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A PASSION TO KNOW: 20 Profiles in Science by Allen--Ed. Hammond

A PASSION TO KNOW: 20 Profiles in Science


Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Scribners

Yeasty interviews with scientists culled from Science 84 (or 83, etc.), edited by the magazine's founding editor. The writers are staffers or freelancers, and the luminaries range over all ages and fields: elderly astrophysicist Subramanyan Chandraeskhar, mid-career sociobiologist Robert Trivers, 40-ish neuroscientist Birgit Zipser. Included, too, are some not-quite interviews--a fine reminiscence of Kurt Godel by writer-logician Rudy Rucker, a warm appraisal of Margaret Mead by Boyce Rensberger, a fictive interview with Charles Darwin by Roger Bingham. Hammond's intent is to present creative scientists as diverse personalities distinguished by powerful drives, single-mindedness, and the willingness to go it alone. Thus Chandraeskhar's early career was all but demolished when his hypothesizing of black holes was ridiculed publicly by his mentor, none other than Sir Arthur Eddington. Yet he went on to see his ideas prevail and earn a Nobel prize. Barbara McClintock, the plant geneticist who proposed the idea of tranposition (or ""jumping"") of genes, is another case in point. Some scientists are reclusive, like Godel; others are feisty like Trivers or Michael McElroy, a specialist in planetary physics. For the most part, the cast is familiar because the scientists selected are newsmakers--Nobelists, vocal celebrities. So the interviews are lively enough though cut to a certain pattern (the lab, office, the building, the clothes, the figure, the order or disorder of the desk, etc.). Still: a worthy set of pieces that convey the spirit of contemporary science and the divergent styles of its practitioners.