Read Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox Online


In March 1953, Maurice Wilkins of King's College, London, announced the departure of his obstructive colleague Rosalind Franklin to rival Cavendish Laboratory scientist Francis Crick. But it was too late. Franklin's unpublished data and crucial photograph of DNA had already been seen by her competitors at the Cambridge University lab. With the aid of these, plus their ownIn March 1953, Maurice Wilkins of King's College, London, announced the departure of his obstructive colleague Rosalind Franklin to rival Cavendish Laboratory scientist Francis Crick. But it was too late. Franklin's unpublished data and crucial photograph of DNA had already been seen by her competitors at the Cambridge University lab. With the aid of these, plus their own knowledge, Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the molecule that genes are composed of -- DNA, the secret of life. Five years later, at the age of thirty-seven, after more brilliant research under J. D. Bernal at Birkbeck College, Rosalind died of ovarian cancer. In 1962, Wilkins, Crick and Watson were awarded the Nobel Prize for their elucidation of DNA's structure. Franklin's part was forgotten until she was caricatured in Watson's book The Double Helix.In this full and balanced biography, Brenda Maddox has been given unique access to Franklin's personal correspondence and has interviewed all the principal scientists involved, including Crick, Watson and Wilkins.This is a powerful story, told by one of the finest biographers, of a remarkably single-minded, forthright and tempestuous young woman who, at the age of fifteen, decided she was going to be a scientist, but who was airbrushed out of the greatest scientific discovery of the twentieth century....

Title : Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA
Author :
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ISBN : 9780060184070
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 400 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA Reviews

  • Lynne King
    2019-03-10 16:26

    I looked at this book again this morning after reading that Nicole Kidman will be playing Rosalind Franklin in "Photograph 51" at the Noël Coward Theatre in London until November 21, 2015. I wish I could go...I am showing below a part of the excellent review too as I have a great admiration for Rosalind Franklin:"....The title refers to the single X-ray diffraction photograph of DNA which, taken at King’s College London in 1952 under Franklin’s aegis (albeit by her PhD student assistant Raymond Gosling), revealed its double-helix nature. Revealed it – an X-shape effectively marking the spot of life’s essence – but not to Franklin or her colleague at King’s, Maurice Wilkins. It was the American James Watson, busily collaborating with Francis Crick at Cambridge on building a model based on available data, who immediately saw the photo’s significance. Were the play (first staged in New York) simply to assert that Franklin was robbed of the prestige that was rightly hers – Watson and Crick were credited as co-discoverers, and she died in 1958, four years before the pair (and Wilkins too) received the Nobel Prize – it would serve a valid but rather worthy purpose. It’s much more fascinating than that, though. It deals with timely feminist issues but also the key fundamentals of how we relate to each other, who we are, our tragic flaws...."* * * * * * Rosalind Franklin was an amazing person and I'm sure that if it had not been for her untimely death with ovarian cancer, she would have received the Nobel Prize. Without her, Messrs Watson and Crick would not have received this illustrious award.

  • Pink
    2019-02-25 16:35

    I like biographies. If they are well written and about half interesting people (not minor celebrities) then they're one of my favourite sorts of book. So this one was already on to a head start with me. I hadn't heard of Rosalind Franklin before picking this up and know little about science advances in DNA, though I had heard of Crick and Watson - which I guess is the point of this book.I found the science content easy to grasp, though somewhat in depth and I enjoyed the interspersed facts about Rosalind's personal life. Parts of the book seemed a little hashed together, from personal and scientific documents, but on the whole it was an easy and enjoyable read. Whether or not you have an interest in science, I think this book has a lot of absorbing material, which kept me wanting to read more until the very end. In analysing Rosalind Franklin's contribution to science, some have scathingly accused those around her of plotting to sideline her work, or heralded her as a feminist icon, a 'Sylvia Plath of science' I don't really agree and though I think there were many setbacks within her life, before her tragically early death, I didn't find myself thinking of her as a victim. I found Rosalind to be hard working, determined and successful within her own rights, which was recognised by those who knew her best. Yes, she was almost certainly neglected by some within the science community, but it would have been more unusual if this was not the case for a woman working within a male dominated field in post war Britain. I think this book does well at de-mystifying why she didn't gain more recognition.While I was reading, I held up the book cover to my keen scientist, sixteen year old daughter. I asked if she knew who I was reading about and she looked at me as if I was stupid and said, "Yeah, the woman who helped discover DNA, but nobody ever knows about" I guess that's a close enough summary of what happened and I'm quite glad that she knew.

  • Nicole
    2019-03-09 17:23

    A balanced and complete review of the life of a woman who has been ignored, maligned, or offered sycophant worship for her role in the early nucleic acid research. Only a few of her closest coworkers seem to have known enough about her to offer clear insight and to have kept to that image in subsequent years until this biography. The message of the book is that she was mistreated and it is fair that Rosalind Franklin be adequately acknowledged for her contributions. All of her work not just the two years at Kings. Further, the author suggests that placing her on a pedestal as representing all women suffering unfair employment in the sciences is not helping women still struggling with unequal treatment. Recognition and fair treatment is desirable but not excessive adulation.Maddox qualifies the imbalanced biographic work previously published. Watson's somewhat misogynistic self justification in his book "The Double Helix"and Sayre's overly partial view in "Rosalind Franklin & DNA" written to counter Watson's book.Since I am in the field of molecular biology I have seen the results of unfair bias and the strangled careers women experience even in the current era. So much subtle discouragment is still present in actions despite the training and management seminars. We still need time to find a balance so there is greater evenness in opportunities.I can remember thinking when reading "The Double Helix" that this is how it still is to be a women in the labs. This meant I was automatically discounting the personal commentary about Rosalind because I'd already heard similar or worse about my coworkers or myself. In overhearing the men discuss their blond, statuesque co-conference attendee in terms of being a 'Science Barbie' and less mentionable terms with implications of her purpose being glass ware adornment not the papers she authored. Similarly the women who did not dress to suit where hairy legged female gorillas. This was not something I ever encountered in discussions of male colleagues by either sex. So when Watson disparaged Rosalind I automatically adjusted the content to ignore the belittlement and came away with the simple message that he stole another persons work. That he felt justified at the time because he was in competition with Pauling to get the work first and none of the Kings people were willing to rush things. I will not belittle the leap the Cavendish team made to see the entire related form and function. In fact, as a group, they did what Kekule did in envisioning the carbon ring, see the gestalt. The prior work of Avery and Chargaff is, now, well noted in books as being the information basis built on but the Cavendish team did put together the pieces synergistically. They were assembling all the pieces from different sources but the key information of Rosalind's x-ray images was not the Cavendish teams to take or use with out including the creator of the data she was in the process of publishing. No more than that. The work should be acknowledged without personal commentary.I think this book should be printed with "The Double Helix" as an 'Ace Double', back to back but inverted so each has a cover and title page. This way Maddox can show Rosalind's entire body of work. This direct comparison would reveal how disparaging to others Watson is in his lively, and entertaining autobiography.

