Former Los Angeles Times national reporter McDermott (Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It, 2006) tells the story of the driven neuroscientist Gary Lynch and his ongoing quest to discover the biochemical workings of memory.
Scientists have long been searching for the explanation of how memories are produced in the human brain and how they are stored and recalled. As McDermott explains in 101 Theory Drive—named after the street address of Lynch’s lab—Lynch has obsessively been trying to answer those complex questions for decades. With a chemist, he has also been working on drugs called ampakines, which could theoretically help improve memory function and restore the brain’s cognitive abilities—a potential boon for sufferers of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases. Starting in late 2004, McDermott spent nearly two years observing the work in the scientist’s lab. He chronicles the progress of Lynch’s research and provides an engaging portrait of the colorful but not-always-likable Lynch. The author ably explains highly technical concepts of neurology and breaks down complicated ideas in ways that general readers can easily understand. He’s equally at home describing the obsessive Lynch, who is portrayed as ambitious, brilliant and conversant on a dizzying array of subjects, but also impatient, full of self-regard and tough on his staff. The book opens with Lynch alone in his lab, annoyed that the rest of his team dared take a break between Christmas and New Year’s Day. McDermott also pays attention to key members of Lynch’s staff, such as neurophysiologist Eniko Kramar, whose workaholic devotion to Lynch’s work is described by her friends as “just short of self-destructive.”
A stirring account of how important scientific research gets done.