THE THREAT AND THE GLORY: Reflections on Science and Scientists by P. B. Medawar

THE THREAT AND THE GLORY: Reflections on Science and Scientists

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Posthumous miscellanea from the dynamic Nobel Prize-winning immunologist (d. 1987), with an affectionate foreword by physician/author Lewis Thomas. Were Sir Peter alive today he'd probably have rearranged and edited these bits and pieces prior to publication, since he was known as a stickler for clarity and brevity. As it is, this collection of speeches, book reviews, and an interview with the BBC, put together by physician David Pyke, leaps about unpredictably in time and tends toward repetition and--particularly in the book reviews--even monotony. Nevertheless, Medawar's irrepressible, sometimes cantankerous, spirit glimmers teasingly behind these pages as he takes on issues as disparate as euthanasia, population control, and genetic engineering. The scientist, who suffered the first of a series of debilitating strokes in 1969 yet maintained a full professional and private life for nearly 20 more years, insists that preference for life takes obvious precedence over Freud's supposed death wish, and suggests that prolonging life, no matter how technological the means, can hardly be considered an unnatural act. Chiding those who worry overlong over the ethical ramifications of genetic engineering, Medawar points out that human genes are hopelessly programmed for diversity and are not easily controlled, and furthermore, since diversity is our most prized evolutionary tool, a single superior ""breed"" can hardly be made to exist. Intriguing tangents on the differences between scientific and artistic creativity (the individual discoverer is of less importance in science), relative intelligence between children from small families versus those from large ones (small families seem to breed smarter kids), etc., make for refreshing treats in an other. wise rather scattered text. Despite its weaknesses, a rewarding postscript to Medawar's more important works, One that successfully revives the scientist's insatiably curious spirit.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1990
Publisher: Harper & Row