The Search for the Double Helix

Essay by Josh DuncanCollege, UndergraduateB, December 1996

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This is an excellent story autobiography, of a brilliant scientist, James Dewey Watson, who reveals the structure of DNA. But this book is not wholly about science. Far from it. It's about a race, or game, for the one thing that separates scientists from great scientists, the Nobel Prize.

The race is among five people: Wilkins, Franklin, Pauling, and Watson and Crick. And how do you win a race of such prestige? By playing fair? Not in this case. To be the first to uncover the structure of the DNA molecule was going to take a little cheating, and we find out that Jim Watson was not the most 'honest' person. More than a few times he lies or simply twists the facts to get what he wants.

Jim Watson is a young, American postdoctoral fellow, trying to work in an English society that has many more rules, or morals, than he is used to.

The problem of not being able to work on what he is so wrapped up in, DNA, causes serious problems for him. Because as we find out in this book, when Jim Watson becomes interested in something, he sticks with it. And because of the English morals, he was not allowed to simply take over what someone else, Maurice Wilkins, had already started on.

The beginning of 'Honest Jim,' could be traced back to his getting to Cambridge, and the Cavendish Laboratory in the first place. It presented the problem of funding, as Jim was sent to England to study metabolism of nucleic acids with Herman. Watson entirely bored by Herman's studies, decided he needed to be transferred to Cambridge to work on DNA. And with a few lies to keep his funds coming, he was off to...