Remnants of a Quiet Life


If no one has ever made a corollary to the effect that scientists who do elegant work in the laboratory often write elegantly as well, let me do so here. A good experiment is like a poem; it aims for essence. To the list of brilliant scientist-writers who come to mind — Lewis Thomas, E.O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould — add Professor Sir Henry Harris (to give him his full due) of Oxford University.

Harris’ contribution to cell biology is immense: With one colleague, he developed the technique of cell fusion foundational to somatic cell genetics; with another, he devised the first systematic method for measuring genes along the human chromosome; with a third, he showed that certain genes are able to suppress malignancy. None of this would merit mention in a book review if he didn’t also write stories that open a world unknown to most of us — one that displays the rarefied intellectual culture of Oxford (and perhaps any great university) in all its human glory and failure.

more from the LA Times here.