The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse: The Autobiography of Carl Djerassi

Carl Djerassi, Author Basic Books $25 (319p) ISBN 978-0-465-05759-7
The pill here is the first oral contraceptive, synthesized by the author ( The Politics of Contraception ) at age 28 in 1951; pygmy chimps were the subjects of a mid-career biomedical experiment and Degas's horse represents the delights of art collecting, to which the award-winning scientist turned in later life. Autobiography seems just another vessel for Djerassi's insatiable curiosity and intelligence, revealed elsewhere in forays into fiction ( Cantor's Dilemma ) and poetry ( The Clock Runs Backward ). General readers will enjoy the layered structure bonding such diverse elements as an exotic childhood in Australia and Albania, teenage experiences in the U.S. and nearly 50 years of business and academic success. Those looking for more sustained scientific material, however, may be put off by the anecdotal tone and haphazard blend of encounters in Africa and the Soviet Union, social life at Stanford University, three marriages and Djerassi's daughter's mysterious suicide. Shattering the cliche of scientists as one-dimensional technocrats, the book reveals a singular life with more than its share of pain, self-discovery, danger, wit, joy and irony. ( Apr. )
Reviewed on: 03/30/1992
Release date: 04/01/1992
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-465-05758-0
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