A view From the Bridge

Carl Djerassi, 1923-2015

Carl Djerassi in 2004 with the American Institute of Chemists gold medal

Carl Djerassi in 2004 with the American Institute of Chemists gold medal

Chemical Heritage Foundation

Posted on behalf of Sara Abdulla 

Carl Djerassi — ‘father of the Pill’, novelist and playwright — who died last week aged 91, made more appearances in Nature’s Books and Arts pages than most epoch-making organic chemists.

Just three months ago, Alison Abbott reviewed the second volume of Djerassi’s autobiography, In Retrospect, a journey through his testy relationships and cultural experiments. She wrote, “Djerassi’s multifaceted life has been intense, high-octane and successful. The vigour of his prose suggests how much he has enjoyed it.”

Over the years, the section reviewed his plays and novels as they emerged. Of Oxygen, Djerassi’s didactic theatrical treatment of the priority scuffles over the discovery of the gas, Philip Ball noted that “it shows how little the squabblings of Priestley, Scheele and Lavoisier matter for chemistry today, and how arbitrary is any final attribution”. Jack Cohen gave a wry appraisal of Menachem’s Seed, Djerassi’s third piece of ‘science-in-fiction’, set among reproductive biologists. His fourth, NO, continued the science-of-sex theme, as well as the pedagogical approach.

By way of a few plugs for his first and best-remembered work of fiction, Cantor’s Dilemma, Djerassi even hymned a ‘lab-lit’ favourite of his own in Nature’s pages, commending The Struggles of Albert Woods, a chemistry novel by William Cooper. It is in this piece that we find his credo: “I felt that a clansman can best describe a scientist’s tribal culture and idiosyncratic behaviour”.


For Nature’s full coverage of science in culture, visit www.nature.com/news/booksandarts.


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