The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA

Science title for high school.

Bibliographic Information: Watson, James. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. New York: Scribner, 1968.

Plot Description:
This book shows James as he definitively discovers the structure of DNA, the molecule of life. There is a little backstory on how he came to this point in his life. He introduces his teammates, especially Francis Crick. He describes the thrill of working against other gifted scientists and the bitter rivalries, as with Linus Pauling, that resulted. In the epilogue, he says that all of the members of the team may remember details differently, but acknowledges that Rosalind Franklin was a much better scientist and human than he initially thought.

Quantitative Reading Level: Lexile: 1220

Qualitative Reading Analysis:
James, in his mid-twenties, writes in the first person language of a scientist. His sentences are fifteen to twenty words, usually, and often use language that need context to understand. Some key phrases are repeated often (helical, cytosine, etc.) and are understood without context by the end of the book.

Content Area: Science-Biology

Content Area Standard:

  • CCSS for Reading for 6-12: #2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms; #4  Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context; #5 Analyze how the text structures information or ideas into categories or hierarchies, demonstrating understanding of the information or ideas; #9 Synthesize information from a range of sources; #10 Read and comprehend science/technical texts in appropriate grades.
  • CCSS for Writing for 6-12: #9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • CCSS for Language 6-12: #3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening; #4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases.

Curriculum suggestions:
This is a fascinating science book, and should be used in conjunction with a biology lesson teaching about DNA. It is best suited to 9th grade and above. It is a surprisingly honest account of discovery. It should be read with other accounts by the scientists who James worked with, due to the controversy over his general exclusion of Rosalind Franklin.


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