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5.0 out of 5 stars Happy Birthday, DNA...
...not in the strictest sense, but those in the know realise what I'm talking about.
Imagine the possibilites. Imagine the dangers. You can predict what your grandson will be like, what diseases he is genetically predisposed for...there may even be an eradication of all cancer and AIDS and heart disease in the world once the keys to the Human Genome Project are...
Published on March 5 2003 by yygsgsdrassil

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3.0 out of 5 stars Enrapturing and Inspiring..
There have been so many books written about the discovery of the DNA, and after some browsing, I decided to pick this one (at least, seems to be most popular).
Watson describes in vivid detail the happenings that precipitated in the final moment. It is really a story of drama, espionage, deception and a little bit of exploratory science. Captivating narrative and...
Published on Feb. 11 2004 by Anand Rangarajan


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4.0 out of 5 stars Important Discover...but not the most invigorating book, May 14 2004
This review is from: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Paperback)
Ok. I'm giving this book a 4 because of the importance of the discover of the structure of DNA. In terms of actual reading material, however, I'd probably give it a 2 or 3. I do believe that James Watson is a great scientist, but he is not writer. His writing style is only adequete and far from interesting and he really doesn't do a great job of putting interest into the subject matter. Someone who does not have at least a little background in the general concepts or biology/organic chemistry/physics will probably not get much out of this book.
Now on to the science side of the book. Watson describes the various events that took place while he, Franscis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin worked on discovering the structure of DNA. Again, Watson does not really put much vigor into these events but does describe them realistically (science can't always do interesting). He focuses on his relationship with Crick, battles with Franklin, and competetion with Linus Pauling--the Nobel prize winning chemist who ironically get the structure of DNA wrong. Through his writing, Watson at times reveals his pompousness and his ignorance of certain scientific concepts, but overall shows his devout eagerness of discovery.
I would say that this is an important book to read if you are at all interested in science. However, it is probably too boring for just a fun read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Enrapturing and Inspiring.., Feb. 11 2004
By 
Anand Rangarajan "anandr" (Sunnyvale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Paperback)
There have been so many books written about the discovery of the DNA, and after some browsing, I decided to pick this one (at least, seems to be most popular).
Watson describes in vivid detail the happenings that precipitated in the final moment. It is really a story of drama, espionage, deception and a little bit of exploratory science. Captivating narrative and inspiring in some ways. But, not the "high class" I was expecting.
Personal Notes:
The book gave glimpses of how much pressure "doing science" can be. I thought pure science (or at least the kind that gets people the Nobel) is generally done with a pristine pursuit of the truth with not much time pressures. But, in the world of annual conferences, research paper deadlines, high profile spending, and expectations of "ROI" in almost anything, it was only a matter of time before any serious science had to answer to corporate/defense spending and peer pressures. In light of such a situation, it is no surprise that there can be people who actually have a game-plan (and in some ways, a business plan) to get the Nobel prize. Venture Capitalists invest in people and ideas to make companies that will be bought by others or will go public. Defense spending (and increasingly corporate spending) invests in scientists to get big-tag prizes, and protectionist patents that will give them first dibs at cash-cow-products/projects. At least, that is the reality of today.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Enrapturing and Inspiring.., Feb. 11 2004
By 
Anand Rangarajan "anandr" (Sunnyvale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Paperback)
There have been so many books written about the discovery of the DNA, and after some browsing, I decided to pick this one (at least, seems to be most popular).
Watson describes in vivid detail the happenings that precipitated in the final moment. It is really a story of drama, espionage, deception and a little bit of exploratory science. Captivating narrative and inspiring in some ways. But, not the "high class" I was expecting.
Personal Chatter:
The book gave glimpses of how much pressure "doing science" can be. I thought pure science (or at least the kind that gets people the Nobel) is generally done with a pristine pursuit of the truth with not much time pressures. But, in the world of annual conferences, research paper deadlines, high profile spending, and expectations of "ROI" in almost anything, it was only a matter of time before any serious science had to answer to corporate/defense spending and peer pressures. In light of such a situation, it is no surprise that there can be people who actually have a game-plan (and in some ways, a business plan) to get the Nobel prize. Venture Capitalists invest in people and ideas to make companies that will be bought by others or will go public. Defense spending (and increasingly corporate spending) invests in scientists to get big-tag prizes, and protectionist patents that will give them first dibs at cash-cow-products/projects. At least, that is the reality of today.
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3.0 out of 5 stars "Honest Jim's" Version of a Major Scientific Event (SEE ADDENDUM BELOW), Jan. 27 2004
By 
Stephen Pletko "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Paperback)
XXXXX

