Cover image for Rosalind Franklin : the dark lady of DNA
Rosalind Franklin : the dark lady of DNA
Maddox, Brenda.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, 2002.
Physical Description:
xix, 380 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH506.F72 M33 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
QH506.F72 M33 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In March 1953, Maurice Wilkins of King's College, London, announced the departure of his obstructive colleague Rosalind Franklin to rival Cavendish Laboratory scientist Francis Crick. But it was too late. Franklin's unpublished data and crucial photograph of DNA had already been seen by her competitors at the Cambridge University lab. With the aid of these, plus their own knowledge, Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the molecule that genes are composed of -- DNA, the secret of life. Five years later, at the age of thirty-seven, after more brilliant research under J. D. Bernal at Birkbeck College, Rosalind died of ovarian cancer. In 1962, Wilkins, Crick and Watson were awarded the Nobel Prize for their elucidation of DNA's structure. Franklin's part was forgotten until she was caricatured in Watson's book The Double Helix.

In this full and balanced biography, Brenda Maddox has been given unique access to Franklin's personal correspondence and has interviewed all the principal scientists involved, including Crick, Watson and Wilkins.

This is a powerful story, told by one of the finest biographers, of a remarkably single-minded, forthright and tempestuous young woman who, at the age of fifteen, decided she was going to be a scientist, but who was airbrushed out of the greatest scientific discovery of the twentieth century.

Author Notes

Brenda Maddox is an award-winning biographer whose work has been translated into ten languages. Nora: A Biography of Nora Joyce, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography, the Silver PEN Award, and the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger. Her life of D. H. Lawrence won the Whitbread Biography Award in 1974, and Yeats's Ghosts, on the married life of W. B. Yeats, was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 1998. She has been Home Affairs Editor for the Economist, has served as chairman of the Association of British Science Writers and is a member of the Royal Society's Science and Society Committee. She lives in London and Mid-Wales

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

James Watson's blockbuster The Double Helix (1968) widened recognition of Rosalind Franklin, but he presented her as a stereotyped caricature. She was a would-be beauty except for her dowdy clothes, a volatile termagant to be avoided, except that Watson wanted something she had: X-ray images of DNA. In a much-needed corrective to Watson's portrayal, biographer Maddox elucidates Franklin's vital contribution to the discovery of DNA's structure, elaborates on her scientific achievements in virology, and creates a viable portrait of her reserved but self-confident personality. The latter element is Maddox's best contribution to her portrayal, for Franklin has become a symbol of victimhood for some feminists, an unsought role that does not fit the real Franklin, Maddox suggests. Franklin advanced far in biophysics in her scant 38 years of life, encountering condescending sexism but nothing that deterred her from pursuing a scientific career. This drive was interpreted by some, such as Watson, as a peremptory manner, but other scientists adored her and wept bitterly at her death from ovarian cancer in 1958. A finely crafted biography. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly 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." (Oct. 2) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Award-winning biographer Maddox should do justice to the woman behind the discovery of the double helix, who died of ovarian cancer when she was in her thirties. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgementsp. xiii
Prologuep. xvii
Part 1
1 Once in Royal David's Cityp. 3
2 'Alarmingly Clever'p. 13
3 Once a Paulinap. 25
4 Never Surrenderp. 43
5 Holes in Coalp. 70
6 Woman of the Left Bankp. 87
7 Seine v. Strandp. 108
Part 2
8 What Is Life?p. 119
9 Joining the Circusp. 125
10 Such a Funny Labp. 141
11 The Undeclared Racep. 168
12 Eureka and Goodbyep. 190
13 Escaping Noticep. 207
Part 3
14 The Acid Next Doorp. 217
15 O My Americap. 233
16 New Friends, New Enemiesp. 249
17 Postponed Departurep. 271
18 Private Health, Public Healthp. 286
19 Clarity and Perfectionp. 295
Epilogue: Life After Deathp. 311
Notesp. 329
Bibliographyp. 353
Indexp. 368