21 September, 2020

Spirit In His Genes

Biologist, pioneering geneticist, man of science, friend of India...Haldane was all this and more. This biography grapples well with a great life.

Spirit In His Genes

“I wish I had the voice of Homer/ To sing of rectal carcinoma,/ Which kills a lot more chaps, in fact,/ Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked.” This was the opening stanza of a comic poem which appeared in 1964 in the New Statesman. The man who wrote this was dying of cancer and yet the deadly disease had fai­led to repress his indomitable irr­e­verence. An exceptionally gif­ted man, John Burdon Sanderson Hal­dane, was not just a preeminent biologist who was a founder of population genetics, but also a brilliant orator, prolific science populariser and much else.

Born in 1892, Haldane’s intellect was evident at an early age when, all of four years old, he injured himself and asked the doctor whether the blood was oxyhaemoglobin or carboxyhaemoglobin! He graduated in mathematics and Classics from Oxford and wrote his first scientific paper with his father at 19. Haldane picked up many experimental skills from his father, a brilliant scientist, as also a penchant for experimenting on one’s own body.

The First World War...



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