  • Paul
    2019-03-19 18:24

    Franklin was a renowned scientist in her own right, she established her reputation in X-ray photography starting with coal and moving onto viruses and DNA. She was a feisty character, and in her tragically short career she made as many friends as enemies.Crick and Watson are the guys credited with discovering the layout of DNA, but they could not have done it without sight of some of her magnificent X-ray photographs of DNA. Theses had been passed to them without her knowledge, and it was the clarity of these that gave them the insight to solve the mystery of the construction of DNA.It is thought that she was only one or two steps away from solving this herself, as she as ascertained where certain atoms were and understood the way it behaved.She was a enthusiastic traveller, and spent time walking throughout Europe, and travelling all over the states. It was said that America bought out her sunny side, and her collaborations with American scientists were fruitful.As she as taking these X-ray photographs, she was not aware of the damage that that they were doing to her, as they had no protection, even leaning over the camera when it was taking the images. She subcommand to cancer, and she died at the age of 38.Crick and Watson are the pillars in the discovery of DNA, but she was the keystone.

  • Pierre Menard
    2019-02-27 18:21

    Rosalind Elsie Franklin (1920-58) è una singolare figura di scienziata la cui biografia scientifica meriterebbe di essere conosciuta presso le giovani generazioni, al di là della sua assunzione a martire della scienza femminile. Il lettore italiano può rimediare con questo interessante e documentatissimo volume scritto dalla giornalista e saggista Brenda Maddox (nata nel 1932 negli USA ma inglese di adozione), specializzata in biografie.Cresciuta in una famiglia ebraica agiata appartenente al ceto dirigente britannico (suo padre era un banchiere, uno zio procuratore generale e un prozio diplomatico di carriera e ministro degli esteri per un breve periodo) e di orientamento liberale, la giovane Rosalind mostra subito uno spiccato interesse per le lingue e per le scienze, arrivando a laurearsi in chimica negli anni della seconda guerra mondiale e poi a specializzarsi nel campo della cristallografia. È l’inizio di una carriera piena di successi, che però non sempre le verranno riconosciuti nella giusta misura, un po’ perché donna e un po’ per il suo carattere “spigoloso”.Anche se questa non è una biografia strettamente scientifica, Maddox riesce a cogliere correttamente gli importanti contributi di Franklin nel campo della biochimica e della cristallografia: gli studi sulla porosità del carbone presso la BCURA, gli esperimenti di diffrazione con i raggi X per determinare la struttura del DNA al King’s College e infine le ricerche sulla struttura del virus del mosaico del tabacco al Birkbeck College. Il libro è abbastanza incisivo nel descrivere il mondo della ricerca biochimica e biologica negli anni Quaranta e Cinquanta, molto fecondi per queste discipline, e i rapporti gerarchici spesso complicati da fattori legati al sesso degli scienziati coinvolti. Basta confrontare le relazioni stabilite da Franklin con i suoi superiori nel corso degli anni e nei vari laboratori in cui si trovò ad operare: dallo sgarbato e ipercritico Ronald Norrish all’amabile mentore francese Jacques Mehring (verso il quale, secondo Maddox, Franklin avrebbe avuto un forte trasporto emotivo), dall’ambiguo Maurice Wilkins al brillante edonista John Desmond Bernal. Certamente Franklin aveva un carattere molto esigente e mostrava una certa rigidità nei rapporti di lavoro (risultando fortemente critica e tagliente nei giudizi sul lavoro altrui), tuttavia le persone che più le sono state vicine concordano tutte nel sottolineare la generosità e la disponibilità che essa manifestava nelle occasioni più diverse, ma in particolare fuori dal laboratorio.Corredata da numerose pagine di note e costruita in parte sulle interviste ai familiari, agli amici e ai colleghi della scienziata, la biografia dettaglia molto, talvolta troppo, il personaggio Franklin, riportandone le preferenze in fatto di viaggi all’estero (in montagna, visto che era appassionata di trekking), di cucina, di abbigliamento e così via, forse per restituirle una dimensione femminile al di là del suo interesse principale, la ricerca scientifica. Nella sua vita privata, Franklin dimostrava spesso di uscire dagli schemi, ad esempio nell’amore che nutriva per la Francia e per la cultura francese, piuttosto insolito per una donna anglosassone di origine ebraica, ma spiegabile anche con il felice periodo trascorso a Parigi come giovane ricercatrice.La parte più interessante è quella centrale, in cui si racconta il tortuoso percorso che portò alla scoperta della struttura a doppia elica del DNA, e che fu una serratissima competizione tra gruppi di ricerca molto agguerriti, senza esclusione di colpi. In questa vicenda James Watson gioca un po’ il ruolo del “cattivo”, non mancandogli certamente quello spirito corrosivo e poco “politically correct”, che lo indusse a comportarsi in modo poco limpido con Franklin e con Wilkins (la vicenda della famigerata foto 51). Colpisce lo scontro tra due visioni conflittuali della ricerca scientifica: da una parte costruire un modello teorico parziale e non definitivo, cercando di aggiustarlo via via con gli esperimenti; dall’altra effettuare tutti gli esperimenti possibili prima di costruire un modello, per essere sicuri della forma da dargli in via definitiva. È la prima visione ad affermarsi come vincente, e a premiare i suoi sostenitori, Francis Crick e l’onesto Jim (come avrebbe dovuto intitolarsi inizialmente il libro di Watson dedicato alla scoperta, ossia La doppia elica), mentre Franklin, che aveva sposato la seconda visione, si indirizzava verso altri lidi scientifici.Con il trasferimento a Birkbeck nel 1953, Franklin trova un ambiente di ricerca a lei più congeniale e alcuni collaboratori con cui stabilisce un buon rapporto, soprattutto Aaron Klug. Le sue elaborate analisi cristallografiche del virus a RNA del mosaico del tabacco si rivelano decisive per decifrarne la struttura proteica cilindrica e la posizione del filamento di RNA al suo interno (secondo alcuni, un lavoro meritevole del Nobel). Sfortunatamente è il suo ultimo successo: nel 1956 si ammala di cancro alle ovaie, forse causato dalle protezioni non troppo efficaci negli esperimenti con i raggi X, e muore nell’aprile del 1958, a soli 37 anni. Negli ultimi due anni di vita, a parte nei periodi in cui si sottopone a cura, non esita a lavorare indefessamente e a scrivere articoli, avendo accettato serenamente la malattia e anche la sua tragica conclusione.Si è scritto molto su Franklin e sul fatto che non ebbe da Crick, Watson e Wilkins il riconoscimento dovutole per le analisi cristallografiche che avevano contribuito a determinare la struttura del DNA (i tre ricercatori ebbero il Nobel nel 1962, quattro anni dopo la morte della loro collega). Il movimento femminista ne ha fatto un’eroina e una vittima del sessismo da laboratorio, soprattutto grazie alla biografia biased scritta da Anne Sayre, che di Franklin fu grande amica negli anni Cinquanta. Nelle ultime pagine Maddox discute l’interpretazione “femminista” della vicenda cercando un equilibrio tra le parti in nome della verità storica, sottolineando che Franklin non mosse mai alcuna accusa a Wilkins o a Watson, e rimase sempre in ottimi rapporti con Crick e sua moglie. Il famoso articolo di Watson e Crick del 1953 si conclude con i ringraziamenti a Franklin e a Wilkins, ed è seguito da un articolo scritto da lei e dal suo braccio destro Ryan Gosling sui risultati ottenuti nella decifrazione della struttura B del DNA “not inconsistent with the model proposed by Watson and Crick in the preceding communication”. Questi ed altri elementi suggeriscono che la ricercatrice fosse molto vicina alla soluzione, ma che non divenne mai vittima della perfidia maschilista dei suoi colleghi come vogliono certe ricostruzioni faziose che finiscono piuttosto per screditare la sua immagine. Del resto il suo lavoro è connesso a un altro Nobel, quello per la chimica assegnato nel 1982 ad Aaron Klug, per le ricerche sui complessi proteine-acidi nucleici che questi aveva iniziato a studiare con la cristallografia a raggi X proprio in compagnia di Franklin negli anni Cinquanta.Come detto sopra, dal punto di vista scientifico la biografia di Maddox è sufficientemente adeguata, anche se ogni tanto le scappa qualche bizzarra affermazione apodittica (ad esempio sulla relazione fra la vita, la morte e l’era nucleare all’inizio della seconda parte). La traduzione italiana è di buon livello ma talvolta incorre in qualche cantonata (a p. 152 “feud” viene tradotto come se fosse “fief”, generando un curioso equivoco). Segnalo questo articolo di Brenda Maddox pubblicato su Nature per i 50 anni dall'articolo di Watson e Crick.Completano il testo numerose foto d’epoca dei protagonisti del racconto, e in particolare di Rosalind Franklin, la più bella della quali mi piace accostare alla famosa foto 51, frutto del suo lavoro, e che testimonia visivamente le sue eccezionali doti di scienziata. Citando dal necrologio scritto da Bernal e pubblicato su Nature nel luglio 1958: As a scientist Miss Franklin was distinguished by extreme clarity and perfection in everything she undertook. Her photographs are among the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken. Their excellence was the fruit of extreme care in preparation and mounting of the specimens as well as in the taking of the photographs. She did nearly all this work with her own hands. [...] Her devotion to research showed itself at its finest in the last months of her life. Although stricken with an illness which she knew would be fatal, she continued to work right up to the end. Her early death is a great loss to science.Consigliato alle matricole dei corsi di laurea scientifici.Sconsigliato a chi teme la presenza femminile nei laboratori scientifici.

