cover image The Fevers of Reason: New and Selected Essays

The Fevers of Reason: New and Selected Essays

Gerald Weissmann. Bellevue Literary, $19.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-942658-32-0

Weissmann (Epigenetics in the Age of Twitter), a physician and professor emeritus at New York University School of Medicine, has made his writing career exploring surprising convergence points between medical, scientific, political, and cultural history. In this uneven collection of essays—some of them stimulating and others strained—the selections are organized into sections that correspond to perennial themes in his writing, such as connections between the history of viruses and cultural phenomena; intellectual partnerships that yielded world-changing scientific innovations (e.g., Pierre and Marie Curie); and immigrants whose arrival in America changed the course of scientific thinking (e.g., Richard Dawkins). Weissmann’s project is to show how science and culture aren’t as distant as often thought, and the best of the essays are wonderfully stimulating and exciting in how they make this point. Others make flimsier connections—for example, “Lupus and the Course of Empire,” which makes the counterfactual claim that if the British royal family hadn’t suffered from lupus in the 17th century, then the United States would have a national health service. Weissmann’s confirmed admirers will be captivated anew, but newcomers may find the coincidences to which Weissmann is drawn more facile than illuminating. (Mar.)