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A book you just have to share: Dorothy Hodgkin – A Life

Book review: Dorothy Hodgkin- A life by Georgina Ferry

Last year Georgina Ferry gave a talk to Cambridge AWiSE. She has written biographies on  Dorothy Hodgkin and Max Perutz. I bought a copy of ‘Dorothy Hodgkin- A life’ and really enjoyed it. I lent it to a crystallographer friend rather than writing the review straight away (which is a positive sign in itself). So here is a view of the book that has been mmm, left to mature… As I’ve said before, I quite like to structure blog posts around 9 points:

1. As a book it works really well, avoiding many of the pitfalls of a biography. There is a good balance between Dorothy’s life story and her science. Not too much foreshadowing of the greatness to come, the linear-with-time-format works well, especially as Georgina manages to still bring a twist in the tail.
2. Dorothy’s life is totally fascinating and she comes across as totally likeable but without any saccharine.
3.  I did not know she suffered from arthritis. This made me admire her even more as she would have had no recourse to the drugs that us modern -day sufferers have!

So, what can modern day women in science learn?

4. Dorothy really followed the role model of her mother, who was politically active and pursued her own interests, which Ferry puts down to class. You don’t get the feeling Dorothy particularly went against expectations in her choice of subject.
5. Juggling family and work commitments was made easier by cheap domestic help and childcare.
6. A certain amount of adhocness of domestic arrangements shines through.
7. Science was conducted on a much smaller scale! People in the same field all knew each other well. This may have made it easier to be a woman scientist as you would be known as an individual rather than belonging to a particular category. The small scale also meant the funding was more informal and tailored.
8. Dorothy did not have a very defined career path (her appointment as Professor came several years after her Fellowship of the Royal Society). I get the impression she didn’t attach too much importance to her position as long as she could get on with her research.
9. Dorothy was very focused , knowledgeable, experienced and brilliant. But above all, she always seemed to have really enjoyed doing her science.

Tennie Videler, co-Chair

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