  • Abhilesh Dhawanjewar
    2019-02-23 17:34

    In 1969, James Watson published his candid, fast-paced account of the discovery of the structure of the DNA, The Double Helix. In it, Rosalind Franklin, or ‘Rosy’ in Watson’s terms (she apparently hated that name) is portrayed as a termagant who hoarded data she couldn’t comprehend, treated men as naughty little boys and took little interest in her looks, wearing dresses dowdier than the average Englishwoman. The Double Helix was an instant, unanimous best-seller that also sparked great controversies over the ethics of scientific research and the mistreatment of women in science.Brenda Maddox, in ‘Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA’, sets out to do right the wrong done to the exceptionally talented and free-willed woman who has become a symbol of global feminism ever since Watson’s book came out. In ~400 pages, Maddox has delivered a great character sketch of Rosalind Franklin including her most important contributions in the field of coal research and biophysics. The first part of the book talks about Rosalind’s childhood and family connections and portray her as ‘dangerously brilliant’ in a time when women were not expected to show any kinds of intellectual prowess. I found the writing in this part choppy with jarring transitions and an awkward flow, but it gets smoother and more captivating in the subsequent part of the book where Maddox follows Rosalind as she picks up research jobs first working with coal then with DNA at King’s College, London. Working on the solving the structure of DNA through X-ray crystallography, Rosalind took extraordinary pictures that played a crucial role in the discovery of the structure during what were probably the most frustrating and unhappy 24 months of her scientific life. This book is a well-balanced biography that does not attempt a straightforward head-on defense against Watson’s portrayal of Rosalind but one that aims to build a more comprehensive and sensitive sketch depicting Rosalind not as a feminist icon but as a real woman with her strengths and weaknesses. Given the intention of the book, I felt that Rosalind’s appearance needed the least defense, but there are countless references where Maddox recounts people’s first impressions of Rosalind where they describe her as an ‘exceptionally attractive' woman. This made the defense feel a little forced. The ending chapters of the book describing Rosalind’s struggle against ovarian cancer have a poignant, somewhat melancholic tone to it. The epilogue is where Maddox’s genius shines through as she discusses James Watson’s probable motivation behind the particular portrayal of a brilliant woman that Rosalind was.Overall, ★★★½

  • Leslie
    2019-03-12 21:35

    3½ stars. Well-written biography of this somewhat tragic scientist. Maddox does a fine job balancing personal details with the science, and provides enough technical information for the reader to get a feeling for the biggest passion of Franklin's life. While Maddox is clearly in the "pro-Franklin" camp, I felt that she presents the controversy over Watson and Crick's use of her data in a fairly even manner. She attempts to show Franklin not as a feminist icon but as a real woman with strengths and weaknesses.The primary reason I didn't give this 4 stars is that I use that rating for books I would reread, and I will not reread this. If you are a fan of non-fiction, I would recommend this whole heartedly.

  • Anne Thessen
    2019-03-11 20:28

    I don't normally like biographies, but I enjoyed this book. Perhaps because I can relate to Rosalind Franklin. There was one part in the book where the author mentions that Franklin was unable to talk about her life's passion (science) with her loved ones. That struck a chord with me since I am also a scientist and I'm very used to people not really caring about what I do for a living. Most people will ask, but I know after a certain point their eyes will glaze over and they'll stop caring. If I'm lucky they'll just smile and nod, if I'm unlucky they'll try to make me feel like a wierdo for being interested in this stuff. I can imagine that she shared the exact experience. Anyhow, the book was well written and throughtly discusses her relationship with Watson and Crick.

