vicki Doronina
Dec 24, 2012 rated it liked it
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
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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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“One could not be a successful scientist without realizing 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.” 9 likes
“In the end, though, science is what matters; scientists not a bit.” 5 likes
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