Memoir of a Thinking Radish (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
Peter Medawar uses his autobiography to try to undermine some prominent stereotypes about scientists. One of the central themes he seeks to convey in this volume is that scientists are not indifferent to, or unaware of, the world of the humanities. If there is a chasm separating the culture of science from that of the humanities, it is not clearly discernible in Medawar’s life. He takes pains to draw attention to his intense interest in literature and music, especially Richard Wagner’s operas. Indeed, one of the striking characteristics of Medawar’s writing is his ability to draw upon literary allusions to illustrate salient points about his life and thought. The title of this volume is a case in point. Believing that the lives of scientists often make unexciting reading, Medawar selected a title which was intended to convey to the reader that this book is not merely the autobiography of a scientist but of a literate person as well, familiar with the main traditions of Western thought and culture. The phrase “thinking radish” in his title is intended to link two contrasting conceptions of man’s nature: Blaise Pascal’s notion of man as a thinking reed and Falstaff’s description (in William Shakespeare’s Henry IV) of man as a forked radish.
Another prominent theme in this work is the importance of snobbery in Great Britain and the destructive effect this has on social life in that country. Although he eventually became a...
(The entire section is 2343 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
Booklist. LXXXII, May 1, 1986, p. 1271.
Library Journal. CXI, July 16, 1986, p. 77.
Listener. CXV, April 3, 1986, p. 27.
Nature. CCCXX, April 17, 1986, p. 647.
New Statesman. CXI, April 25, 1986, p. 28.
The New York Times Book Review. XCI, June 15, 1986, p. 15.
The Observer. March 30, 1986, p. 27.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXIX, April 18, 1986, p. 54.
The Spectator. CCLVI, May 3, 1986, p. 30.
Times Educational Supplement. May 9, 1986, p. 26.
Washington Post Book World. XVI, May 25, 1986, p. 5.
(The entire section is 57 words.)