The Man in the Monkeynut Coat
William Astbury and the Forgotten Road to the Double-Helix
Kersten T. Hall
Reviews and Awards
One of The Guardian's 2014 Books of the Year.
Shortlisted for the British Society for History of Science 2015 Dingle Prize.
"Kersten Hall's delightful biography of the Leeds biophysicist William Astbury, The Man in the Monkeynut Coat, provid[es] an excellent account of the rise of x-ray crystallography and its role in revealing DNA's structure ... Hall has written a wonderful book, with a solid sense of historical context, a clear explanation of the science behind early work in biophysics, and a charming, even playful writing style that is highly readable as well as informative." -- Isis
"Hall draws on a much wider context, integrating events of broad societal interest during the time, which makes for an engaging read. ... will leave the reader richer for the experience of having read them." -- History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
"Construction of the Watson-Crick model of DNA in the middle of the last century was a key event in scientific history. The surrounding controversies and the larger-than-life players have been widely described but continue to fascinate. By focussing on the lesser known figure of William Astbury, a pioneer in X-ray diffraction studies of biological fibres, this readable account brings a fresh interpretation and new insight. Astbury, widely regarded as a founder of molecular biology, is also shown to have had an understanding of protein structure that was ahead of its time, an understanding that helped create new textiles and a 'monkeynut' coat." --Iain Campbell, Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford
"This fascinating biography of the founder of molecular biology, the biocrystallographer William Astbury, reads like a detective story. Very rich in details, it paints a vivid picture of the scientific scene round Astbury, and reveals some unknown key aspects of the quest for the structure of DNA." --André Authier, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris
"The storyline works very well and I was gripped from the beginning to the end of the book. The author describes numerous stories that capture the human interest aspects of doing science, with its pains and its jubilations." --John R. Helliwell, University of Manchester
"In The Double Helix, James Watson wrote the Leeds scientist William Astbury out of the story of what, for many, is the greatest biological discovery of the twentieth century. With this superb book, Kersten Hall has written Astbury back in. The result is far more than the biography we have long needed of this colourful and creative pioneer of molecular biology (as Astbury was among the first to call it). In Hall's marvellously readable and deeply researched pages, the development of that science emerges as inseparable from the fortunes of the textiles industry - and from the misfortunes of a man who, like the monkeynut coat he helped to invent, disappeared into obscurity despite huge initial promise." --Gregory Radick, University of Leeds
"This is an excellent, stylish historical account of the early days of biophysics." -- Jack Cohen, The Biologist