In this book (first published in 1968), "Honest Jim" (as a scientist friend called him) or Dr. James Watson (born: 1928) has explained his "version of how the structure of DNA was discovered" and "this account represents the way [he] saw things then, in [the fall of] 1951 - [spring of] 1953." (The discovery was announced in April 1953.) That is, he has "attempted to re-create [his] first impressions of the relevant events and personalities" that he encountered along the way to making the discovery. Thus, understand this is not a book of historical facts.

Also, because of the personal nature of this book Watson states that "many of the comments [that he makes] may seem one-sided and unfair, but this is often the case in the incomplete and hurried way in which human beings decide to like or dislike a new idea or [a new] acquaintance."

This book revolves around five main people: Dr. Francis Crick (born: 1916) & Watson (both of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge); Dr. Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) & Dr. Maurice Wilkins (born: 1916) (both of King's College, a divison of the University of London); and Dr. Linus Pauling (1901-1994)(of the California Institute of Technology). However, along the way the reader meets many other people, both scientists and non-scientists.

As Watson explains, the above five people are in a "race" to discover DNA's structure. However, I got the impression that neither Franklin nor Wilkins knew they were in a race. By the end of the race, Watson was "one of the winners" who shared the Nobel Prize in 1962 with Crick and Wilkins.

This 29-chapter (with epilogue) book is a fast read (but only if you gloss over the science parts). As Watson proceeds in this story, you'll find that he is quite sociable and takes us to such places as pubs, restaurants, and "smashing" parties.

As you read this book, you'll find that there is considerable tension between Watson and Franklin (who was an expert in X-ray diffraction crystallography) as well as between Wilkins and Franklin.

For me, this book imparts four major things:

(1) THE THRILL OF DISCOVERY. That is, this book effectively conveys, especially in the latter chapters, the struggle to find the correct answer. With each chapter, the anticipation mounts toward the final climax: the discovery of the helical structure of DNA.

(2) HOW SCIENCE IS DONE. For example, both Watson & Crick and Pauling used molecular models while Franklin & Wilkins used X-ray crystallography. However, all science is not done as it is conveyed in this book. As Watson states, "styles of scientific research vary almost as much as human personalities."

(3) THE QUESTION OF ETHICS IN SCIENCE. For example, Wilkins told Watson secretly that Franklin "had evidence for a new three-dimensional form of DNA." When Watson "asked what the pattern [of this new form] was like, [Wilkins] went into the adjacent room to pick up an [X-ray diffraction] print [or photograph] of [this] new form [called the 'B' form]" and showed it to Watson. This was done without Franklin's permission. It turns out that this X-ray photo was critical and "gave several...vital helical parameters."

(4) WATSON'S HONESTY. In all of this book, Franklin is portrayed as an unattractive, unapproachable, and angry person whose scientific work is questionable. However, in the book's epilogue Watson devotes the last two paragraphs to her and her achievements. He admits that "my initial impressions of her, both scientific and personal...were often wrong" and that she was a person of "personal honesty and generosity" as well as "intelligence."

Two good features of this book are that it has photographs (a total of 19) and diagrams (a total of 11) throughout. My favorite photo is the one entitled "X-ray diffraction photograph of DNA, B form" taken by Franklin in late 1952. My favorite diagram is entitled "Schematic illustration of the double helix."

This book was written for a general audience so they could experience the thrill of this revolutionary discovery. Thus, I was surprised that it had no chapter table of contents (but the photos and diagrams each have one), no chapter headings, and no index. I feel these would have made the book more user friendly.

