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Good Reads  Organismal to Molecular Biology  Genetics & Genomics

Rosalind Franklin The Dark Lady of DNA

Biography / Memoir
By: Brenda Maddox(Author)
416 pages, b/w photos, illustrations
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Rosalind Franklin
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  • Rosalind Franklin ISBN: 9780060985080 Paperback Sep 2003 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 2-4 weeks
  • Rosalind Franklin ISBN: 9780006552116 Paperback Apr 2003 Out of Print #147221
  • Rosalind Franklin ISBN: 9780002571494 Hardback Dec 2002 Out of Print #133997
Selected version: £16.99
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

Our dark lady is leaving us next week; on the 7th of March, 1953, Maurice Wilkins of King's College, London, wrote to Francis Crick at the Cavendish laboratories in Cambridge to say that as soon as his obstructive female colleague was gone from King's, he, Crick, and James Watson, a young American working with Crick, could go full speed ahead with solving the structure of the DNA molecule that lies in every gene. Not long after, the pair announced to the world that they had discovered the secret of life. But could Crick and Watson have done it without the "dark lady"? In two years at King's, Rosalind Franklin had made major contributions to the understanding of DNA. She established its existence in two forms and she worked out the position of the phosphorous atoms in its backbone. Most crucially, using X-ray techniques that may have contributed significantly to her later death from cancer at the tragically young age of 37, she had taken beautiful photographs of the patterns of DNA. This biography tells the story of Rosalind Franklin - the single-minded young scientist whose contribution to arguably one of the most significant discoveries of all time went unrecognized, elbowed aside in the rush for glory, and who died too young to recover her claim to some of that reputation.

Customer Reviews


Brenda Maddox graduated from Harvard and has written several biographies of Elizabeth Taylor, D.H.Lawrence, Nora Joyce and W.B. Yeats. She has two children, and is married to the editor emeritus of Nature Sir John Maddox; she is a past chairman of the Association of British Science Writers and former judge of science writing in competitions such as that of the Committee for Public Understanding of Science

Biography / Memoir
By: Brenda Maddox(Author)
416 pages, b/w photos, illustrations
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Media reviews

"A gripping yet nuanced account [...] a magnificent biography."
The Independent

"Able, balanced and well researched."

"Brenda Maddox has done a great service to science and history."
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

"A vivid three-dimensional portrait of a sciencetist and human being [...] a moving biography."
Daily Telegraph (London)

"Maddox does an excellent job of revisiting Franklin's scientific contributions while revealing her complicated personality."
Library Journal

"A finely crafted biography."

"Lively, absorbing and even handed [...] What emerges is the complex portrait of a passionate, flawed, courageous women."
Washington Post Book World

"A joy to read."
Sunday Telegraph

"A meticulous biography [...] [Rosalind Franklin] was the unacknowledged heroine of DNA, the Sylvia Plath of molecular biology."
The Economist

"Thoughtful and engaging."
Chicago Tribune

"A sensitive, sympathetic look at a women whose life was greater than the sum if its parts."
New York Times Book Review

"An excellent biography [...] Maddox's account of Franklin's last years and premature death is moving and poignant."
Women's Review of Books

"In this sympathetic biography, Maddox [...] illuminates her subject as a gifted scientist and a complex woman."
Publishers Weekly

"Maddox does justice to her subject as only the best biographers can."
Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Her photographs of DNA were called "among the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken," but physical chemist Rosalind Franklin never received due credit for the crucial role these played in the discovery of DNA's structure. In this sympathetic biography, Maddox argues that sexism, egotism and anti-Semitism conspired to marginalize a brilliant and uncompromising young scientist who, though disliked by some colleagues, was a warm and admired friend to many. Franklin was born into a well-to-do Anglo-Jewish family and was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge. After beginning her research career in postwar Paris she moved to Kings College, London, where her famous photographs of DNA were made. These were shown without her knowledge to James Watson, who recognized that they indicated the shape of a double helix and rushed to publish the discovery; with colleagues Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, he won the Nobel Prize in 1962. Deeply unhappy at Kings, Rosalind left in 1953 for another lab, where she did important research on viruses, including polio. Her career was cut short when she died of ovarian cancer at age 37. Maddox sees her subject as a wronged woman, but this view seems rather extreme. Maddox (D.H. Lawrence) does not fully explore an essential question raised by the Franklin-Watson conflict: whether methodology and intuition play competing or complementary roles in scientific discovery. Drawing on interviews, published records, and a trove of personal letters to and from Rosalind, Maddox takes pains to illuminate her subject as a gifted scientist and a complex woman, but the author does not entirely dispel the darkness that clings to "the Sylvia Plath of molecular biology."
– Publishers Weekly

"Rosalind Franklin is known to few, yet she conducted crucial research that led to one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century-the double helical structure of DNA. Because of her unpublished data and photographs, Francis Crick and James Watson were able to make the requisite connections. Until recently, Franklin was remembered only as the "dark lady" – a stereotypically frustrated and frustrating female scientist, as profiled in Watson's 1968 autobiography, The Double Helix. Maddox (whose D.H. Lawrence won the Whitbread Biography Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize) does an excellent job of revisiting Franklin's scientific contributions (to the point of overloading nonscientists) while revealing Franklin's complicated personality. She shows a woman of fiery intellect and fierce independence whom some saw as haughty, though to family and close friends she was warm and devoted. Maddox displays a unique voice in recounting Franklin's story, using letters written to family and friends for much of the text. Her voice subtly draws us in while holding us at arm's length, much like Franklin herself. By the end, the reader is bristling that Franklin should be mostly forgotten, but this biography provides some recompense. Recommended for public libraries with science collections and all academic libraries."
– Marianne Stowell Bracke, Univ. of Arizona Libs., Tucson, Library Journal

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