Book review in 9 points: Dorothy Hodgkin- A life by Georgina Ferry

Tennie Videler (27 September 2012)

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 review of the book that has been mmm, left to mature... structured around 9 points:

A certain amount of adhocness of domestic arrangements shines through.

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?

4.       Dorothy really followed the role model of her mother, who was politically active and pursued her own interests, which Ferry puts down to class. You don’t get the feeling Dorothy particularly went against expectations in her choice of subject.

5.       Juggling family and work commitments was made easier by cheap domestic help and childcare.

6.       A certain amount of adhocness of domestic arrangements shines through.

7.       Science was conducted on a much smaller scale! People in the same field all knew each other well. This may have made it easier to be a woman scientist as you would be known as an individual rather than belonging to a particular category. The small scale also meant the funding was more informal and tailored.

8.       Dorothy did not have a very defined career path (her appointment as Professor came several years after her Fellowship of the Royal Society). I get the impression she didn’t attach too much importance to her position as long as she could get on with her research.

9.       Dorothy was very focused , knowledgeable, experienced and brilliant. But above all, she always seemed to have really enjoyed doing her science.


Sandrine Berges
Thanks for the digest, Tennie!  Re: 5 and 6 - I can confirm that this still works, at least in philosophy. I simply do not know how either I or my husband would get on without a childminder who is also a housecleaner and can make all the hours we need for a very reasonable price, and change hours at very short notice. Granted, we do have a special needs child which means that our child care arrangements are sometimes more demanding than they would be for a more typical child. But I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be as productive as I am if instead of spending my weekends enjoying my family I had to clean the house!

Blanka Sengerová
Interesting review, Tennie, and certainly a book I ought to add to my Christmas list!