Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science by James D Watson - review by Peter Lawrence

Peter Lawrence

The Secret of Life

Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science


Oxford University Press 368pp £

Imagine a research scientist at the age of twenty-four, James (Jim) D Watson. At that age, most of his peers would be checking out which lab to begin their PhD studies in; Watson, however, had not only finished his PhD but had already shared the greatest discovery in biology of the twentieth century. In Life Story, the superb 1987 TV docudrama, the quest for the structure of DNA climaxes with a triumph, the revelation of the double helix of DNA. Afterwards, Watson is with his sister on a bridge over the river Cam. She asks him why he is so quiet. ‘I’m 24 years old,’ he says. ‘Nothing’ll ever come close again.’ Life Story was right about that. 

Jim Watson and Francis Crick had been working on and off for two years on the structure of DNA, taking advantage of the unpublished results of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins, and building their understanding, piece by piece, through incisive thinking, vigorous debate and Heath Robinson-type model-building. Watson’s best moment

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