Release Date: January 25, 2022
Rosalind Franklin has always been an outsider―brilliant, but different. Whether working at the laboratory she adored in Paris or toiling at a university in London, she feels closest to the science, those unchanging laws of physics and chemistry that guide her experiments. When she is assigned to work on DNA, she believes she can unearth its secrets.
Rosalind knows if she just takes one more X-ray picture―one more after thousands―she can unlock the building blocks of life. Never again will she have to listen to her colleagues complain about her, especially Maurice Wilkins who’d rather conspire about genetics with James Watson and Francis Crick than work alongside her.
Then it finally happens―the double helix structure of DNA reveals itself to her with perfect clarity. But what unfolds next, Rosalind could have never predicted.
Marie Benedict’s powerful new novel shines a light on a woman who sacrificed her life to discover the nature of our very DNA, a woman whose world-changing contributions were hidden by the men around her but whose relentless drive advanced our understanding of humankind.
I have to admit, I didn’t know what this book was about at all. I just knew Marie Benedict had a new book coming out, so I requested it from NetGalley based upon her reputation and my liking of The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict and Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict. I was given an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Her Hidden Genius (Amazon) in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
In 1962, Watson, Crick and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on the theoretical model of the structure of DNA as a double helix. However, as Watson would sort of admit in 1968, it was based on the back of Rosalind Franklin’s X-Ray photos. Those photos led her to be the first to suspect that DNA was a double helix and it was she who made the calculations that Watson and Crick ultimately used in their model.
Rosalind was a trail blazer in a time when most affluent women were expected to marry well and pursue philanthropic efforts. That is what her parents kept harping on her about, but Rosalind wanted to study science. So she went off to France and studied for several years under the guise of a notable French man. Her infrequent trips home lead her parents to pester her to return to England. Soon enough, she receives an offer to study in England, and it’s an offer she can’t refuse.
In France, there was a collaborative air around the laboratory; in England, it is competitive and condescending to have a woman studying alongside them. While Rosalind is put in charge of one area of study, Watson keeps trying to ingratiate himself into the work, and treats science like a race. Rosalind is having none of it.
I have to admit, the detailed descriptions of the science made my eyes glaze over a little at times, yet I understood the importance to the story. Rosalind is a feminist hero, studying in a field hostile to women, and refusing to settle down and get married to a nice Jewish man and have a family because that was what society and her family expected of her. Putting up with misogynistic men was the least of her troubles.
The fact that her very work likely gave her the ovarian cancer that would take her life at the age of 37 makes it all the more important that the world knows Rosalind’s story. I know it’s early in the year, but this might make the top of my favorites of the year. Marie Benedict once again knows how to weave a tale about an historical figure that keeps one captivated and wanting to know more. I know I’ll be picking up a biography of Rosalind the first chance I get.
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