Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNAby Brenda Maddox
"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 Franklin's unpublished data and crucial photograph of DNA had already been seen by her competitors at the Cambridge University lab.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… See more details below
"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 Franklin's unpublished data and crucial photograph of DNA had already been seen by her competitors at the Cambridge University lab.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 own knowledge, Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the molecule that genes are composed of - DNA, the secret of life. Five years later, after more brilliant research under Bernal at Birkbeck College, at the age of thirty-seven, 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 biography Brenda Maddox has been given unique access to Rosalind's personal correspondence and has interviewed all the principal scientists involved, including Crick, Watson and Wilkins.
Maddox (D.H. Lawrence, 1994, etc.) doesn't take the combative, defensive tack that previous works in Franklin's defense have affected. She believes Franklin's work speaks for itself, and it does, though often through the dark matter of physical chemistry, which Maddox presents with as admirably accessible a touch as possible for the lay audience. Of course, the crux of the story revolves around her contribution to the understanding of the structure of DNA: her x-ray photograph was very much a part of the a-ha! that prompted Watson and Crick's double-helix formulation, even if she was not given credit at the time, but then neither were others who provided crucial insights, from Oswald Avery to Jerry Donohue. Just as interested as Maddox is in the professional work of Franklin�who also gained renown for her work on the chemistry of coal and on the tobacco mosaic virus�she is fascinated by Franklin's character, which could be prickly, reserved, suspicious, highly territorial, and abrupt. Franklin was a Jewish woman scientist from a well-to-do family, a highly suspect creature when it came to the English academic establishment, which was hardly a supportive environment for her. She was unafraid of speaking her mind yet lacking confidence and wary of her intuitions, fought tooth and nail for funding, was solitary, confrontational when cornered, a social innocent who had made science the core of her emotional life. She did have a personal life, well detailed by Maddox, with friends and travels.Importantly, she received considerable recognition for her work; Maddox regards the notion that she was crushed by the DNA ballyhoo as ridiculous. Franklin went on to do her best work thereafter, never accepting a role as "the Sylvia Plath of molecular biology."
At once a scientific exploration and a personal history, Maddox's biography is inviting and ultimately satisfying. (16 pages b&w photos)
- HarperCollins Publishers
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