Billed as a close study of science in the making, June Goodfield's detailed account of the work of a small, highly motivated...


AN IMAGINED WORLD: A Story of Scientific Discovery

Billed as a close study of science in the making, June Goodfield's detailed account of the work of a small, highly motivated group of research investigators clustered around an intense, creative leader, is fascinating if flawed. The fascination is both in the work itself--on cancer, iron, and the immune system--and in the facets of mind and temperament that are revealed through conversation, tapes, and letters. The flaw is Goodfield's difficulty in deciding where she herself belongs. She is sometimes interlocutor, often preacher, and always enthusiast, committed to this particular group and its innovative work. ""Anna,"" the pseudonymous leader of the group, emerges as a colorful, articulate woman, passionate in her commitment to the classic scientific search-for-truth-no-matter-what (even if it contradicts one's intuitive surmise), while equally at home in the arts and letters: a writer of poetry, admirer of Neruda's, devotee of Stockhausen and Cage. Her personal saga is extraordinary as well. Born in an affluent Portuguese family, she managed to attend medical school in Lisbon--only to realize that clinical practice was not for her. Through a series of chances, she got to London and Glasgow, and finally to New York, where she started to work on the immunology of Hodgkin's disease. (Given this much data, the adoption of pseudonyms seems both pretentious and precious.) Several intuitive leaps led her to suspect that a defect in iron metabolism might underlie the changes seen in Hodgkin's disease; and, in the face of her peers' incredulity, she set out to gather the hard evidence. The book ends on a note, if not of triumph, then at least of increasing acceptance and respect for some of her ideas. The science is sometimes hard going, but Goodfield conscientiously tries to sort it all out. Mostly, however, the book is her attempt to capture the creative process. As a portrait of Anna--who speaks eloquently about the loneliness or calm, the fears or ecstasies that attend the struggle--the book succeeds. Still, more balance, more of how-it-seemed-to-others, and more authorial perspective would have given the book a firmer foundation and springboard.

Pub Date: March 4, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1981