Haldane deserves to be better known and better understood, and this fine biography succeeds superbly in the first.



A rich biography of a central figure in the 20th-century genetics revolution.

British journalist Subramanian begins with a substantial account of the life of his subject’s father, J.S. Haldane (1860-1936), a Scottish physiologist who made pioneering discoveries on gases and respiration. His studies included harrowing experiments on himself and his young son, which endangered their lives but stimulated his son’s fascination with science. J.B.S. (1892-1964) performed brilliantly at prep school, Eton, and Oxford, with time out to serve in the trenches in World War I, where he also won praise for his bravery. After the war, he returned to academia and turned his attention to population genetics. Subramanian reminds readers that, well into the 20th century, fossils—but little else—supported Darwinian natural selection. That it seemed to operate by blind chance offended many evolutionists, and their alternative theories competed with Darwin’s. Haldane’s groundbreaking studies described natural selection as a consequence of Mendelian inheritance through mathematical expressions of concepts such as gene frequencies, mutations, recombination, genetic drift, and linkage. Haldane—and two contemporaries, Ronald Fisher and Sewall Wright—established Darwinian natural selection as the central mechanism of evolution, where it remains today. Since his breakthroughs were largely mathematical, he never attained the popularity of figures like Darwin and Mendel, and the author’s explanations, though lucid, will not change matters. Haldane became better known as a popular writer and mildly controversial as a communist. He proclaimed his sympathies in the 1930s when it was fashionable but kept them well into later life, when he continued to admire Stalin and shamefully refused to denounce Trofim Lysenko, whose nonsensical theories won over Stalin and destroyed Soviet genetics along with many talented Soviet geneticists. Subramanian delivers a sympathetic account that will interest but frustrate readers who expect geniuses to behave more rationally than others.

Haldane deserves to be better known and better understood, and this fine biography succeeds superbly in the first. (12 illustrations)

Pub Date: July 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-63424-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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