Also, I feel what was needed was a science glossary and name index/page. The former is needed because the reader encounters many scientific terms (especially those related to DNA) and thus a glossay would make the science more accessible to the general reader. The latter is needed because Watson encounters many people and a name index/page would have helped the reader keep track of these names. Besides Watson talked with other scientists to clarify ideas, and in a way they indirectly contributed to the discovery. Thus, a name index/page would have acknowledged their indirect contribution.

Finally, in the epilogue Watson states, "All of [the major] people [in this book], should they desire, can indicate events and details they remember differently." Thus, I recommend these books:

(1) "Linus Pauling: Scientist and Peacemaker" (2001). In this book, refer to the science article entitled "The Triple Helix" which describes the race to discover DNA's structure. Note Pauling's observations throughout the article.
(2) "Rosalind Franklin and DNA" (first published in 1975) by Anne Sayre. This book clears up Watson's misconceptions about Franklin who died in 1958.
(3) "The Third Man of the Double Helix" (November 2003) by Maurice Wilkins. Wilkins finally speaks out on what really happened from his perspective.

In conclusion, Dr. James Watson tells us honestly his version of how the structure of DNA was discovered. He effectively conveys the struggle to find the right answer and the thrill of discovery. Don't deny yourself from reading this exciting book but be sure to read the recommended books to get the full story.

*** 1/2

***** ADDENDUM: April 23, 2013 regarding "The Annotated and Illustrated" edition of "The Double Helix" (published in 2012) *****

All the problems I noted above for the above original 1968 edition of this book have been corrected with the new 2012 edition.

Instead of simply listing the names of the numerous other people involved in the discovery (as I suggested in my review for the original edition), there are actual photographs of them. Other photographs (many published for the first time) are also included.

Many other documents not included in the original edition have also been included in this one.

There are wonderful annotations (explanatory notes) in boldface type on each page of the new edition. One annotation I found especially interesting was an explanation of where the nickname "Rosy" or "Rosie" came from.

Included is James Watson's account of winning the Nobel Prize (first published in 2007).

There are also five appendices. Included in these appendices are reproduced letters written by Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins of why they DID NOT want Watson to publish his book.

Lastly, there is a good index. (The 1968 edition did not have an index.)

Finally, I want to stress that Watson's original 1968 text is left UNCHANGED.

In conclusion, in my opinion this 2012 edition of Watson's 1968 book will provide the potential reader with a more fuller reading experience with regard to this major scientific event. Also, in my opinion, this 2012 EDITION DESERVES 5 STARS.

