JBS Haldane: The Man Who Knew Almost Everything

Ray Monk at The New Statesman:

JBS Haldane – “Jack” to his family and friends – was once described as “the last man who might know all there was to be known”. His reputation was built on his work in genetics, but his expertise was extraordinarily wide-ranging. As an undergraduate at Oxford, he studied mathematics and classics. He never gained any kind of degree in science, but he could explain the latest work in physics, chemistry, biology and a host of other disciplines. He could recite great swathes of poetry in English, French, German, Latin and Ancient Greek. A big man (another description of him is “a large woolly rhinoceros of uncertain temper”), he was unafraid to take anyone on in a fight and, equally, could drink anyone under the table.

In his lifetime (he died in 1964 at the age of 72), Haldane was very well known because of his journalism, his appearances on the radio, his bestselling books of popular science and his promotion of communism. Today, what most people know about him is often confined to the probably apocryphal story that, when asked what his studies of nature had taught him about the Creator, he replied that He has “an inordinate fondness for beetles”.

more here.