  • Judy
    2019-03-10 15:25

    I found this book inspirational and sad. Inspirational in that Rosalind Franklin didn't allow the prejudice against her Jewish ancestry or her female gender keep her from her dream of being a scientist. Her story is sad because she seemed to have so little room to fully enjoy life. This book would be worth reading if for no other reason than to hear the "other side" of the story regarding the discovery of DNA.

  • Brendan
    2019-03-24 13:22

    Rosalind Franklin is most remembered now as the unsung fourth contributor who found the evidence for Watson and Crick’s double-helix paper in the early 1950s. A brilliant experimentalist, Franklin actually made advances in three significant areas in her short life (she died of cancer at the age of 37): the understanding of coal, the shape of the DNA molecule, and the way RNA functions inside viruses.A few notes about Maddox’s book and this remarkable scientist: Franklin’s specialty was x-ray photography, a science that was used to analyze the shape of molecules and particles somehow. Thankfully, Maddox spends very little time on the minutiae of how these discoveries work, focusing instead on explaining the broad outlines of what Franklin discovered. She made her name in this field by studying coal, particularly in her discovery that there were some kinds of coal that never turned into graphite no matter how hot they were heated. In the last four years of her life, Franklin made big advances in the study of viruses, findings that ultimately may have been more significant for the fact that they weren’t at such a heated centerpoint of debate. Indeed, someone else would have proven the double-helix within a short time if Franklin hadn’t been doing that work. Her virus work was more singular. Franklin has been characterized as abrupt and cold, aggressive and unable to converse easily. At the same time, she’s described as caring and heartfelt, passionate and humane. While these perspectives seem at odds, Maddox describes most of the abrupt personality as tied to her workplace demeanor, while her warmer side was reserved for casual time. Maddox suggests that her upbringing fostered a defensiveness that may have contributed to this persona she adopted. (Apparently, Franklin was particularly sensitive to anything she thought was anti-Semitic, even if the suspicions were groundless.) In the last couple years of her life, Franklin gained significant recognition for her work, and did two tours of the US, where she met scientists in labs all over the country. I was interested to read that she spent some time at Cold Spring Harbor, which was the research home for Barbara McClintock in that same era. I like to imagine that they met one another.The most debated period of her life stems from her short stint at King’s college, where she and a postgrad were working on x-ray photography of DNA. At the same time, Watson and Crick were up the street at Cambridge, trying to model the structure of DNA. Franklin’s colleague at King’s, Wilkins, was also working on the problem, but didn’t have Franklin’s technical skill with x-ray photography. Thus, when he wanted her to collaborate with him and share information with Watson and Crick, she became defensive and territorial, feeling like a less talented superior was trying to mooch her hard-won data. Her approach was that models could not prove anything, thatdata was needed in order to prove their case, so she pursued her data. Then Wilkins shared her data with Watson and Crick without her permission, when it was quite clear that she would not have wanted him to. Her data led to their breakthrough, and within months they had staked their claim to the theory.While she and Wilkins were acknowledged as contributors in the notes of their paper, Watson and Crick didn’t give them co-author status. But while Franklin may have felt upset, Maddox points out that she didn’t seem to have any particular anger or grudge over the issue. Indeed, she was just happy to get away to Birkbeck and begin her research on viruses. In the years between Watson and Crick’s paper (March 1953) and her own death (April 1958), she carried on a friendly correspondence with both Watson and Crick, going so far as to spend time in a social context with each and maintain a rather hearty work relationship with Watson.This continued collegiality makes what happened after Franklin’s death so strange. When Watson wrote his novelistic adventurous tale, The Double Helix, Rosalind appears as a shrewish hoarder, obstinately refusing to share her data but also intellectually incapable of making proper use of it, practicallyforcing Watson and Crick to sneak a peek. Both Crick and Watson maintained, for a long time, a recognition that her data was crucial to their solution, but withholding proper credit for her work. Other people in the community were shocked and angered at this portrayal and have, in various places, defended her vigorously; so much so, in fact, that she has become very well known for the unfair treatment she had from Watson and Crick. Maddox suggests that perhaps their portrayals of her stem from a deep unresolved guilt about having used her data without her knowledge, and then never really getting the chance to share that credit later on.Maddox does a great job of presenting Franklin’s life in an even-handed way. She’s fair to Watson without flinching at his missteps and lies, but she also acknowledges where Franklin’s own personality foibles exacerbated occasional problems with colleagues. This is an excellent book, a strong biography with good storytelling and research. The second half is better than the first, starting about the time she arrives at King’s college (no surprise that the controversy is the most interesting, I suppose).

  • Marsha Hay
    2019-03-13 14:44

    A slow start to a biography that got much better when the science started.

  • Elizabeth Moffat
    2019-02-25 14:39

    Three and a half stars from me.Rosalind Franklin is unfortunately probably best known for not achieving the recognition she should have got in life for unravelling the secrets of DNA. Instead, two scientists called Francis Crick and James Watson boldly used parts of her work to find out the secrets for themselves and published their findings which led to them winning the Nobel Prize. Personally, I was aware of the dis-service that had been done to Franklin but did not realise until reading this book exactly how much her work had contributed to the unveiling of “the molecule of life.” The book tends not to focus too much on the early part of Rosalind’s life as it is when she becomes a scientist, the true nature of this independent, determined and highly intelligent woman is realised. However, a couple of things sprang to my attention from her early life. Firstly, a letter written by one of her relations describes the young Rosalind as:“alarmingly clever – she spends all her time doing arithmetic for pleasure & invariably gets her sums right.”Although the word “alarmingly” is probably meant as an endearment it resonates from a time when females were not expected to be clever as managing their household and pleasing their husbands was probably the best they could amount to. It is no wonder that Rosalind has become somewhat of a feminist icon. After all, being Jewish, female and a scientist in times which were not friendly to all three is a tremendous achievement. Being a bit radical also ran in her family as her Uncle Hugh, a pro-suffragist, attempted to attack Winston Churchill with a dog whip due to his opposition to women’s suffrage. Rosalind knew herself from the age of twelve that she wanted to become a scientist and certainly fit the criteria according to Einstein:“a scientist makes science the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.”She first began to make a difference during the war where she was employed by the British Coal Utilisation Research Association studying the porous nature of coal and the density of helium. Her work there led to coals being classified, predicting their potential for fuel and for the production of essential devices i.e. gas masks. In 1946, she extended her CV and broadened her skills by studying X-ray diffraction with the French scientist Jacques Mering, a technique that would prove crucial and valuable in her later work with DNA. It was during her next post with Kings College that she finally made her mark, discovering that there were two forms of DNA and that they were helical in structure. Indeed, her X ray photographs of the molecule were pronounced by J.D. Bernal to be amongst the most beautiful X ray photographs of any substance ever taken.Enter Watson and Crick, who were currently working on producing a model of the structure of DNA but were having a few technical problems with discovering exactly where each bit went. Papers and photographs belonging to Franklin were given to Crick on the sly causing them to pronounce that they had discovered “the secret of life.” Shockingly, they then went on to publish their paper in the journal Nature in the spring of 1953 with only a short footnote regarding the “general knowledge” of Franklin’s contribution. Franklin’s paper did follow but due to the order of publishing, it seemed only support for Watson and Crick’s amazing discovery, rather than revealing who exactly had done all the legwork. Unpublished drafts of her papers revealed that it was she alone who had discovered the overall form of the molecule with the location of the phosphate groups on the outside. Rosalind went on to carry out brilliant work on the tobacco mosaic and polio virus but tragically succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1958 at just 37 years of age.I found this book to be an absolutely fascinating read even if I did get carried away a bit at times with the injustice done to Rosalind Franklin and the tragic end to her life. She wasn’t particularly careful when using radiation and tended to just “get on with it,” neglecting to wear appropriate protective coverings or adhere to our now stringent safety requirements when dealing with such a hazardous substance. Could this have contributed to the development of her cancer? She was also a very interesting person, perhaps a bit prickly at first and difficult to get to know but she was immensely passionate about many things besides her beloved science – for example, travelling and climbing and was a fiercely loyal friend. For me, it was wonderful to read an interesting account of a woman that made such a difference even if it was sadly not recognised in her own lifetime.Please see my full review at

