Watson in The Double Helix

I have known for a very long time that DNA looks like the curled ribbon on top of birthday presents. I don’t know where I first heard the names Watson and Crick, or began to associate them with the discovery of the century, but they always remained just names to me. Those names represented Nobel Prize winners. They belonged to a world I didn’t understand.

Before cracking open The Double Helix , I acquired what I thought would be an absolutely necessary provision for my reading experience. Caffeine. I expected the words to…what is it called when they don’t leap off the page? I thought Watson’s story was going to be a sequence of dismal days spent in a lab, monotonous and depressing. I was going to counter the dullness with a large coffee.

My fears were unjustified.

I read the book quickly, all in one sitting. Watson kept the pace up, and I read faster as the race heated up. Sometimes, I disliked Watson. He seemed so darn pleased with himself. Can you blame him though? How often does a guy in his early 20s check his ego anyway?  He had good reason to be confident. He had a brilliant scientific mind, and at the same time, he could still have a riot on the weekends.  He was good at getting what he wanted. Almost effortlessly, he could manipulate the people around him.

He is unapologetic about his shortcomings, but why?  Is it an effort to be honest? Is it because he thinks his shortcomings add to his charm? Is it pure nostalgia for the best time of his life? Regardless of why he chose to be so open, his transparency acts to place the reader in the position of a close friend, his confidant. While I read the story, I was reminded of Robert Frobisher’s letters to his lover Rufus Sixsmith in Cloud Atlas. They write similarly, with wit and passion. Their descriptions of people are harsh (Eva is perhaps a parallel to ‘Rosy’) and they have an unwavering commitment to tell the good with the bad.

Upon finishing The Double Helix, James Watson’s character is, well, debatable.  However, there is no question that he is a fascinating human. And in the end, the names Watson and Crick are now much more than just names to me.

Mark Zuckerberg's story was made into a movie; James Watson made his own story into a book.


~ by marysciencewriting on March 20, 2012.

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