XXXXX
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1.0 out of 5 stars A Self-Serving book that misrepresents how science is done, Jan. 11 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Paperback)
Many of us who read further than the words written by a single author, gossipy, but holding back in this book very much for self-serving reasons can only find this book distressing in its misrepresentations about how the science of DNA developed. They should have heard the PBS special on what was left out of this "just so" story, the chronology behind the discovery, the meaness and dishonesty of Watson and Crick to other co-scientists not only Franklin but also an Eastern European from whom they cribbed-without-credit yet another core ideas which they incorporated in the final melange of stolen and pieced together rip offs with ideas they later developed. Perhaps this is how science is done, if so it is tragic as the Scientific American review states science would then be merely an excercise in Hobbsian ethics and worse where the villains write the definitive "just so" story. Basically Watson lies here, but tells something closer to the truth on the PBS tape, proud that he had such a good memory as to steal other peoples work and ideas! Disgusting! He and Crick from what Watson says on tape "discovered the secret of life" after Watson stole into Franklins lab and also misrepresented why they pumped key ideas from still another scientis. An undergradute would have been expelled for such activies. I grant that later, and they were originally expelled having gotten the idea they did make contributions, but before these activities zero. See the PBC take the ABC's of DNA. Also read beyond what Watson writes here to get the whole plot, read others.Bad enough that Watson and Crick ripped others off, but that Watson gets to write the definite book on it is pathetic.
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1.0 out of 5 stars A book that misrepresents how science is done, Jan. 11 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Paperback)
Many of us who read further than the words written by a single author, gossipy, but holding back in this book very much for self-serving reasons can only find this book distressing in its misrepresentations about how the science of DNA developed. They should have heard the PBS special on what was left out of this "just so" story, the chronology behind the discovery, the meaness and dishonesty of Watson and Crick to other co-scientists not only Franklin but also an Eastern European from whom they cribbed the core ideas which they later developed. Perhaps this is how science is done, if so it is tragic as the Scientific American review states science would then be merely an excercise in Hobbsian ethics and worse where the villains write the definitive "just so" story. Basically Watson lies here, but tells something closer to the truth on the PBS tape, proud that he had such a good memory as to steal other peoples work and ideas! Disgusting! He and Crick from what Watson says on tape "discovered the secret of life" after Watson stole into Franklins lab and also misrepresented why they pumped key ideas from still another scientis. An undergradute would have been expelled for such activies. I grant that later, and they were originally expelled having gotten the idea they did make contributions, but before these activities zero. See the PBC take the ABC's of DNA. Also read beyond what Watson writes here to get the whole plot, read others.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Information From a Bias Perspective, Dec 23 2003
This review is from: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Paperback)
For those who are interested in a future with genetics, reading The Double Helix, by James Watson, is highly recommended. This books tracts the research and scientific journey of, specifically James Watson, but soon to join him as a main character was Francis Crick. This book is excellent pre-reading for a to-be geneticist because it starts at the very beginning, even before DNA was completely understood. The reader follows Watson and Crick, step by step, through the discovery of the structure of the basis of life. The downfall of the book is that it is very bias towards who had the most impact on the discovered of DNA.
The perspective in the story does not portray the complete truth in reference to the importance of others in the groundbreaking discovery. Two other people who eventually were in the party that received the Nobel Prize for the structure of DNA were Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, the latter never officially receiving her prize for she died from radiation before the Nobel was issued. Although Watson gives some credit to the two scientists who did virtually all of the research he and Crick used for their structural model, he certainly did not attribute enough. Franklin was scorned to be cold and unsocial where she really only was trying to hold her own in a scientific world dominated by men. She was the scientist who produced the sealing picture that DNA in the B form was a helix. Watson and Crick may have been able to, possibly, figure out the structure of DNA without, affectionately called "Rosy's" X-ray photographs, but the journey would have taken much longer. Quite probably, without Franklin's research, the two men would have arrived at the right answer too late, being outdone by either Pauling or Linus.
The Double Helix, by James Watson, is a very informational and fundamental book in the science of genetics yet beware of the bias point of view.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Information From a Bias Perspective, Dec 23 2003
By 
This review is from: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Paperback)
For those who are interested in a future with genetics, reading The Double Helix, by James Watson, is highly recommended. This books tracts the research and scientific journey of, specifically James Watson, but soon to join him as a main character was Francis Crick. This book is excellent pre-reading for a to-be geneticist because it starts at the very beginning, even before DNA was completely understood. The reader follows Watson and Crick, step by step, through the discovery of the structure of the basis of life. The downfall of the book is that it is very bias towards who had the most impact on the discovered of DNA.
