James Watson and The Double Helix: There is always something more to learn, even if you were already a part of that portion of history

14 11 2012

What a better way to illustrate the phrase, “there are always two sides to every coin” than the recently released, annotated version of James Watson’s The Double Helix?  Even further, it shows that at a young, naïve and ambitious age, one can never be sure that our assumptions and conclusions are correct.

The book, now full of previously missing letters, explains a deeper back story behind the tempestuous relationship between Watson, Crick, and Franklin that is presented by the 24 year old narrator, Watson, in the original version.  The conclusions made by Watson and Crick, influenced by gossip of other colleagues (Wilkins), about Franklin were mistaken, leading to resentment and misunderstanding.  The article, “The Turn of the Screw: James Watson on The Double Helix and his changing view of Rosalind Franklin” by Maggie Koerth-Baker at boingboing.net, illustrates this nicely.  The interview with Watson is insightful and really addresses his reaction to seeing the newly discovered letters for the first time, resulting in a sort of new found respect for what Franklin was put through by 3 eager male colleagues.

The article on boingboing provides what the more general review of the book in the November 13th New York Times article, “Twists in the Tale of the Great DNA Discovery” by Nicholas Wade, is missing, an interview with the author.  I think that a similar interview would have given new life to this article, whereas now, it is a more general description of the additions to the book.  The author touches on salient and interesting points, but Watson’s changing views about people he worked with more than 40 years ago is what really grabbed my interest and influenced my decision to read the annotated version of The Double Helix.

The annotated version brings further evidence to light that Rosalind Franklin was indeed misunderstood and is under-credited for her work that lead to the discovery of the structure of DNA.  I definitely admire her strength and conviction to continue her work, though there was much opposition to her presence at King’s College, London.  I only wish that her take on the events of that time could be told, it would most certainly be a stark foil to the story presented by Watson.