9780060184070 / 0060184078

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA





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About the book:

Brenda Maddox's Rosalind Franklin: the Dark Lady of DNA is the "untold" story of the scientist whose work was paramount in the discovery of the double helix. In 1953 scientist Francis Crick famously burst through the doors of a Cambridge pub to announce that he and his colleague James Watson had discovered the secret of life. He and Watson really had discovered something extraordinary--the structure of DNA. Nine years later the two of them, together with Maurice Wilkins, won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. The ghost at the Nobel feast in 1962 was Rosalind Franklin, who had died of ovarian cancer at the age of 37 four years earlier. Franklin was an exceptionally gifted scientist whose work had been central to the unravelling of the problem of the structure of DNA. Without it the insights of Crick and Watson would not have been possible.

In recent years Rosalind Franklin has become a kind of feminist icon, "the Sylvia Plath of science", as one commentator has called her. The manifest unfairness of her exclusion from the glory attached to what may be the most important scientific discovery of the second half of the 20th century was underlined by the bitchy and misogynist portrait of her in Watson's bestselling book The Double Helix. Brenda Maddox, in her biography, attempts to present a balanced portrait of Franklin and of the assorted giant male egos with whom she came into contact. She acknowledges that Franklin was a spiky personality who not only did not suffer fools gladly but did not suffer them at all. She also emphasises her capacity for friendship, her tangled relationships with her multi-talented and demanding family, her joy in travel and the range of the scientific work she accomplished in her short life. After this biography it will no longer be possible to confine Rosalind Franklin's complex personality within either the straitjackets of Watson's condescension or feminist idolatry. --Nick Rennison

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