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Forced to Choose

et al., Roald Hoffmann


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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