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The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix

Subject Area(s):  General Interest TitlesAutobiography/BiographyHistory of Science

By James D. Watson, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Alexander Gann, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Jan Witkowski, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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© 2013 • 345 pages, illus. (320 B&W), index
Hardcover •
ISBN  978-1-476715-49-0

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(Published and/or distributed in conjunction with Simon & Schuster)

  •     Description    
  •     Contents    
  •     Reviews    


The structure of DNA deduced by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953 was one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the 20th century. Fifteen years later, Watson wrote The Double Helix, his classic account of the discovery. It was something new, a description of science in action written not as a formal autobiography or a measured history, but in the voice of a brash, ambitious young man who knew the big question in biology and wanted the answer.

In this edition, Watson’s text is unchanged, but Alex Gann and Jan Witkowski have added over three hundred annotations on the events and characters portrayed, with facsimile letters and contemporary photographs, many previously unpublished. Their sources include newly discovered correspondence from Crick, the papers of Franklin, Pauling, and Wilkins, and they include a chapter dropped from the original edition.

The Double Helix is recognized by the Library of Congress as “A Book That Shaped America”. This new edition, published to mark the 50th anniversary of the Nobel Prize for Watson, Crick, and Wilkins, and the 60th anniversary of the discovery itself, adds depth and richness to one of the most famous stories in science.

The Double Helix is the best book I know about a scientific discovery—this new edition suffuses the whole with social history, fascinating documentation, photography, and cunning background research. The early fifties, the beginning of the modern age of molecular biology, spring to life.“ ——Ian McEwan, author of Atonement

The Double Helix is an extraordinary book: a thrilling, novelistic account of one of the most surprising of all scientific discoveries. This new edition draws upon a remarkable and eclectic archive of information to bring to life the stories of those who found the secret of life.“ — Matt Ridley, author of Genome and Francis Crick


Preface to Annotated and Illustrated Edition
Foreword to the Original Edition by Sir Lawrence Bragg
Preface to the Original Edition
Prologue from the Original Edition
Chapters 1–29
Epilogue from the Original Edition
The Nobel Prize
Appendix 1: The First Letters Describing the DNA Model
Appendix 2: The Lost Chapter from The Double Helix
Appendix 3: Watson and the Merck Fellowship Board
Appendix 4: Writing and Publishing The Double Helix
Appendix 5: Chargaff’s Review and the Ensuing Controversy
Photo Credits


review:  “Classic works of literature from Herodotus’s “Histories” to “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Waste Land” have received the honor of annotated editions. “The Double Helix” richly deserves admittance to this hall of fame.”
      —The New York Times

review:  “Is there ever a good reason to reissue a good story? In the case of The Double Helix, the answer is emphatically yes....The production values of the new edition are gorgeous, which adds to the fun of fully understanding the world of the protagonists and their professional and personal quests....The result is simply fabulous. This is a page-turner for the scientist and does the original work great credit. Hats off to the editors, who were inspired by Sydney Brenner to pull the history together in all of its color. There is no question that they have succeeded in delivering a work that not only memorializes and contextualizes the discovery of DNA, but does so in its own highly appreciate way....”

review:  “I’d definitely recommend this edition of The Double Helix. If you're going to read the book, this is the way it ought to be read.”
      —Boing Boing

review:  “Annotated to clear up abiding mysteries...this is a sampler of rare treats.”

review:  “The classic Double Helix (1968) is here again, this time annotated and illustrated and told in all the bold, brash, bumptious style that has become Watson’s...trademark in the intervening years....What makes this version so rewarding is the fact that editors Gann and Witkowski have wonderfully put the pursuit in context....But context also means scenery and lifestyle: the pub lunches, the girl-chasing, the films, dances, ski trips and holidays in storied mansions that Watson so adored....Readers old or new are in for a fine treat; there really has been nothing in the history of science writing comparable to Watson’s tell-all memoir.”
      —Kirkus Reviews

review:  “...adds color and context to Watson’s account.”
      —Boston Globe

review:  “...the lavish annotations in this definitive edition, with five generous appendices full of documents, open a wholly new dimension on the story....Among the many rewards that this greatly enriched edition of Watson’s famous success de scandale contains are an additional chapter (not scandalous), deleted from the original, and especially a profusion of photographs...This splendid volume, to conclude, is richly laden with instruction and entertainment for all, whether the historian, scientist or voyeur.”
      —Current Biology

review:  “Last week saw a 50th-anniversary celebration in Stockholm of the Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA’s structure....A remarkable new book, “The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix” [is] edited by Alex Gann and Jan Witkowski. The book’s text is Dr. Watson’s original and brilliant novelistic account of how the discovery was made, but Drs. Gann and Witkowski have added photos, extracts of letters and footnotes to fill out the picture, in the process vindicating almost all of Watson’s characterizations....”
      —Wall Street Journal, 2012 Holiday Gift books

review:  “Watson’s 1968 account of the race to identify the structure of DNA remains one of the best science memoirs ever written. This new annotated edition features letters, photographs and other documents from the period of Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins’s Nobel Prize-winning discovery. In one letter, Franklin confides to a friend that she finds many of her colleagues ‘positively repulsive’.”
      —Recommended books by Scientific American

review:  “...this edition adds new life with images, letters and hand-drawn diagrams.”
      —Books to delight the scientifically curious, from New Scientist

review:  “This is, simply, a must have — a collector’s item.”
      —The Scientist

review:  “Richly annotated and almost obsessively illustrated with snapshots, scanned documents, and reprintings of previously published material, the book invites a slower, perhaps more reflective reading of Watson’s page-turner. The best of the marginalia make Watson’s narrative even more vivid and clarify both the story and the science.”