A geek meets the opposite sex - painfullyAlong with Francis Crick, James Watson electrified the scientific world in 1953 when they published the first explanation of the structure of DNA, the building blocks of life on earth. Watson wrote a book in 1968 detailing the quest to decipher DNA called “The Double Helix.”
This sequel, first published in hardcover in 2002, is billed as both a follow-up to that DNA discovery and a no-holds-barred account of Watson’s efforts to find a wife. We are promised, in the cover prose, inside accounts of how science is really done.
While there are a few interesting asides about the role of personal and professional jealousies in shaping science, the bulk of the book seems to demonstrate that scientists with a major discovery to their credit can spend a great deal of time traveling from seminar to conference to visiting professorship noting the details of their travels. Watson seems to suggest that he was equally interested in being where the babes were as in the science that was being done there.
And why not? Well, Watson is a good writer, but most of his prose lacks substance, be it substantial science or substantial insights about a personal quest for love. The book ranges from dull ― a long account of a transcontinental road trip during which not much seemed to happen ― to condescending ― the name-dropping reaches the point of the absurd, as when he records who of note happened to be on the same airplane during some of his travels.
His emphasis on high society also grates a bit in these egalitarian days. One would think that scientific discoveries were the province of those with social pedigrees alone, instead of scientific discovery being an entree into the social world.
Finally, I wonder what George Gamow did wrong to have been dragged into this mess? Gamow was a wonderful science popularizer akin to Steven Hawking or Isaac Asimov. His free spirit comes across in this book, but he appears to be used sometimes as more of a foil than as a central character.
This book certainly did not have to be as dull as it is. Had Watson been willing to share a bit of what he was thinking as he courted, instead of just taking notes on where he and his dates went and how he said good night without holding hands, a portrait of an intelligent, living human being might have emerged. If that sounds voyeuristic, I would suggest only that such seemed to be Watson’s original intent.
by John Hoog