The Double Helix, by James D Watson, Phoenix RRP£8.99, 200 pages
A presentation by eminent British DNA researcher Maurice Wilkins in Naples in 1951 snared the imagination of 23-year-old James Watson, a “mathematically deficient biologist” who was lazily researching DNA biochemistry. Within a couple of years, his collaboration with the maverick and irreverent Francis Crick in Cambridge capped Wilkins’s studies by discovering an “aesthetically elegant” solution to the structure of DNA. Their discovery revolutionised biochemistry.
In the current climate of renewed pressure on science funding, this timely reissue of Watson’s feisty memoir gives a dramatic account of how the double helix was mapped. There’s plenty of hard science here, but this book is notable for its gossipy sniping at other scientists and indiscreet asides that are coloured with period bigotry.
Watson pulls few punches with his frank and sometimes caustic prose which, a pained foreword by Watson’s former supervisor suggests, should be read “in a forgiving spirit”.