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?
Summer reading? Where do you stand on 50 Shades of Grey? Have you succumbed like most of the rest of the English reading world or are you resisting and looking for something else to read? I’ve decided there are still too many tempting titles on my to-read pile to cave in to what is by all accounts not- brilliantly written light pornography…. Here is a quick round-up of books I hope may be of interest to fellow AWiSE members- and am always open to suggestions for new books to read myself!
Shades of Grey by Jasper FForde
Almost namesake of the current top 1-3 in the fiction …. This one I do recommend. It’s a great read (and incredibly well-written) about a future world where people only see part of the colour spectrum and are defined by what colour they see. It’s very clever how you get sucked into the way of thinking of this fictional society.
On to recommendations that have more to do with CamAWiSE…
Dorothy Hodgkin: a life by Georgina Ferry
Dorothy Hodgkin is a true role model for women in science as the only British female to have won a Nobel Prize for a science subject (is this really still true?). Georgina Ferry spoke at a Cambridge AWiSE event last year and she inspired me to read her biography and I loved it- I will write a review on it for this blog soon.
Jenifer Glynn: “My Sister Rosalind Franklin”.
Thurs 17th May 2012 at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.
As a chemistry undergraduate I was always subliminally aware of Rosalind Franklin, that she made an important contribution to the biological applications of x-ray diffraction but that there was some controversy though I wasn’t quite what it was all about. Doing my PhD at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge I walked past her model of tobacco mosaic virus regularly without actually realising what it was and who made it. So when the opportunity arose to invite her sister Jenifer Glynn to speak about her forthcoming book “My Sister Rosalind Franklin” it was a great opportunity to clarify those myths.
Jenifer put paid to those myths and described Rosalind’s character with clarity and obvious affection. Her talk was illustrated with a wealth of family photos showing Rosalind first as a small child with an infectious sense of humour and fun. Then as an adult on holiday in the mountains, clearly a very free spirit, enjoying climbing and long walks, attempting quite dangerous climbing trips, motoring through Europe. The picture she drew was of a fun-loving woman and a very dedicated and conscientious scientist: a picture quite at odds with the dour-sounding “dark lady of DNA.”
Rosalind’s contribution to science was not just in investigating the structure of DNA, that in itself lasted only two years. Prior to her work on DNA she made important contributions to the understanding of the structure of coal and its porosity during her time in Paris. After the work on DNA at Kings College London, which was marred by the unpleasantness of her work environment, she had success with the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus and embarked on the structure of the polio virus.
I was really looking forward to reading The Honest Look for three or four reasons but it turned out to be even more than I bargained for! I am not going to sketch the story line of this book about a young woman, freshly graduated from her doctorate, and also hope the following won’t give too much away…
The novel is lablit, literature set in a scientific lab. Jenny coined that term! Ever since my PhD I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a novel loosely based on my and colleagues’ experiences but just haven’t got the literary talent or drive to have a proper go. Luckily, Jenny does.
Professor Dame Sandra Dawson is a Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, professor of Management Studies at Judge Business School (which she pretty much founded and led for 10 years), and was the first female Master of Sidney Sussex College. She has previously worked in the civil service and as a researcher, lecturer and professor at Imperial College. She is now non-executive director of the UK Financial Services Authority as well as Oxfam.
I like to try and distill a talk I’ve listened to/ report I’ve read into a few ‘learning points’ (for historical reasons this has crystalised into 9, but I find it is just useful to have a number to whittle down to/ group into). So here are my favourite 9 points….