A few weeks ago I asked Cooper what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve read some excellent biographies recently. First was Brenda Maddox’s Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, a fascinating account of a brilliant and determined scientist. Her X-ray crystallography photos were appropriated by James Watson and Francis Crick and used to construct their double helix model of DNA. They were awarded the Nobel Prize for this, but they failed to mention her contribution; meanwhile, she struggled to obtain research grants and access to facilities, at a time when women physicists were banned from working as instructors at Harvard and were not even permitted to set foot inside the physics building at Princeton. However, Rosalind Franklin was far more than “the Sylvia Plath of molecular biology, the woman whose gifts were sacrificed to the greater glory of the male”, and this well-researched biography paints a vivid portrait of a woman devoted to her family and friends, who loved good food and fashion and travel, and who died tragically young.Visit Michelle Cooper's website.
I also loved A. A. Milne: His Life by Ann Thwaite, about the author who had enormous success with his Winnie-the-Pooh books, then spent the rest of his life resenting being pigeonholed as a children’s writer. I’d had no idea that Alan Milne was also a gifted mathematician who won a scholarship to Cambridge, that he’d fought in the trenches in the First World War (and then, not surprisingly, became an outspoken pacifist) or that he wrote a number of popular plays and a magazine serial. His biographer does an excellent job of showing the contradictions of this intriguing man, who was ‘buttoned-up’ emotionally as a result of his Victorian upbringing, but could also be sensitive and empathetic; who was a romantic and an idealist, but also a hard-headed businessman; who was devoted to his young son Christopher Robin, but became bitterly estranged from Christopher in later life. This is the very best sort of biography – one that makes me want to track down not only Alan and Christopher Milne’s respective memoirs, but also read everything else that Ann Thwaite has written.
Writers Read: Michelle Cooper (May 2011).