Brian Cathcart reviews J D Bernal: the sage of science by Andrew Brown, in the New Statesman:
A couple of days after D-Day, the scientist J D Bernal, who had played an important part in planning the landings, went ashore at Arromanches himself and, catching sight of a group of French nuns, tried to engage them in conversation. In his diary he records with disappointment that his polite greeting “was received with frozen and taciturn virtue”.
The nuns were probably wise to scuttle away, for they are pretty well the only women to cross Bernal’s path in the first 250 pages of this marvellous book – blood relatives aside – whom he does not take swiftly to his bed.
Though we hear little of him today, Bernal was a globally important figure in the mid-20th century, both as scientist and political activist, and he proves a biographer’s gold mine on those terms alone. However, his sexual antics are so extra-ordinarily compulsive that they sometimes steal the show.