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Unravelling the Double Helix: The Lost Heroes of DNA

Gareth Williams

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Biography: science, technology & medicine, History of science, Popular science, DNA & Genome

An engaging and original history of the first hundred years of DNA, one of the greatest triumphs of modern science.

UNRAVELLING THE DOUBLE HELIX covers the most colourful period in the history of DNA, from the discovery of 'nuclein' in the late 1860s to the landmark publication of James Watson's THE DOUBLE HELIX in 1968. These hundred years included the advent of the Nobel Prize, antibiotics, X-ray crystallography and the atom bomb as well as two devastating world wars - events which are strung along the narrative thread of DNA like beads on a necklace.

The story of DNA is a saga packed with awful mistakes as well as brilliant science, with a wonderful cast of heroes and villains. Surprisingly, much of it is unfamiliar. The elucidation of the double helix was one of the most brilliant gems of twentieth-century science, but some of the scientists who played crucial roles have been airbrushed out of history. Others were plunged into darkness when the spotlight fell on James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin. Watson and Crick solved a magnificent mystery, but Gareth Williams shows that their contribution was to click into place the last few pieces of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle assembled over several decades.

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Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams is Emeritus Professor and former Dean of Medicine at the University of Bristol. His previous books for general readers are Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize of 2010), Paralysed with Fear: The Story of Polio and A Monstrous Commotion: The Mysteries of Loch Ness. He is a past president of the Anglo-French Medical Society and has an honorary doctorate from the University of Angers. He is often to be found playing the flute or saxophone in and around Bristol.

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