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87 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Franklin's real biography, October 15, 2002
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This review is from: Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA (Hardcover)
Brenda Maddox does a masterful job of laying out the life story of Rosalind Franklin, the supposed "forgotten lady of DNA". This biography is far superior to the personal vendetta waged against J D Watson on Franklin's behalf by Anne Sayre (see my comments on "Rosalind Franklin and DNA" by Anne Sayre).
Rosalind Franklin is the King's College scientist who obtained the x-ray photograph of the B form of DNA which was an important piece of information in the eventual description of a model of the structure of DNA that was described by J D Watson and FHC Crick in 1953, and for which they, along with Maurice Wilkins, won the Nobel Prize. Much has been written about whether Franklin was robbed of credit for her DNA contribution, whether she would have determined the structure by herself, and whether she would have shared in the Nobel. Whether these things are true or may have come to pass is difficult to say. Franklin died in 1958 and without her answers to some of these questions we are only left to speculate.
However Maddox leaves little speculation about who Rosalind Franklin was. This is a model biography of a true pioneer and an excellent role model for those seeking a career in the sciences. My own career was greatly influenced by Watson's personal account of the description of the model DNA structure he and Crick proposed. At that time (1971) I was more taken with the intuitive thinking displayed by the protagonists and their after hours antics than by the portrayal of "Rosy". In following years I have read Sayre and also Crick and others and have been somewhat bemused by the situation that surrounds Franklin and DNA, perhaps because it is almost all personal opinion and speculation. Maddox's picture is none of this. Her book is the description of a talented, strong-willed, opinioned female scientist and yes, a feminist. There is little doubt that Franklin made significant scientific contributions. There is also little doubt that she was emotionally immature and fragile. There is even less doubt that she died far, far, far too young but with great dignity and spirit. The first chapters on the pre-Rosalind history of the Franklin's is slow going but the reader is more than compensated by the final chapters that touchingly describe Franklin's last months. In her last few years we see a woman making her place in a man's world, and doing it very successfully. Her emotional life may even have been close to being fulfilled. But abdominal pains herald the beginning of repeated cancer treatments which culminate in her death before her work on viral structure was to be displayed in exhibition. Watson's book is fun, an easy read about how science is done (by some) but Rosalind's story is filled with overwhelming emotion about how a life was lived and cut short. She was robbed of the only real prize - life.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 10, 2010 5:32:21 AM PST
Envy says:
Watson himself has said, more than once, how important Franklin's image was to his and Crick's subsequent work on structure. Without that, they had no chance. With that image, Pauling could have come up with the structure. Theories are formed based on experimental data. In today's climate, Franklin would have been hailed as the hero. Only then would the credit go to those who built their theory after looking at the data. Pray tell me, what precisely did Wilkins do to get his third of the Nobel? Either way, you cut it, Franklin deserved a huge chunk of the honors. Whether she was robbed because of misogyny or just pure greed on the part of these scientists is the real question. Btw, this sort of robbery by Senior scientists of junior scientists work continues to this day.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 22, 2010 5:52:23 PM PDT
It is important to note that the Nobel prize was given to Watson, Crick and Wilkins "for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material" - not just for the structure of DNA. As I noted in my review of Anne Sayre's "Rosalind Franklin and DNA" Wilkins was the obvious choice for the third spot because he stuck with DNA and provided additional experimental evidence in support of the Watson and Crick model post their 1953 paper. Please remember that the papers published in Nature in 1953 (one by Watson and Crick, one by Wilkins and others, and the other by Franklin and Gosling) only amounted to descriptions of possible structure, they were certainly not definitive. Wilkins subsequent work helped to fill in the gaps.
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