J.B.S. Haldane, scientist extraordinaire—born in Britain yet spiritually bound to India—remains one of the most enigmatic geniuses of the modern era. Here is a man who saw action in two world wars, engaged in the most radical politics of his day, conducted groundbreaking scientific research, and wrote with flair and conviction—yet Haldane’s universe remains shrouded in mystery. Award-winning author Samanth Subramanian’s latest offering undoes this travesty. Besides shedding light on Haldane’s contributions to genetics and evolutionary biology—he was the first to calculate the rate at which mutations occur and accumulate in genes—the book illuminates Haldane’s inner world—his towering intellect, his radical vision of society, his provocative philosophy, and his attempts a wrestling with the essential moral questions that scientific progress must raise. Equally, the book dwells on Haldane’s years in India—his journey to the nation; his affiliation with the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta; his attachment to the Genetics and Biometry Laboratory in Bhubaneshwar (where he died). Dronamraju’s description of Haldane as ‘the last man who knew everything’ was, at its simplest, an acknowledgement of his command over multiple subjects. But it was also an astute observation that Haldane’s era was the last time when the realms of scientific knowledge were limited enough for a single person to apprehend in near-entirety. To know everything was to see the forces of the world unified and to conceive of life in its full complexity. A Dominant Character will give readers a taste of that heady sensation.
Samanth Subramanian is a New Delhi-based journalist.His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Granta, Intelligent Life, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and several other publications. His first book, Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast, won the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Andre Simon Award in 2013. His second book, This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War, won the Crossword Non-Fiction Prize in 2015 and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize the same year. He is a co- host of the fortnightly science podcast The Intersection.
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