The perspective in the story does not portray the complete truth in reference to the importance of others in the groundbreaking discovery. Two other people who eventually were in the party that received the Nobel Prize for the structure of DNA were Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, the latter never officially receiving her prize for she died from radiation before the Nobel was issued. Although Watson gives some credit to the two scientists who did virtually all of the research he and Crick used for their structural model, he certainly did not attribute enough. Franklin was scorned to be cold and unsocial where she really only was trying to hold her own in a scientific world dominated by men. She was the scientist who produced the sealing picture that DNA in the B form was a helix. Watson and Crick may have been able to, possibly, figure out the structure of DNA without, affectionately called "Rosy's" X-ray photographs, but the journey would have taken much longer. Quite probably, without Franklin's research, the two men would have arrived at the right answer too late, being outdone by either Pauling or Linus.
The Double Helix, by James Watson, is a very informational and fundamental book in the science of genetics yet beware of the bias point of view.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile book on important scientific discovery, June 12 2003
By 
Frank (Stockton CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Paperback)
This book by James Watson tells his story, in the years he worked on the structure of DNA. As another review noted, this is the story "warts and all," including his and others' worries about grants being renewed, family, relationships, jealousy, pride, food, and living in England where the labs and accomodations were always cold in winter.
I know almost no biology, and while a lot of the discussion was over my head scientifically, I followed the gist of it.
The ghost of Rosalind Franklin continually follows James Watson. I've heard Dr. Watson speak publicly twice, and each time he was asked about her. When he was interviewed on NPR, the interviewer persistently went into the interactions between Watson and Franklin. The gist of his response is that she lost the recognition she should have gotten because she refused to collaborate and work with others, and she refused to work with models. Clearly, while Franklin's X-ray photograph of DNA was a major step in pointing Watson and Crick to the double helix AT GC structure of DNA, it was NOT a self-sufficient proof of the double helix, as she herself refused to consider a helical structure of DNA.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Classic of Science Fiction, April 25 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Paperback)
I would mostly echo the many accolades that James Watson's book has received on this site and over the years. *The Double Helix* is indeed a classic.
However, after seeing 'The Secret of Photo 51' on PBS' Nova program, I realize now that Dr. Watson's work is science fiction rather than science.
Like many other young science fans, I grew up with the accepted wisdom that the collective genius of James Watson and Francis Crick cracked the code of life: DNA. In college, I did hear about someone named Rosalind Franklin that was somehow wrongly denied a share of the glory in this magnificent achievement. At the time, being naive and ignorant as I was, I dismissed the contributions made by Rosalind Franklin as being merely that of a technical assistant (rather than as the KEY insight that it really was) and simply dismissed claims on her behalf as being those of the 'politically correct' rather than people sincere about preserving the integrity of science.
I freely admit now that I was totally wrong. Rosalind Franklin's contributions to the discovery of the nature and structure of DNA was absolutely crucial to the magnificent moment of science that took place 50 years ago. It seems clear on the evidence that Watson nor Crick could ever have made the mental leaps and had the insights that they had had Dr. Franklin's work not been 'available' to them.
What is more disturbing about this whole sordid affair is -- not that Dr. Franklin did not get all the accolades she deserved (which the scientific community is making belated ammends for) -- that Dr. Franklin's work was quite literally stolen from her ... she never gave permission for Watson & Crick to have her results, they never informed her that they had surreptitious access to those results, and Watson & Crick -- for all intents and purposes -- gave her no credit for her contributions.
In the *Double Helix* -- rather than simply sweeping those inconvenient facts under the rug -- James Watson goes on to malign Dr. Franklin in both a personal and vicious manner. Even though she was one of the leading pioneers and pillars of X-ray crystallography, James Watson wrote in his book that 'Rosy' (as he derisively referred to her as ... never calling her by her proper name) was not capable of understanding her own results and suggested that she was a lowly technician rather than a leading researcher. To make matters worse, James Watson spent a great deal of time in his book on describing Dr. Franklin as being unattractive, unfeminine, and unsociable (in truth, she was a very attractive and vivacious woman).
As I write this on April 25, 2003, the world is commemorating the publication in Nature of Watson & Crick's supposed 'discovery' of the nature of DNA -- an event that heralded a new genomic age of science. The second paper in that issue of Nature after Watson & Crick's paper was a paper by Rosalind Franklin and her graudate assistant Raymond Gosling. Dr. Franklin's paper contained a facsimile of 'Photo 51' -- the X-ray photo of DNA that was key to Watson & Crick's fame and glory. Dr. Franklin's photo alone -- with absolutely no need for the 'insights' of Watson & Crick -- proves the double helical struture of DNA.
It seems tragically ironic that a book entitled *Double Helix* devotes so much ink to maligning and belittleing its real discoverer.
In summary, if you view the *Double Helix* as a fictional account of how great and smart James Watson is and how homely and dull-witted 'Rosy' is, then this book is still a classic. But I don't think I can view the tale told in its pages the same way as I did before I knew the true history of the double helix.
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The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA
The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson Ph.D. (Paperback - June 12 2001)
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