The week in reading 07/15

This has been a travel week and hence reading has taken a back seat. I only carry my Kindle while traveling and started reading “Rosalind Franklin. The dark lady of DNA’ by Brenda Maddox. And I must admit, that I was too tired on most evenings to read too much. While in the back seat of the car in Delhi, I seldom pick up my head from the Kindle – I find the traffic terrifying. But, on the long drives around Kutch, the country side we were traveling through was too interesting  and the traffic was so minimal, that the Kindle did not come out at all.

The life of Rosalind Franklin is fascinating. There are many scientists who have deserved, but failed to win a Nobel prize – and  she would be indisputably at the top of this list.!! For those not familiar with the field of science. She did the spade work and produced the most clear X-ray picture of the DNA molecule – which even Watson and Crick have acknowledged was crucial to their decoding the DNA ‘double helix’ structure. (They won the Nobel prize for this work). Rosalind was a brilliant physicist, who later learnt biology – but had to fight the ‘big boys club’ that was science in those days. The book gives a detailed account of Rosalind the scientist and Rosalind the person – and these were two very contrasting persons.Her friendships, her great loves, her love for the outdoor are sympathetically dealt with in an easy style. I am particularly impressed with the very simple language in which the science is described – would love to know how much of it a non-scientist would be able to grasp. For a biologist like me, the scientific descriptions were particularly interesting.

Her brilliant career was dramatically shortened by the diagnosis of ovarian cancer at the age of 36 and she died 2 years later. The rather casual and patronizing reference to Rosy (the name people used behind her back, which she hated) in James Watson’s hugely popular “Double Helix” published in 1968 brought him more derision than he probably bargained for. His remarks came to represent the misogyny that persisted in science and Rosalind has become over the decades an icon for female scientists. Crick and Watson, in the years to come, openly acknowledged her contribution. But it was too little, too late!

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