Forced to Choose
Pioneering molecular biologist and president of the National
Academy of Sciences
I know that many, if not most, scientists of my generation will cite
the same two books as being the most influential in beginning the
glimmer of a dream that they might some day be a scientist. These
are Arrowsmith and Microbe Hunters. I read both of
these books when I was 15 or so. They correctly expressed the
adventure and challenges of science, with seemingly real people in
real settings. (Although Arrowsmith is fiction, it is of
course loosely based on the Rockefeller Institute of the time, with
Dubois having originally been a co-author with Sinclair Lewis). To
me, they also made scientists seem not only admirably idealistic but
also critical of an American culture that I myself found much too
materialistic. I had spent my entire life in a suburb north of
Chicago, which was very business oriented and pretty homogeneously
Republican and upper middle class. Looking back, I suppose that,
from these books, science was so attractive because it represented
to me both a path to a meaningful, productive career and an escape
from an environment that I found confusing if not intimidating.
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