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Most of the book is quite an easy read, but some of these sections seem to go on indefinitely, and they might cause at least some readers to skip them and move on to more interesting information.
While many women point to Franklin as a representative of early feminist thinking and discovery, Maddox does not use this tone specifically in her book. In fact, she delves into her Jewish background from some of Franklin's behavior that was called "difficult" by some of her colleagues. Reviewer Creager notes,
In particular, she [Maddox] explores the issues posed not just by Franklin's sex, but also by her Jewish, upper-class background. In a national context in which science seemed to provide an arena in which class did not limit one's achievement, Franklin's speech and formality struck some colleagues as aristocratic and outmoded. And although the realm of scientific research was a refuge for Jewish intellectuals, it was not completely free of anti-Semitism. The perception of Franklin as a "difficult woman," in other words, reflected cultural animosities that surpassed mere sexism (Creager).
This makes the book more well rounded, and not just a feminist treatise at a wronged woman scientist. It seems from Franklin's own writings that this is the way she would have wanted to be remembered - a scientist who made a contribution rather than simply a woman scientist. Another reviewer notes, "As a scientist Miss Franklin was distinguished by extreme clarity and perfection in everything she undertook. Her photographs are among the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken" (Mendelsohn). Thus, her real legacy, helped on by the portrayal in this book, is one of perfection and understanding, mingled with a quick wit and some insecurity thrown in. Maddox shows Franklin as an icon, but an icon with all the foibles of the human race. She often was not sure of herself, she was brilliant in science and math, and she had few close friends. She dedicated most of her life to her work, and the reader has to wonder what she might have accomplished had she lived longer.
In an interesting development not covered in the book, but discussed in other circles, Franklin's help with DNA research pointed her in a different direction than Crick and the others, and she made that distinction in notes she sent to Watson and Crick:
Rosalind Franklin, who did much of the pioneering work on DNA X-ray diffraction doubted whether DNA was necessarily helical. She wrote in her notebook in 1952 that one of the two, common forms in which DNA crystallizes (the a form) could not be a helix, and sent a note to Watson and Crick to that effect (Root-Bernstein).
Today, many scientists are questioning the double helix spiral staircase form of DNA, and it seems that Franklin also questioned the helix formation. Therefore, her research may still be timely today, and may someday help prove the DNA form Watson and the others championed may not be entirely correct, something that would fit in nicely with the alternative theme of this book, that Franklin was somewhat of a maverick whose work was never fully recognized.
In conclusion, Maddox's book is an insightful look into the life of one of the unsung scientists of American history. Franklin's life is at once sad that it was so short and incredibly inspiring for the work she accomplished during her relatively short time as a scientist. As the author notes at the end of the Preface, "The measure of her success lies in the strength of her friendships, the devotion of her colleagues, the vitality of her letters and a legacy of discovery that would do credit to a scientific career twice its length" (Maddox xix). Rosalind Franklin was a remarkable woman, and this book allows new generations to understand her importance, her legacy, and her contributions to some of our most important scientific discoveries.
Creager, Angela N.H. "Crystallizing a Life in Science." American Scientist Jan.-Feb. 2003: 64+.
Maddox, Brenda. "Diary." New Statesman 17 Apr. 2000: 8.
Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.
Mendelsohn, Everett I. "Happy Birthday, DNA! Return with Us Now to Those Thrilling Days of Discovery Fifty Years Ago This Month." Natural History Apr. 2003:…[continue]
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