Nancy Hopkins on Jim Watson, Writer
  Nancy Hopkins     Biography    
Recorded: 09 Apr 2001

This is one of the other surprising things about Jim. I think I remember when he was writing the first version of The Double Helix and, more so, the first edition of The Molecular Biology of the Gene and he often asked his students, like myself, to read these things. He would throw you these scraps of paper – and some of this stuff was really scraps and hardly sentences. And again, no matter who he threw it to, of the students, we would correct it to make it clearer. And whatever it was it would somehow end up sounding like Jim Watson. So somehow The Watsonizing style was already present. But I watched him become a great writer, you could see him getting better and better. The writing would be more final as it came to you. The first piece was thrown to you and the sentences became clearer and clearer in the writing. So I think it became an extraordinary style and it developed and he was really a great writer. An unusual style. I mean, maybe other writers wouldn’t call it that. But yes, [Jim is] a great writer. I think The Double Helix was a remarkable book. And his textbook has got this punchy, lively, attention-grabbing style that holds your interest. And stripped down, no nonsense.

Nancy Hopkins is a developmental biologist and the Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at MIT. Working under Jim Watson and Mark Ptashne, Hopkins earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1971. As a postdoctoral fellow she moved to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where she continued working under Watson researching DNA tumor viruses. In 1973 she joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in the Center for Cancer Research, where she researched the mechanisms of replication and leukemogenesis by RNA tumor viruses for 17 years.

Hopkins has also led an ongoing effort to end discrimination against women in science. In 1995 she was appointed Chair of the first Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science at MIT, and in 2000 she was appointed Co-Chair of the first Council on Faculty Diversity at MIT. Hopkins co-authored the fourth edition of Molecular Biology of the Gene. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.