Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

James D. Watson’s The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA is the author’s own account of perhaps the greatest biological breakthrough of the twentieth century. Watson describes key events and people that contributed the missing pieces to the puzzle of DNA structure. The book also is a study in human nature and the methods of science, as the author candidly examines the characters of the people with whom he worked and competed during the discovery of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Watson’s book is an excellent firsthand account of this important discovery.

The Double Helix follows a sequential format through twenty-nine brief chapters that cover the period from 1951 to 1953. The primary location for the book is the distinguished Cavendish laboratory of the University of Cambridge, England. The book begins in the fall of 1951, when Watson, a twenty-three-year-old biologist who had just received his doctorate from the University of Indiana, arrived at the Cavendish laboratory, which was headed by Nobel laureate Sir Lawrence Bragg.

Watson originally was studying chemistry and bacterial viruses at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. By chance, however, he met Maurice Wilkins of the Cavendish laboratory at a conference in Naples, Italy. He became excited about Wilkins’ search for the structure of DNA, made a good impression on Wilkins, and soon obtained permission to...

(The entire section is 490 words.)