The Double Helix – An inspiring narrative on discovery of the structure of DNA

Double Helix, certainly kept me hooked.  Tucked among the books on theories on genomes, sequencing and molecule structures, I found this gem at the library, a narrative written by James D. Watson on the discovery of the structure of DNA for which he and his partners, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962.

‘Most people realize that scientists have human failings like everyone else, that scandal and intrigue is often present in their world, but I think your book overemphasizes this..’ were the words of Wilkins disapproving the publication of the book. Both Wilkins and Francis have disapproved the publication of the book, the latter noting it as more of a collection of gossip less of the comprehensive story behind the discovery of double helix. However, later Francis himself has confessed that he being living in an ivory tower, was ignorant of interests of the general reader.

Among  the objections, Watson has proceeded to the publication of the book, (initially titled ‘honest Jim’ and later changed to) ‘The Double Helix’ (1968) and its edited version has been published in 2012, titled ‘The annotated and illustrated DOUBLE HELIX’, authored by James D. Watson and edited by Alexader Gann and Jan Witkowski.

In one of the letters from Watson to Francis, disregarding Francis’s claims against the publication of the book, Watson remarks ‘ I never intended to produce a technical volume aimed only and historians of science……….Someday perhaps you or Maurice, but if not some graduate student in search of a Ph.D will write a scholarly historical work’. I believe his former intentions were fruitful and the latter I am yet to figure out…..

Double helix definitely showcases the ability of Watson as a narrator. His writing has escaped from the conventional autobiography style and plots the story of the discovery in a thrilling manner. It definitely is an inspiration to a budding scientist and hints that the difficulties and misfortunes embedded in scientific research at times is not new and were certainly associated with one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century as well.


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