Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox

Genre: biography
Format read: ebook
Rep: Jewish, women in STEM, autism coding
Rating: planchet-3

**This review contains minor spoilers**

The early part of the 1900s was not an easy time for women in STEM, even if they were exceptionally brilliant.

Rosalind Franklin had every advantage growing up–she went to a well respected grade school, where she left a year early out of sheer boredom to take up studying science at Cambridge. She came from an upper-middle class family known for it’s progressive values and charity work, which helped her not only financially, but also assisted in making the connections she would use later in her life.

A dedicated researcher, she was utterly meticulous in her study of crystals, gathering every possible piece of evidence before forming her conclusions, sometimes to the frustration of her research partners. Rigid in her habits and methodology, Roslind was not the type of person to be swayed by the opinions of other, in the lab or out of it, and it led to her making many enemies.

Despite this, however, she had many friends, and that is what makes the ultimate scientific betrayal of her career the worst: it came from two people she considered not only colleagues, but friends.

James Watson and Francis Crick are known for discovering the double helix structure of DNA. But what few people know–even after Watson’s tell-all book published in the 1960s–is that they came to their conclusions after accessing Franklin’s work through a back-door method and without her knowledge or consent.

I cheered for Rosalind through most of this book, even though I knew it would have a bad ending (spoiler: she never found out her research had been stolen, and died from cancer a few years later. This is possibly a good thing, since she never saw the way her friend Watson portrayed her in his book).

While I don’t agree with her on everything, Franklin led a fascinating life, and one that is worthy of both respect and remembrance. Like so many historical women, her contributions have been largely forgotten, except in a few small circles related to her field (Cambridge later dedicated a building in her name).

She never sought fame nor fortune, nor really to even change the world. She had her interests and wanted to pursue them, to ensure that her research was protected, and that she received credit for the work she’d done. She had little tollerance for 1920s-1950s England, where women were paid less, and limited to only 10% of college students, where they could complete the exams and class work but where not allowed to receive degrees.

Thankfully, this didn’t stop Rosalind Franklin or hundreds of women like her from studying, working, and changing the world–even if it was in their own quiet ways.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

Genre: historical
Secondary genre: adventure
Format read: hardback
Positive Rep: POC (multiple, including Middle Eastern and African), mixed race, epilepsy, LGBT+ (gay and aro/ace), autistic coding, Muslim
Series: Montague Siblings vol 2
Rating: planchet-5

Henry “Monty” Montague entered the literary world with a splash in 2017 in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. For fans of our rakish hero concerned about this second book following his somewhat dowdy and straight laced sister, Felicity, let me allay your fears: Petticoats and Piracy is just as funny, queer, and heart-wrenching as the first volume in the series.

One of my favorite bits about this book is that it ca be read as a stand alone. While the backstory and family relationships will make a lot more sense to those who have read Vice and Virtue, Felicity’s story is all her own and she makes that very clear from the beginning: She has left home, supporting herself with part-time work at a bakery while attempting to gain admittance to an Edinburgh medical school in the late 1700s, or at least obtain some sort of apprenticeship on the subject.

Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude at the time is that women are unfit for the medical field–despite the fact that Felicity has, under hazardous and far less than ideal conditions, performed surgery on multiple occasions–including stitching up her own brother’s head after his ear was sliced off in the first book. In fact, in the first ten pages we see her stitching up her boss’s hand after he cuts the tip of his finger off.

Alas, while they are good friends, Callum wants more. When Felicity tries to let him down gently, this “nice guy” accuses her of leading him on and taking advantage of his kindness. The argument, combined with her latest rejection from the medical field, finally helps Felicity reach a decision: it’s time to leave Edinburgh, and have an adventure of her own.

The book is full of plot twists and lively, eccentric characters with easily the most effortlessly diverse cast I’ve reviewed to date.

From start to finish, I loved this book. I related so hard to Felicity. While she can be narrow minded about some things–especially what it means to be female or feminine–through the course of the book she changes her opinions and grows and changes as a person. I loved seeing the development of the various characters.

And never fear–Monty and Percy also show up, and while they do feature prominently in some scenes, they are far from stealing the show.

Definitely pick up this book–and Vice and Virtue–if you have’t yet. In fact, maybe it’s time to give it a re-read.