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FEL-267727-20

Nathaniel Comfort
Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD 21218-2625)
A Biography of James D. Watson (b. 1928), American Molecular Biologist and Geneticist

Research and writing leading to the publication of a biography of James D. Watson, one of the leaders in genetic science and a controversial public intellectual.

This project is to write the first critical biography of James Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix and among the most consequential figures of recent American intellectual and cultural history. Drawing upon voluminous, often-untapped archival sources, interviews, and more than 20 years acquaintance with Watson, I will present a nuanced portrait of this complex, often troubling man. As a scientist, educator, administrator, director of the Human Genome Project, and public figure, Watson promoted the idea that DNA is the "secret of life," instilling it in the heart of science, medicine, and popular culture. But since 2007, he has become notorious for making racist comments about genes and intelligence. This book, under contract with Basic/Perseus, will set Watson’s rise and fall within the history of science and American political and cultural history, and will contribute to crucial, contemporary public conversations about genetics, health, eugenics, race, and identity.

Project fields:
Cultural History; History of Science; U.S. History

Program:
Fellowships

Division:
Research Programs

Totals:
$60,000 (approved)
$60,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
3/1/2020 – 2/28/2021