An excellent book, the author is Robert Kanigel and the subtitle is The Making of a Scientific Dynasty. It is strongest on the role of mentors and lineages in scientific excellence, the radically inegalitarian and “unfair” nature of scientific achievement and also credit, and it offers an interesting look at the early days of the NIH. Here is one excerpt:
But Brodie simply saw no reason to become an expert in an area to launch a study of it. Rather, as Sid Udenfriend says, “he would just wander into a new field and make advances that people fifteen years in the field couldn’t.” Poring through scientific journals didn’t appeal to him; picking the brains of colleagues did. “He’d go up to you,” Jack Orloff remembers, “and say, ‘Tell me what you know about X and Y.’ Sometimes he’d already know a lot, but he could come across as almost stupid.” Indeed, he could seem downright ignorant, asking disarmingly simple, even hopelessly naive questions, like a child. But as one admirer notes, “He’d end up asking just the questions you should have asked ten years ago.”
Beginning around 1955, the big stir at LCP was over serotonin. (“When the experiments were good, we called it serotonin,” Brodie would later recall…”When I heard it pronounced serotonin, I knew the experiments were bad and I stayed home.”)
Martin Zatz, a veteran of Julius Axelrod’s lab and a scientist with an uncommonly broad cast of mind, was talking about mentoring and its role in science. “Are you going to talk about the disadvantage of the mentor chain?” he asked me, smiling broadly.
What’s that? “That you don’t get anywhere,” he replied, now quite serious, “unless you’re in one.”
Recommended. Why are there not more excellent conceptual books on the history of science?