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Forced to Choose

et al., Roald Hoffmann


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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