  • Paul
    2019-03-09 16:30

    OK, OK, I finished reading it after stopping my wandering around, being chased by Louis Kim.A fascinating book about a fascinating person. I started reading the book because I found the following quote on the web, a quote from a letter she wrote to her father around 1940. "You frequently state, and in your letter you imply, that I have developed a completely one-sided outlook, and look at everything and think of everything in terms of science. Obviously my method of thought and reasoning is influenced by a scientific training - if that were not so my scientific training will have been a waste and a failure. But you look at science (or at least talk of it) as some sort of demoralising invention of man, something apart from real life, and which must be cautiously guarded and kept separate from everyday existence. But science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. Science for me, gives a partial explanation of life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience and experiment. Your theories are those which you and many other people find easiest and pleasantest to believe, but so far as I can see, they have no foundation other than they lead to a pleasanter view of life (and an exaggerated idea of our own importance)…."I agree that faith is essential to success in life (success of any sort) but I do not accept your definition of faith, i.e. belief in life after death. In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining. Anyone able to believe in all that religion implies obviously must have such faith, but I maintain that faith in this world is perfectly possible without faith in another world…."It has just occurred to me that you may raise the question of a creator. A creator of what? […] I see no reason to believe that a creator of protoplasm or primeval matter, if such there be, has any reason to be interested in our insignificant race in a tiny corner of the universe, and still less in us, as still more insignificant individuals. Again, I see no reason why the belief that we are insignificant or fortuitous should lessen our faith - as I have defined it." I found her view of the place of science conventional, in the paradoxical sense that her passion for science was indeed a substitute for religion. That is not science. On the other hand, her father's view of science, as she describes it, was probably too much. But I suspect that I am most fascinated because just as she reacted against her father for what she perceived to be a religious reason, so I reacted against my father in the opposite direction since my father wanted so much that his older son become a rich lawyer.The book as a whole is a marvelous insight into the infighting that is endemic to the human condition (see And I was There by Admiral Layton which demonstrated this propensity in the arena of military intelligence). It is also a marvelous into the communitarian nature of modern science and its incredible discoveries. And the book gives a good picture of a strong human being. The author gives a fair picture, I think, of the hurdles Rosalind Franklin faced as a woman but also a fair picture of the complexity of scientific discovery.

  • Mark
    2019-03-18 19:42

    In the book "The Double Helix", Rosalind Franklin was presented as unpleasant, unattractive woman who was not fit to be doing science and was a road block in Watson's way to the double helix. There has been since the publication of the book a backlash to Watson's portrayal that has presented her as a martyr or a saint, unsung for her pivotal role in the discovery of the double helix. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Brenda Maddox presents a comprehensive, analytical, balanced, and detailed story of Rosalind's life and her role in the discovery of the structure of DNA. She was an intelligent scientist and gifted experimentalist who excelled in an environment often hostile to women. She was not happy at King's college where she took the photos that gave Watson his epiphany that led to the correct structure of DNA, but she had previously enjoyed her work in Paris, and after King's College her scientific work was efficient, happy, and productive at Bierbeck college. She made important contributions in using crystallography to determine the structures of coal and the tobacco mosaic virus. Maddox was able to interview many of the principal in the race to solve the secret of life, and for those who have passed has extensively searched archives to craft a easy to read, mostly non-technical, and absorbing narrative about this landmark time in the history of science.

  • Audrey
    2019-03-11 15:41

    Great biography on scientist Rosalind Franklin, whose x-ray crystallography data led Watson and Crick (used without her knowledge or permission) to their DNA discovery etc etc. Maddox details Franklin's life - her upbringing (upper-middle class Jewish in London), her education, her scientific works (studying coal in Paris, DNA at Kings College, and mainly tobacco mosaic virus at Birkbeck, and polio virus), her struggles with funding, and the relationships she had with her fellow researchers, family, and friends. You do get a good idea of how Franklin was as a person. She was fiercely devoted to her research and had little patience for people whom she thought were not worth her time. Those at Kings College, where she felt intensely isolated in a hostile lab environment, saw a cold, stony "Rosy". Many others knew Rosalind as a generous, lively woman with excellent taste and a great sense of humor. Franklin poured the same amount of energy into traveling as she did in her work. Maddox also seems to make a point that Franklin also was quite keen on nice clothing, which was something you surely would not have gotten from Watson's infamous caricature-like descriptions of "Rosy". The excerpts from Franklin's letters were particularly interesting. Who knows how much more she would have accomplished had she not died so young. Recommended. Rosalind forever!

  • Alannah Clarke
    2019-03-09 17:29

    Lately I have not been a fan of biographies or autobiographies, it seems like everywhere I turn these days I see one about someone who is grabbing their fifteen minutes of fame after only being famous 'just for being famous' and if they do claim to write it, I always believe that some ghost-write is paid to write the book instead. Since I have been pushing myself to try and read more non-fiction, I tried this one since it was picked for the group non-fiction in my book group. Before I picked this up, I did not have much interest in science or DNA despite being quite good at it at school but I had never heard of Rosalind Franklin before. Despite only having a very basic understanding of science, I found the scienitific content in the book quite easy to understand. At some points through reading this I did find the book somewhat just thrown together with the personal and the scientific document but nonetheless I did find it interesting as I felt I was really getting a feel for Franklin's character. I'm glad I picked this book up to read, I would seriously recommend it to anyone with any interest in science and DNA.

