THE KINDLY DR. GUILLOTIN by Harold J. Morowitz


and Other Essays on Science and Life
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 More short takes (40 of them) from polymath biophysicist Morowitz (Entropy and the Magic Flute, 1993), ensconced now on the faculty at George Mason University in Virginia. The order of the essays is derived from Buddhist groupings called skandas, so that, for instance, Morowitz's ``People and Places'' section ``resonates'' with the skanda of feeling, ``Language'' with the skanda of form. Readers who already know Morowitz's pithy way with words will read the new essays as though they were letters from an old friend whose mind leaps from one thing to another as inspiration hits. Generally, his approach is to celebrate rather than denigrate. And so we stumble upon unsung heroes like the Ukrainian Ivan Puluj, who appears to have been a co-discoverer of X-rays. We learn about the real achievements of Dr. Joseph Ignace Guillotin, the 18th-century French physician and humanitarian who favored mechanical decapitation for all executions as more democratic (and merciful) than the two-class system of the noose for the hoi polloi and the ax for nobility. Some essays are purely personal and meant to charm. In ``The Proctological Truth,'' the author shares his reveries while visiting the History of Medicine Library at Yale, his nose buried in The Romance of Proctology (``I have certainly acquired a knowledge of the history of proctology that goes way beyond what cultural literacy would require of me''). While traveling in Hawaii, he explores the lore of ficus trees. And he confesses that ``for two years I was faculty adviser to the Esperanto Club of George Mason University.'' ``People and Places'' has Morowitz uncharacteristically facing off against that other celebrated scientist/essayist, Stephen Jay Gould, whom he takes to task for accusing the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin of being a conspirator in the Piltdown hoax. There is something here for nearly anyone who appreciates graceful, seasoned, casual wisdom.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-887178-49-X
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1997


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