Forced to Choose
Inventor of the birth-control pill, dramaturge and
science-in-fiction author of Cantor's Dilemma, The Bourbaki
Gambit and others
As a teenager, I was influenced by a book that has also influenced
several other budding scientists such as Joshua Lederberg, a very
romanticized or even glamorized account of medical research: Paul de
Kruif's Microbe Hunters. And as a budding graduate student,
just out of college at age 19, Louis Fieser's Chemistry of
Natural Products Related to Phenanthrene (a few years later
reissued under the title Steroids and co-published with his
wife, Mary Fieser) made an indelible impression on me. That is what
caused me to choose a Ph.D. supervisor at the University of
Wisconsin who was active in steroid chemistry, and I have
subsequently pursued research in that field for 40 or more years!
In the area of fiction, again as a teenager who had just arrived as
a refugee in the USA, I adored the early novels of Arthur
Koestler (starting with The Gladiators, which few people
know and which came out before his famous Darkness at Noon)
and especially of Aldous Huxley (Chrome Yellow, Eyeless in Gaza,
Antic Hay, Time Must Have a Stop and Brave New World).
And in my autobiography (The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas'
Horse), you will find no less than five entries to Huxley in
the index. One records a personal experience with mescaline based on
his Doors of Perception. Another demonstrates my pleasure
at having discovered that the terminology "the pill" was
really coined by Huxley in Brave New World
Revisited—something that nobody else seems to have realized.
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