  • Julieta
    2019-03-03 21:28

    The Dark Lady of DNA is an oustanding non-fiction piece of literature. It is all about the life of Rosaling Franklin, and her part in the discovery of DNA. She had originally discovered DNA, but due to her lack of timing, she wasnt able to publish her data, therefore, thats Watson and Crick found her information, studied more upon it, and in the end got the most credit for the discovery of DNA. This is a great book for those of you who love science. I personally love reading about these scientific topics, but i also enjoy fiction. In this book, although its non-fiction, i get this sense of character, this sense of fiction. I recomend it to all.

  • Chris Walker
    2019-03-15 14:43

    A thoroughly enjoyable, informative, and well-researched biography of one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century. Maddox paints a vivid and detailed account of Franklin's life, in particular her x-ray crystallography work at King's College that led directly to Watson and Crick's model of the helical structure of DNA. She covers the controversy of those times in an even-handed manner, detailing the ways in which Franklin x-ray photographs and mathematical calculations on the nature of DNA were shared with Watson and Crick by Maurice Wilkins without her knowledge. It's unfortunate that a number of factors, especially the sexism inherent in the scientific community, provided a low point in Franklin's professional life (she was unhappy for almost her entire time working at King's College) during a time of such exciting scientific discoveries. Maddox takes Watson to task especially for his incredibly unfair and inaccurate portrayal of Franklin in his book "The Double Helix".In many ways Franklin's legacy has been defined by this time in her life (it was pretty much all I knew about her before reading this book), which is a shame, because she did so much incredible scientific work both before and after her work on DNA. She had major success in the study of coal and the tobacco mosaic virus, and hand begun working on the polio virus before her death at 37 from ovarian cancer. In that short amount of time she achieved an amount of scientific success that would have been impressive for someone twice her age. Maddox, despite not having a science background, does a great job of expressing the importance of Franklin's various discoveries.Beyond her scientific pursuits, I was both pleased and a little surprised, given her (undeserved) reputation as being solely focused on her professional life, to discover what a rich personal life she had. Though in some ways a very proper and reserved person, Franklin was very warm and generous toward those with whom she became close. She was also passionate about fashion and travel, especially hiking. She left behind a wealth of correspondence with friends and family, and Maddox makes expert use of this to provide insight on Franklin's inner-life. I left this book with an even deeper appreciation of Rosalind Franklin as both a scientist and a human being, which to me is the mark of a successful biography. Highly recommended!

  • Erin
    2019-03-16 21:31

    In 1962, James Watson, Frances Crick and Maurice Wilkins received a Nobel Prize for discovering the double helix of DNA. A few years later Watson published a book The Double Helix, chronicling his race to discovery as well as exploring the other contenders. One of these contenders was Rosalind Franklin, mockingly referred to as Rosy, who is depicted as stubborn, angry, ignorant and dowdy. Those who knew her were shocked and angered by Watson’s portrayal, especially as Rosalind was no longer alive to defend herself. Taking up the case is Brenda Maddox. In her book Rosalind Franklin the Dark Lady of DNA, she aims to give a credible and accurate account of Rosalind’s life, while educating adults interested in the discovery of DNA on the woman who was overlooked.In biology class, we inevitably cover DNA. During the unit, teachers almost always mention Watson and Crick who identified the structure of DNA. A few teachers may give a brief nod to Rosalind Franklin, mention how her work played a part in the discovery or even admit she was robbed of a Nobel Prize. My teacher was one of such teachers. Immediately curious about the woman biology wronged, I set out to learn who this Rosalind Franklin was and what role she played in the discovery of DNA.The biography covers in detail Rosalind’s life from her childhood through her death. It discusses her life at boarding school and college at Cambridge, then follows her work from London to Paris back to London, across the United States and throughout Europe. Stress is put on Rosalind’s Jewish background, her personality, and her relationships in and outside of work. The book narrates the famous Cavendish/King’s College race and Rosalind’s struggle with cancer.Maddox also focuses on Rosalind’s personality. While “Watson portrays Rosalind’s ‘hot anger’ as entirely unmotivated” Maddox offers insight and explanation (194). Rosalind was struggling to pave her way in a male-dominated field. She “was engaged in a race against time”, found her notebooks being read, had to publish a certain amount of papers while mentoring a graduate student and her coworkers didn’t like her. This resulted in her being completely engaged in work, and somewhat uptight with some anger due to stress. Maddox is able to support her claim well, gives numerous examples of Rosalind’s personality in out of the lab, getting readers to understand what Watson did not.Maddox takes a third person view on the life of Rosalind -which is completely necessary in any biography- but also distances the reader from the subjects. In an ideal biography, the reader would feel like an observer to the subject’s life, but in this case Maddox falls into a variety of traps, constantly reminding the reader that this is a book. For instance, Maddox uses parentheses generously, often containing six lines of text within a single parenthesis “(According to the International x-ray Tables, crystals are classified by their symmetry- that is, the shape of their unit cell- into 230 space groups. Prepared by W.T. Astbury of Leeds, with Kathleen Lonsdale, at the Royal Institution and published in 1924, the tables were, in Rosalind’s time, the crystallographer’s Bible).” (175). This is a common example of overuse. Parentheses are meant to be used as a side note, and with side notes that long, readers get distracted from the plot line. In addition, extra names, places and dates confuse readers and are usually just extraneous information.There is also the slight problem of untranslated languages. Maddox leaves sentences in French or occasionally German- “la journee de heir a ete magnifique” (302) or “mer de nuages” (98) then discusses the sentences meaning without telling the readers what the sentence actually means. Maddox will occasionally throw in a French word like “chercheurs” (87) and “les gens de Chez Solange” (92) and leave the reader to translate the definition. As I do not speak French, this got quite irritating.Minor characters are often presented with lengthy introduction; Maddox goes into detail about the lives of all who surround Rosalind. This is unnecessary and bogs down the reader with too many characters to keep track of. The audience must keep tabs on Rosalind’s family, (including cousins, aunts and uncles), friends from childhood through adulthood, co-workers, bosses, rivals and just people who were doing similar research at the time. After being introduced the first time, these characters often pop up again with no introduction, leaving the reader bewildered and wishing they had a list of characters.However, Maddox is successful in a few aspects. She inserts parts of letters and conversations to add a more personal view of Rosalind and her surroundings. Every few pages there is part of a letter, giving the chance for readers to enjoy the emotions and thoughts of the people actually going through the events they are reading about. Maddox inserts descriptions of landscapes and surroundings which add visualization to the text. In addition, there is copious detail, showing the biography was very well researched. It sports 12 pages of notes referencing personal interviews and collected letters as well as a 9 page bibliography.I also applaud Maddox for interspersing gossip-like details into rather dry parts of the book. These gossipy bits may be less accurate than accounts of Rosalind’s work, but they added a level of interest to keep the reader involved. We were privy to Rosalind’s secrets, her yearning for Jacques Mering, her possible love for Don Caspar, her desire to be a parent and the tension with Maurice Wilkins.Despite these interesting parts,the book as a whole did not hold my attention. The premise was interesting but the plot got chained down by details, names, dates, places and facts. In addition, there were a few lines that I found offensive such as “but the male fear of the female has always been absurd- the stronger afraid of the weaker- but no less real for that” (194). I disagree with Maddox’s generalization that man is both stronger than female and it is absurd to be afraid of them. Characters other than Rosalind are too static and distant from the reader. Maddox succeeded in her goal of portraying Rosalind as a great scientist, but she didn’t do it in an interesting way.

