THE PILL, PYGMY CHIMPS AND DEGAS' HORSE by Carl Djerassi

THE PILL, PYGMY CHIMPS AND DEGAS' HORSE

The Remarkable Autobiography of the Award-winning Scientist Who Synthesized the Pill

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Best known as the chemist who first synthesized the steroid oral contraceptive popularly called ``the Pill,'' Djerassi (Chemistry/Stanford; the novel Cantor's Dilemma, 1989, etc.), now 68, demonstrates once again that he's no white-coated specialist working in isolation in a lab but a colorful, even eccentric and sometimes self-indulgent man of the world--one who's got chutzpah and a sense of humor and who's deeply concerned with social issues. Indeed, this memoir is a reflection of Djerassi's idiosyncratic personality, offering a mix of serious treatises on chemistry (complete with diagrams of the chemical structure of steroids); lighthearted accounts of his mishaps abroad; thoughtful essays on birth control and world population growth; and revelations of personal tragedies and triumphs. Djerassi has drawn on previously published writings (The Politics of Conception, 1980; various short stories and poems), and many of the chapters can easily stand alone; yet somehow they all hang together, giving a picture of a brilliant, complex man whose world of science transcends geographic and political boundaries. ``Filling the gaps in an autobiography serves no more purpose than filling the holes in Swiss cheese,'' says Djerassi, who has left sizable gaps in his own story. Possibly he had in mind the show-business dictum that one should leave the audience wanting more; that certainly is the result. Any man whose autobiography weaves together stories about pygmy chimps, anti-Semitism, Alfred E. (``What--me worry?'') Neuman, cockroaches and the King of Sweden, death and poetry, and a Degas bronze horse has led a life worth the telling. Happily, Djerassi closes with the promise that he'll continue to write--in a genre he dubs ``science-in- fiction.'' A fascinating if incomplete look at a 20th-century Renaissance man. (Twenty-five photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: April 6th, 1992
ISBN: 0-465-05759-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1992




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