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.