A biography of J. B. S. Haldane, the brilliant and eccentric British scientist whose innovative predictions inspired Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
J. B. S. Haldane’s life was rich and strange, never short on genius or drama―from his boyhood apprenticeship to his scientist father, who first instilled in him a devotion to the scientific method; to his time in the trenches during the First World War, where he wrote his first scientific paper; to his numerous experiments on himself, including inhaling dangerous levels of carbon dioxide and drinking hydrochloric acid; to his clandestine research for the British Admiralty during the Second World War. He is best remembered as a geneticist who revolutionized our understanding of evolution, but his peers hailed him as a polymath. One student called him “the last man who might know all there was to be known.”
He foresaw in vitro fertilization, peak oil, and the hydrogen fuel cell, and his contributions ranged over physiology, genetics, evolutionary biology, mathematics, and biostatistics. He was also a staunch Communist, which led him to Spain during the Civil War and sparked suspicions that he was spying for the Soviets. He wrote copiously on science and politics in newspapers and magazines, and he gave speeches in town halls and on the radio―all of which made him, in his day, as famous in Britain as Einstein. It is the duty of scientists to think politically, Haldane believed, and he sought not simply to tell his readers what to think but to show them how to think.
Former Leon Levy Fellow Samanth Subramanian is a journalist and the author of three books: "Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast," "This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War," and his latest, "A Dominant Character: The Radical Science and Restless Politics of J. B. S. Haldane." His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, WIRED, Granta, Harper's, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, 1843-Intelligent Life, Aeon, Mint, Travel + Leisure, and Caravan, among other publications. His longer reported articles occupy the confluence of politics, culture and history, examining the impact of these forces upon life and society; his shorter pieces include op-eds, cultural criticism, and book reviews.
Carl Zimmer is the author of thirteen books about science. His next book, Life's Edge: the Search for What It Means to Be Alive, will be published in March 2021. Zimmer's column Matter appears each week in the New York Times. His writing has earned a number of awards, including the Stephen Jay Gould Prize, awarded by the Society for the Study of Evolution. His most recent book, She Has Her Mother's Laugh, won the 2019 National Academies Communication Award. Zimmer is a familiar voice on radio programs such as Radiolab and professor adjunct at Yale University.