Readers old or new are in for a fine treat; there really has been nothing in the history of science writing comparable to...

THE ANNOTATED AND ILLUSTRATED DOUBLE HELIX

The classic Double Helix (1968) is here again, this time annotated and illustrated and told in all the bold, brash, bumptious style that has become Watson’s (Avoid Boring People and Other Lessons from a Life in Science, 2007, etc.) trademark in the intervening years.

The book scandalized Watson’s peers, got scathing reviews from some, threats of libel from others and all but destroyed relations between Watson and his co-discoverer, Francis Crick. Of course, there was that classic first sentence: “I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood.” Reading it again does nothing to diminish the excitement of the pursuit: Watson and Crick batting ideas back and forth, reading, experimenting, consulting, making models, zealous to win out over the competition, primarily Linus Pauling at Caltech. What makes this version so rewarding is the fact that editors Gann and Witkowski have wonderfully put the pursuit in context. The footnotes and illustrations provide thumbnails of the cast of past or contemporary scientists who played a role: in London, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray crystallographic images of DNA were critical clues, or those scientists at the Cavendish lab in Cambridge, where Watson and Crick worked. But context also means scenery and lifestyle: the pub lunches, the girl-chasing, the films, dances, ski trips and holidays in storied mansions that Watson so adored. Interestingly, even at the height of battle, with the double helix almost in view, Watson needed time off to play tennis, see a film or attend parties. The book’s publication marks the 50th anniversary of the Nobel Prize awarded to Watson, Crick and Wilkins.

Readers old or new are in for a fine treat; there really has been nothing in the history of science writing comparable to Watson’s tell-all memoir.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1549-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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THE GREAT BRIDGE

THE EPIC STORY OF THE BUILDING OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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