Penn State

Petere J. Heaney - Professor of Mineralogy, Penn State University Park

Book Title: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Norton Critical Editions)

Author: James D. Watson

Book Description:

I love James Watson's The Double Helix for many reasons. My mother, a middle school guidance counselor, handed the slim paperback to me when I was vocationally adrift as a sophomore in college and said, "Read this. I think you'll like it."

In fact, I couldn't put it down. The smart-alecky tone must have appealed to the New Yorker in me, but Watson's cynical reflections can't conceal his child-like thrill over the chase for the solution of the DNA structure or his appreciation for its beauty once it was discovered. When I learned that X-ray diffraction is used not only for deciphering biological macromolecules but geological materials too, my career course was charted as a mineralogical crystallographer.

I have selected the Norton Critical Edition of this volume in recognition of the controversies surrounding this book. Many of the lead characters objected to their portrayal by Watson and tried to suppress its publication, and an enormous amount of ink has been spilled over the book's treatment of Rosalind Franklin. The essays following Watson's account are as interesting as the history itself.


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