Intriguing speculations about the possible effects on world events of the genetic abnormalities of certain well-known figures. Geneticist Marion (Learning to Play God, 1991, etc.) poses such questions as: Did George III of England suffer from porphyria, and if so, how did this affect his handling of unrest in the American colonies? Was George Washington rendered sterile by XYY syndrome, and would the US have become a monarchy if he had had a son? Similarly, questions are raised about the effects on history of abnormal genes in Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, the Romanov family, and John F. Kennedy. Some of Marion's musings are on firmer ground than others: That the heir to the Russian throne had hemophilia is historical fact; it has not been established, however, that Napoleon had 17-ketosteroid reductase deficiency, a condition that compromises masculinity. Marion rejects the theory that Lincoln had Marfan syndrome, but posits the notion that he suffered from mitral valve prolapse syndrome, which gave him an awkward, gangly appearance, and that the ridicule he suffered because of his looks sensitized him to discrimination and thus shaped his views on slavery. The author asserts that Kennedy's triumph over Addison's disease spurred him on to seek high office and may have given him a sense of invincibility that led him to expose himself to an assassin's bullets. Focus occasionally wavers; the Romanov chapter wanders off into a discussion of the Anastasia story, and the Kennedy section gets sidetracked into an account of how JFK's parents dealt with the problem of their retarded daughter. Entertaining mix of fact and fancy, along with solid information about genetic disorders.
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