  • Kathryn
    2019-03-10 16:22

    For me this was a book of two halves. The first half of this book was an enjoyable, interesting account of how Rosalind became a scientist, covering her social background and family history (which was very relevant to her personality). It was interesting, but at that stage I would have given it three stars. Then there was the second half of the book. I'd herd the story of the photograph before, and been told the usual narrative about Rosalind being "grumpy" and "difficult". It was interesting to read how everything played out from an outsider (rather than the James Watson version), and how ruthless it was! I can see why Watson and Crick felt they had to continually defend their behaviour for decades afterwards! The part I found *really* interesting though, was Rosalind's career post-Kings. I had no idea that she actually got along with both Watson and Crick afterwards, and that she had such a successful scientific career before her death. Also, side note, who knew you could publish in Nature "too much"?! She sounded like a complex person, with so much more to her than is usually portrayed. absolutely fascinating book, which only got better throughout. Would definitely recommend - although not sure it would be as fascinating if you didn't know who Franklin was to begin with. 4 stars (though the last third was 5 stars, for sure).

  • AJ
    2019-02-27 21:23

    The first third of this book is painfully slow, lots of tiny details about Rosalind Franklin's life that seem to be mostly minutiae. Fortunately, the book really picks up thereafter. The search for the structure of DNA was fast-paced, full of many interesting scientists, and had a major impact that is still felt today. Most folks already know the story of this search, especially considering that Francis and Crick received the Nobel Prize for their work. What is unfortunate is how little recognition Franklin received for her work in the process, without which it's likely the mystery of the double helix would have taken far longer to unravel. Everybody should read this book, if only to get a better story of the way women scientists have been treated in the past, and are treated, even today.Probably the most ironic part of this book is the character profile of Rosalind Franklin. Any man described in a similar manner would just be taken as a stereotypical male scientist. But somehow a woman acting aloof with awkward social skills merits hundreds of pages of speculation about why and how she was the way she was, and how it hugely impacted her life and research.

  • Thomas A Wiebe
    2019-03-17 14:32

     The Dark Lady of DNA.  In 1968 James Watson published The Double Helix, his personal account of the elucidation of the structure of DNA, in which he de-emphasized Rosalind Franklin's critical contributions during the period of discovery, while drawing a negative portrait of her. Franklin did not receive the Nobel Prize for this discovery, but Watson and Crick did. Why not? Rank villainy?Rosalind Franklin was one of the primary actors in the search for the structure of the DNA molecule. Her first biographer, Anne Sayre, wrote more of a defense of her friend than a balanced history; Brenda Maddox's book remedies that with a superb and careful job of sorting out Franklin's nuanced story.Franklin died before the Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of the structure of DNA, and the Prize is not awarded posthumously, so the question would be: If she had lived, would she have received the Prize for her work? The question cannot be answered definitively, of course, but Franklin was given formal credit for her contributions to the discovery, her paper being one of three published simultaneously in Nature announcing the discovery of DNA's structure, another being authored by Wilkins and one by Watson and Crick together. It is likely she would have been considered for the honor, but it is not at all clear she would have been given the award.Franklin was only one part of the controversy over who deserved credit for the discovery of DNA. Many, especially some of those more directly involved in the experimental research, were bitter about Watson's and Crick's getting there before they did, chief among them Erwin Chargaff, who had been researching nucleic acids, and had discovered one of the critical facts needed to solve the structure: When analyzing DNA from various species, the four organic bases that were part of the DNA polymer showed the same specific ratios, with the number of adenines equaling the number of thymines, and the number of guanines equaling the number of cytosines.Jerry Donohue, who had determined the most probable conformation of those same bases using theoretical quantum mechanical arguments, provided another critical factor. Both of these men felt that they had claim to a share of the Nobel Prize that went to Watson and Francis Crick. In hindsight, the molecular modeling efforts successfully employed to solve the structure clearly required information from several approaches and disciplines, an approach followed only by Watson and Crick, which most importantly allowed them to find the deeply counterintuitive idea of interior base pairing that was the final piece of the puzzle.Perhaps surprisingly, Rosalind Franklin did not hold these attitudes; once having left her DNA work before the structure was determined, by most accounts because she was unhappy with her working situation rather than her disinterest in the subject, she made no public nor private argument over the matter, even though her research contributed some of the most critical experimental information needed to solve the structure.Her experimental and analytical contributions were vital pieces of the puzzle. Her crystallographic results, including photo 51, provided clearer evidence of the helical structure (some of Wilkins' earlier photos suggested a helical structure, but were not definitive), allowed precise measurements of the helical width and repeat, along with more accurate density and humidity measurements (allowing a determination of the number of chains in the molecule, two), provided clearer arguments and evidence that the bases were in the interior rather rather than on the outside of the molecule, and finally identified the correct symmetry group, which allowed Crick to determine that the two chains were going in the opposite direction of each other. Her discovery that DNA took to distinct structural forms, which she labeled A and B, also was important in locating the correct structure, the B form, to focus on.Crick, who collaborated with Franklin occasionally in the years after the DNA discovery, may have said it best, that Rosalind just needed someone to talk things over with, to collaborate with, like he and Watson had fallen into, and then she may well have been able to get past her own mental blocks in finding the structure, to separate the wheat from the chaff, to become knowledgeable of important information and methods outside of her field of crystallography that were used to help solve the puzzle, and may well have been the one to find the structure of DNA first. (Aaron Klug, while studying her DNA research notebooks, had similar thoughts.)In some ways, Rosalind Franklin's story is a tragedy, a life quite possibly brought short from cancer induced by her heavy overexposure to X-rays, but, even without the recognition of a Nobel Prize, it is first a tale of a brilliant scientist who contributed a great deal to science in her short life, not just in the area of DNA, but also on the structure of coal and the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus. A more detailed account can be found in an article on the Oregon Scribbler about "The Dark Lady of DNA."Read the full review at the Oregon Scribbler.

