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Genes, Girls, and Gamow: After the Double Helix





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About the book:

Readers unfamiliar with James D. Watson's previous memoir, The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, may be surprised that his new one pays as much attention to his pursuit of the perfect woman as to the pursuit of knowledge. But Watson's 1968 book wasn't a bestseller because of its scientific material (though it was lucidly written for the general public); it was his candid portrait of professional rivalries, consuming ambition, and personal eccentricities that made it both popular and controversial. Even today, Watson's lively prose and decidedly frank opinions are still far from the norm. Oh sure, Girls, Genes, and Gamow contains plenty of information about his efforts (with colleagues ranging from bongo-playing Richard Feynman to the free-spirited George Gamow) to unravel the complexities of the RNA molecule from 1953 to '56. But Watson--still in his 20s at the time--also devotes pages to hard drinking, bitter marital breakups, and unwanted pregnancies among his not-so-high-minded peers, and his own anguished affair with a Swarthmore undergrad who left him for a German engineering student. It's not every Nobel Prize-winning biologist who would admit he was thrilled to have his photo in Vogue because it would "make 'with it' American girls more eager to know me," but that boyish openness gives Watson's book its charm. --Wendy Smith

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