Unraveling the Double Helix covers the most colorful period in the history of DNA, from the discovery of "nuclein" in the late 1860s to the publication of James Watson's The Double Helix in 1968. James Watson and Francis Crick solved a magnificent mystery, but Gareth Williams shows that their contribution was the last few pieces of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle assembled over several decades.
Gareth Williams...has woven a truly superb narrative from short biographies of all the scientists who contributed to, and in some cases just missed out on, the epochal discovery that the secret of life is a digital linear code written on DNA ... Many of these stories of scientific also-rans and near-misses are well known. Others are not. Despite being Crick’s biographer, I did not know the story of Beighton’s photographs, nor had heard of Gulland. By choosing to fill in the gaps in conventional accounts, Williams has done a good job of telling the whole story of science’s greatest discovery. He has done it with fluency and a real feel for narrative.
...this book is anything but derivative ... Williams fleshes out that story not only with clear explanations of the science involved but also with a broad, colorful gallery of personalities ... this author has a dramatist’s ear for crafting sharp, memorable personality profiles ... the result of 500 pages of this kind of evocative, personality-driven drama is a far more involving and engrossingly readable account of DNA’s story than anything bookstores have seen since Siddhartha Mukherjee’s 2016 book The Gene. No apologies necessary for that.
With this history of how DNA’s role in cellular reproduction and inheritance was uncovered, Williams, emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Bristol, capably conveys the process of how scientific discoveries are made ... His contention that British scientist Maurice Wilkins, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for the discovery with James Watson and Francis Crick, treated his colleague Rosalind Franklin far more fairly than is usually portrayed, will be received with interest, if not necessarily agreement, by genetics buffs. For them, and popular science readers in general, this is a history well worth perusing.