What is "The Double Helix" by James Watson about?


Quick Answer

"The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA" is an autobiography by James D. Watson that details the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Atheneum Press published the account in 1968.

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Full Answer

The events in the book take place between 1950 and 1953. It chronicles how 24-year-old biochemist James Watson, Francis Crick and a team of scientists raced other world-renowned researchers, including Linus Pauling of Cal Tech, to solve the mystery of DNA. The book's first-person, intimate account was unusual in the sciences at the time of publication. The book not only discusses the scientific process and research but the private lives of the scientists and the disagreements among them.

In 2012, the Library of Congress named it one of the 88 "Books That Shaped America." The book is considered controversial, as co-discoverers Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins took issue with Watson's view of events. It has also been described as sexist, particularly regarding Watson's attitude towards Rosalind Franklin, another colleague on the project. Watson replied to these criticisms in the foreword of later editions and said he wished to publish a true account of his mindset at the time.

James Watson published a second autobiography in 2001 called "Genes, Girls and Gamow."

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