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The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA Paperback – December 31, 2025

ISBN-13: 978-0451628831 ISBN-10: 0451628837 Edition: Reissue

 
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"Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward logical manner imagined by outsiders," writes James Watson in The Double Helix, his account of his codiscovery (along with Francis Crick) of the structure of DNA. Watson and Crick won Nobel Prizes for their work, and their names are memorized by biology students around the world. But as in all of history, the real story behind the deceptively simple outcome was messy, intense, and sometimes truly hilarious. To preserve the "real" story for the world, James Watson attempted to record his first impressions as soon after the events of 1951-1953 as possible, with all their unpleasant realities and "spirit of adventure" intact.

Watson holds nothing back when revealing the petty sniping and backbiting among his colleagues, while acknowledging that he himself was a willing participant in the melodrama. In particular, Watson reveals his mixed feelings about his famous colleague in discovery, Francis Crick, who many thought of as an arrogant man who talked too much, and whose brilliance was appreciated by few. This is the joy of The Double Helix--instead of a chronicle of stainless-steel heroes toiling away in their sparkling labs, Watson's chronicle gives readers an idea of what living science is like, warts and all. The Double Helix is a startling window into the scientific method, full of insight and wit, and packed with the kind of science anecdotes that are told and retold in the halls of universities and laboratories everywhere. It's the stuff of legends. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

First published in 1968, this classic story of the discovery of DNA has never been released as an audiobook.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Signet; Reissue edition (December 31, 2025)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451628837
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451628831
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)

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3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

108 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Pletko on January 27, 2004
Format: Paperback
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In this book (first published in 1968), "Honest Jim" (as a scientist friend called him) or Dr. James Dewey Watson has explained his "version of how the structure of DNA was discovered" and "this account represents the way [he] saw things then, in [the fall of] 1951 [to the spring of] 1953." (The discovery was announced in April 1953.) That is, he has "attempted to re-create [his] first impressions of the relevant events and personalities" that he encountered along the way to making the discovery. Thus, understand this is not a book of historical facts.

Also, because of the personal nature of this book Watson states that "many of the comments [that he makes] may seem one-sided and unfair, but this is often the case in the incomplete and hurried way in which human beings decide to like or dislike a new idea or [a new] acquaintance."

This book revolves around five main people:

(1) Dr. Francis Crick (1916 to 2004) of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England
(2) Dr. James Watson (born 1928) also of the Cavendish Laboratory
(3) Dr. Rosalind Franklin (1920 to 1958) of King's College, a division of the University of London
(4) Dr. Maurice Wilkins (1916 to 2004) also of King's College
(5) Dr. Linus Pauling (1901 to 1994) of the California Institute of Technology.

However, along the way the reader meets many other people, both scientists and non-scientists.

As Watson explains, the above five people are in a "race" to discover DNA's structure. However, I got the impression that neither Franklin nor Wilkins knew they were in a race. By the end of the race, Watson was "one of the winners" who shared the Nobel Prize in 1962 with Crick and Wilkins.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Frederick Hecht on January 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
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When "The Double Helix" came out in 1968, as a geneticist I naturally read it. And it has stuck far more firmly for me than any of the many other books I've read over the years about genetics.
Why do I remember this book so well? I've wondered. The answer is right in the first sentence of "The Double Helix" that reads: "I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood."
In his account of how the structure of DNA was discovered, Jim Watson doesn't try to tell the story from a disinterested point of view. This is my version, he says, and I'm not going to touch it up to cover the warts and other blemishes. Yes, for instance, Watson and Crick were patently and terribly unfair and unjust toward Rosalind Franklin but Jim doesn't deny it. He makes it plenty clear.
Most writing in and about science is well varnished. But varnish gives a gloss and it's not easy to hold onto. Jim Watson forgot the varnish, on purpose. Watson's brashness (and Crick's conceit) season this narrative in a memorable way, a way I can't easily forget, even if I wanted to.
This is first-rate personal science writing. Five stars, for sure, or more. It's about one of the most important discoveries in the history of science. I hope you'll enjoy (and remember) "The Double Helix" too.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Manola Sommerfeld on May 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
I read this book for the first time when i took undergraduate biochemistry in college. I could not put it down. Now, ten years later, i found it at a second-hand store and re-read it, and once again read it in two sittings. This book reads like a thriller. You definitively catch a sense of the urgency of their research. I was flipping pages nervously, like i didn't know Watson and Crick were the ones who won the race.
In the edition i have, Watson is very thankful about the contributions that Rosalind Franklin made to their discovery. He is crystal clear about how she was the one convinced that the backbone was on the outside, and had not he followed her advice, it would have taken him even longer to figure out the structure, and who knows?, Pauling might have gotten there first. In the epilogue, Watson is all praise about Rosalind, acknowledges how his opinions about her were often wrong, how excellent the quality of her work was, and ponders about the obstacles that she encountered in her career in science for being a woman.
I wonder if these comments were missing in other people's books, because according to their critiques, one comes out with the idea that Watson and the male-dominated scientific establishment gave Rosalind the cancer that killed her.
This is an excellent, honest account of an event that took place when the author was 25 years old. I could not believe my eyes when i read that sentence. Twenty-five, worrying about girls and tennis and the structure of the most important molecule in the universe. These facts might count for something. This is a must-read book, for everybody, whether you understand science or not.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By shel99 on May 8, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This firsthand account of the discovery of DNA dispels a lot of the notions that ousiders have about how science really works. Watson's descriptions of the competition, politics, dead ends, personality clashes, mistakes, and eventually inspiration reveal that discovery is not as clear-cut a process as it sometimes might seem.
Watson is honest in his introduction that his account is just that, the story told through his own point of view, complete with possible faulty memories and personal prejudices. I was intrigued by the portrayals of the personalities of so many famous figures that I've been learning about for years in my biology and genetics classes - Francis Crick, of course, along with Maurice Wilikins, Rosalind Franklin, Linus Pauling, and many more. I was touched by Watson's admission at the end of the book that his unfavorable impressions of Rosalind Franklin stemmed from the fact that she was a woman trying to make a name for herself in the male-dominated world of scientific research in the 1950s.
There is quite a bit of biological jargon in this book, and though it could probably be read by someone without any knowledge of genetics, it will be appreciated more by readers with some background. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in genetics and science.
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