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From the Trade Paperback edition.
“And intriguing collection of essays . . . full of comical and thought-provoking stories.” –Psychology Today
“Quirky, absorbing and persuasive in just the way that good stories are.” –Nature
“In this superlative collection . . . scientists–who also happen to be splendid writers–discuss what first attracted them to careers in science. . . . Inspiring.” –Sci Fi Magazine
“Revealing accounts and entertaining reading.” –Science News
“Compelling . . . rather than revealing a secret formula that produces an adult scientist, this collection proves just how disparate are the ingredients. . . . Idiosyncrasies are, in the end, what gives the collection its kick.” –Discover
“Forget algebra camp–a scientist’s life can also begin with Gilligan’s Island or the James Bond movie Thunderball . . . Entertaining stories.” –Popular Science
“[An] engrossing treat of a book . . . crammed with hugely enjoyable anecdotes.” –New Scientist
Huh! Didn't that put Freud nicely in his place!
I listened and watched and took things in. I moistened the frog’s muscle with Ringer solution. I had just left school, and the plan was for me to go to Cambridge the following October, with a scholarship to read math and physics. I knew next to nothing about biology. But my grandfather had other ideas for me. He himself had started out as a mathematician, only later to discover the world of biophysics. Now, he implied, the next real challenge lay in the behavioral sciences. A few weeks later, he arranged for me to spend six months at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Plymouth as a lab assistant to his protégé, Eric Denton, where I could learn--at any rate, begin to learn--about life.
And so I went, and so I did.
The poet W. H. Auden wrote: "When I find myself in the company of scientists, I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a room full of dukes." Possibly none of us except a duke can know what it feels like to be born to be a duke. Quite special, I imagine: One would have a sense of intrinsic superiority, of rights of access and freedoms from restraint not allowed to ordinary people. But I do know as well as anybody what it feels like to be born into a dynasty of scientists. Quite special, I can confirm, and somewhat the same.
A. V. Hill, my mother's father, was a scientist in the grand mold: Nobel laureate, member of Parliament for Cambridge and Oxford Universities in the Churchill war administration, champion of intellectual freedoms and responsibility around the world. He played a crucial part in arranging the flight of Jewish scientists from Hitler in the years before the war. Throughout my childhood, at my grandparents’ house in Highgate, there were always visitors with heavy mid-European accents and twinkling smiles, in excited discussion of new discoveries--who would receive, as the years passed, Nobel Prizes of their own.
My great-uncle Maynard Keynes died when I was two, but his intellectual presence hung over our family, and his wife, the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova, with all her Bloomsbury connections, lived on as a spritely babushka. Maynard's brother, Geoffrey, was a surgeon and medical historian; his wife, Margaret, was a granddaughter of Charles Darwin.
My mother, Janet (she of the moving stomach), became a doctor and later a psychoanalyst who worked with Anna Freud. Of her brothers and sisters, Maurice (of the resounding heart) became a geophysicist whose work was central to establishing the reality of continental drift. David (of the sparking hands) became a biophysicist, who, like his father, did research on muscle. Polly (of the exposed emotions) became one of the first economic anthropologists and studied the workings of the West African cocoa trade. Both Maurice and David were Fellows of the Royal Society, an institution that Grandmother Hill--with six of her immediate family as Fellows--came to regard as her private club.
My father, John Humphrey, was an immunologist and director of the National Institute for Medical Research, where he did seminal research on antibody formation. But like others in the family he was also deeply engaged in social and political issues. He was the founder of the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons, whose offspring, the U.S.-based International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, would later win the Nobel Peace Prize. His father, Herbert Humphrey, was an engineer and inventor. We had at home a Vanity Fair portrait of Grandfather Humphrey, captioned (after one of his inventions) "The Humphrey Pump"; but the invention of which, as a boy, I was secretly prouder was a one-man "manned torpedo" he designed in the First World War for use against German ships and for which he proposed himself as the first pilot--an offer that Churchill, then at the Admiralty, declined.
My grandfather's brother, Willie, had been a brilliant mathematician at Cambridge. But he turned to the church and became a missionary in West Africa, where he ran into trouble with the natives and was beheaded (and, so we always imagined, eaten). I never knew him, but I was given the telescope with which he used to watch for the mailboat coming into Freetown harbor--and along with the telescope a pathetic telegram, sent to his sister in England by a friend after his murder, saying simply: "Willie--Gravest News--More Follows." This sister, my great-aunt Edith, had wanted to be scientist, too, but there were no openings for women at British universities in the 1890s, so she went as a doctoral student to Zurich, where she attended lectures by the great Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleyev, inventor of the periodic table. Later she became England's first female industrial chemist. She lived till the age of 103 and was a regular presence at our dinner table.
My immediate family was a large one. At home there were seldom less than ten at any meal, and during school holidays generally more. We lived in a huge house--Scottish baronial in style, with twenty-six rooms and over an acre of garden--in Mill Hill, North London, close to my father's research institute. I had four brothers and sisters and two orphaned cousins living at home, and another fifteen cousins within easy reach. We children went round in droves, stayed with one another in nearly unmanageable numbers, and met up regularly at my grandmother Hill's Sunday tea parties.
Stephen Hawking, then sixteen, came to live with us for a year while his parents were in India in 1958. Stephen was an intense, rather quizzical schoolboy, whom I remember (from my position two years his junior) as somewhat bossy. When I saw him many years later at his fiftieth birthday party in 1992, leading the dancing in his wheelchair, I reminded him of his efforts to teach my family to dance Highland reels (but I forbore to remind him of my more salient memory of him, marching up and down the hall of our house wielding a swagger stick and addressing an imaginary platoon of hapless schoolmates).
As children, we lived and breathed science, though of course we didn’t know this at the time. Our sprawling basement rooms were full of apparatus: prototype engines of my grandfather's, pumps and torpedoes, lathes and jigsaws, Meccano sets, photographic apparatus, Wimshurst electrical machines, microscopes, aquariums. We spent Saturdays running round the corridors of my father's institute. We went on outings to my uncle Maurice's observatory in Cambridge. We went on trips on the research ships out of the Marine Biology Laboratory. We accompanied Stephen's family on expeditions in search of flint arrowheads in the woods at South Mimms.
But the major event of each week was the visit to my maternal grandparents, the Hills. The company at these Sunday parties usually spanned three and sometimes four generations, with my grandfather’s colleagues and students invited to sit down with his offsprings’ offspring--highchairs on one side, wheelchairs sometimes on the other. After a formal tea of sandwiches and cakes, the grown-ups would thankfully retire to the drawing room to talk science and politics, while the children were turned out into the garden to amuse themselves (or rather the several gardens, for my grandmother Hill, who liked to have a lot of everything, had systematically bought up all the neighboring properties).
From the Hardcover edition.
|A family affair||3|
|The bungling apprentice||13|
|Mountain gorilla and Yeshiva boy||19|
|Safety in numbers||27|
|My father and Albert Einstein||35|
|A midcentury modern education||43|
|Member of the club||61|
|A strange beautiful girl in a car||71|
|How we may have become what we are||81|
|Patterns and the participant observer||91|
|Mixing it up||101|
|A childhood between realities||111|
|Dolittle and Darwin||121|
|One way of making a social scientist||131|
|Brains through the back door||141|
|The objects of our lives||145|
|Tom Swift, Jr. and the power of ideas||163|
|A day in the life of a child||171|
|Toward the worm||177|
|The everyday practice of physics in Silver City, New Mexico||183|
|The math of the real world||193|
|At large in the mountains||203|
|The making of a scientist||211|
|What I want to be when I grow up||219|
|The gift of solitude||227|