In the years following his and Francis Crick’s towering discovery of DNA, James Watson was obsessed with finding two things: RNA and a wife. Genes, Girls, and Gamow is the marvelous chronicle of those pursuits. Watson effortlessly glides between his heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious debacles in the field of love and his heady inquiries in the field of science. He also reflects with touching candor on some of science’s other titans, from fellow Nobelists Linus Pauling and the incorrigible Richard Feynman to Russian physicist George Gamow, who loved whiskey, limericks, and card tricks as much as he did molecules and genes. What emerges is a refreshingly human portrait of a group of geniuses and a candid, often surprising account of how science is done.
This classy memoir reads like a Who's Who of 20th-century science and picks up where the author left off in his classic book, The Double Helix. In 1953, Watson, then 25, and colleague Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA, a historic achievement that won them both the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Here Watson, who quickly became an icon for biology students worldwide, gives a detailed, journal-writer's account of the aftermath, recalling with subtle humor his younger self's professional and equally pressing amorous ambitions. Professionally, the goal was to unravel the structure of a then still-mysterious molecule called ribonucleic acid, or RNA. Watson's scientific highs and lows are mingled with his adventures in academic high society, some of which have the flavor of Wodehousian lark, as when Wilson and fellow pranksters "temporarily absconded with the experimental lobsters" belonging to a boorish lecturer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod. Readers also encounter the "pope-like" figure of Caltech chemist Linus Pauling, the bongo-playing genius physicist Richard Feynman and of course Russian theoretical physicist George Gamow, the "zany," card-trick playing, limerick-singing, booze-swilling, practical-joking "giant imp" who founded with Watson the RNA-Tie Club. Reading Watson is a delight, an opportunity to breathe the rarefied air of his generation's greatest scientists and to crash a faculty cocktail party or two along the way.