  • Barbara
    2019-02-26 18:42

    This summer I had an urge to read something about Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who actually discovered the structure of DNA and died young at 37. I liked this biography but I was struck by how often the author quoted friends, colleagues, and associates who commented on Franklin's looks...she was "quite striking," "pretty." I guess it was the 1940s and '50s and that was how women were judged but I thought it was excessive. Now I want to read The Double Helix by James Watson.

  • Arielle
    2019-03-24 15:27

    It was a little slow getting into this book, but I did and I learned a lot about an interesting woman and time.

  • Kelly
    2019-03-03 13:21

    An extraordinary biography of an extraordinary, overlooked, and maligned scientist. At long last, Dr. Franklin gets her due.

  • Audrey Zarr
    2019-03-15 16:51

    This was one of the best biographies I have read, and a fantastic biography of a scientist you should know!A good balance of science and personal. Pick this one up!

  • MaggyGray
    2019-03-01 13:46

    Kommt irgendwann noch!

  • Harsha Gurnani
    2019-03-15 20:40

    In one word: Inspiring. (Especially because I'm starting my own PhD life, and I was also relieved and motivated by similarities (loosely, nothing to brag about) in attitude, principles, dreams and inter-personal relations, haha!)Some of us associate Rosalind Franklin with the tragedy of missing out on her Nobel because of her early death, of not being given due credit for her experimental contributions to the discovery of (or rather evidence for) the helical nature of DNA, of being taken advantage of by Watson and Crick who used her data (for inspiration, in their words) without her knowledge, of being portrayed as dull, plain, unimaginative and domineering in Watson's unflattering (to all other scientists, that is) autobiography, The Double Helix.But this book was a revelation to me. How easy it is to misrepresent someone based on one event (still known with murky details), how easy to lose perspective of her as a scientist and as a human because of her involvement in one of twentieth century's most exciting, albeit controversial, discoveries. Many people have written accounts of Rosalind to counter Watson's "attack" on her. The biographer here, Maddox, goes one, no, several steps further. She gives us the story of the woman, her background, her passion, her work, her struggles in a "man's world", her relations with friends, family and colleagues - and why they were so varied, her temperamental nature, her love of hiking, French cuisine, culture and fashion... I could go on... To borrow from Washington post:"What emerges is the complex portrait of a passionate, flawed, courageous woman."Passionate, flawed, courageous - I could not have come up with a better description.The last chapter in the book also summarizes the futility of all 'What ifs'. The real tragedy was the loss of a brilliant scientist, not the controversy around the Nobel prize. In some ways, the injustice was nothing unique or special. Even until the 1950s and 60s, women in several institutes were not given degrees/graduation ceremonies, tenure or salaries on par with men, or membership in prestigious societies and fellowships like the Royal Society. Their contributions were underplayed, and the Nobel was denied to many a deserving woman even after that. Rosalind Franklin, like other women scientists of her time, had to battle these prejudices, and she did - she was exceptionally determined and knew her own worth. This description by her collaborator Aaron Klug struck me:For the feminists, however, she has become a doomed heroine, and they have seized upon her as an icon ... Rosalind was not a feminist in the ordinary sense, but she was determined to be treated equally just like anybody else.Also, what was particularly refreshing about this book was its focus on the process of science, her work and not just the landmark events. She had her own share of struggles like everyone else, but that's not the defining characteristic. She had a distinct, powerful personality that shines throughout her story. She worked hard, she knew what she wanted to do, and she wouldn't give it up to please other people's notions. She wasn't trying to win awards even if she wanted to be recognized for doing good work - that's what she wanted to do, good science. She loved travelling, uncovering secrets at all scales of life. It is much more interesting to read the book rather than this fawning review. Not just as a scientist but for anyone who knows or wants to know what it feels to be following your passion.

  • Reenie
    2019-03-13 16:49

    Another book wading into the (auto)biographical minefield that is the discovery of the structure of DNA. (And by minefield I'm thinking more after everything's been blown up already and everything is one ugly tangled mess of mud and holes and bitterness.) On the other hand, this is a pretty good one, carefully researched and generally even-handed, focused more on putting forward a complete picture of Rosalind Franklin's life and personality rather than getting too caught up in the debate about whether she was a feminist martyr/victim at the mercy of the science old boys club.It's definitely and interesting life and a very very interesting personality, one clearly capable of rubbing people the wrong way (that in a scientist? Shocking! Yeah, not really) but also far more than that. I think the book's at its strongest when describing how Rosalind related with (or failed to relate with) the various people around her, how she ran her lab group, and went after funding and new experiments.However, there's definitely a few things I would have liked to have not seen, or seen in different places. Given that, historically, the DNA discovery and writing about the DNA discovery, is an afore-mentioned minefield, there's no way to avoid continually referencing previous accounts and the debate and myths that have arisen, and in the epilogue, Maddox explains some of the context of the various accounts written about it, starting with Watson's the Double Helix (which seems to have pissed off every single other person who featured in it for its wildly skewed accounts of... pretty much everyone). Given that the body of the book continually references the debates that sprung up from the Double Helix and subsequent books, while apparently assuming that everyone is well-versed with the different accounts, I think some of her context needed to come before the end of the book - it would be more useful for the casual reader (those who haven't been following all the accounts), if more clearly (and maybe awkwardly) dealing with accumulated baggage, to set out the debate before wading in.Also, I could have done without a lot of the first two or three chapters... the stuff about childhood and family kind of dragged, and wasn't nearly as interesting as it seemed to think it was. Unlike the Adams family, there aren't five miles of microfilm of Franklin's letters, and sometimes it shows, adding in details that mostly ended up feeling like filler, rather than illuminating tidbits. Once it gets to her PhD and subsequent career though, it generally picks up.Secondly, although Maddox mostly stays clear of the angry feminist 'reading of the data' that has occasionally abounded in accounts of Franklin, sometimes things like this sneak in:"But the male fear of the female has always been absurd - the stronger afraid of the weaker - but no less real for that. To dismiss it is to dismiss the Medusa, the Loathly Lady, the Wicked Witch of the West and all the other guises for whatever the male resents and recoils from in the female..."Euggh. Shut up, or save it for the literary criticism, because in a biography of a well-respected scientist, female or male, that kind of sentence and 'analysis' just sounds stupid. Seriously stupid. (Yeah, I bookmarked that page when I came across it, because it bugged me enough to want to save it for the review... could you guess?)

  • Emily
    2019-03-03 19:43

    It took me a while to be fully captivated by this book, but it was worth persevering. As a female scientist, I enjoyed the setting and the history of science woven into Rosalind's story. It was a fair treatment of the many sides of scientific collaboration, unfairness, and ego.