This is a curious little book on the life and thought of Rene Dubos (originally published as part of a French series), in...


QUEST: Reflections on Medicine, Science, and Mankind

This is a curious little book on the life and thought of Rene Dubos (originally published as part of a French series), in which Escande, a French physician, plays a kind of petulant Socrates to Dubos' straight-man/elder scientist/humanist. The topics covered in their dialogue range from the nature of scientific research and discovery to problems of contemporary society--with particular reference to America, where Dubos has lived most of his life. Readers familiar with Dubos' works will find expectable variations on themes previously explored: man's interlocking relation to the environment; the necessity of looking at health and disease in the larger context of an individual's stage of life, expectations, and attitudes--embedded, moreover, in a cultural context and constrained by the natural world. In this sense, man is never free (and never free of disease), Dubos says. As always, his observations are illumined by examples drawn from art, philosophy, and literature as well as from the history of science. Dubos' personal history and contributions--the work on antibiotics and tuberculosis which gained him a lifelong niche at Rockefeller University, for example--figure here too, both in Escande's fulsome introductory remarks and, surprisingly, Dubos' often self-congratulatory comments. About Selman Waksman, awarded the Nobel prize for the isolation of streptomycin, Dubos says: ""He had helped me, but I repaid him amply, since it was thanks to my earlier work with antibiotics. . . that he was able to undertake his own work."" Or, on Pasteur: ""About thirty years ago I wrote a biography of Pasteur that has remained a classic."" Such asides, amplified by Escande's rapturous praise, are distinctly off-putting. Since the book is a translation, the reader also misses the elegance of Dubos' distinct English style. The net result is a volume which one approaches with pleasant expectation but leaves in disappointment.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1980