Time, Love, Memory

Time, Love, Memory (A Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior) Author Jonathan Weiner / A Borzoi Book Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc / Copyright 1999 / Hardbound, 300 Pages

This is a wonderfully written behind-the-scenes look at Science being done – wet and wild and messy and all kinds of mind-boggling.

My mind was boggled by the tenacity of scientists. Just reading about all the work that they do makes me mentally exhausted. I’ve long thought scientists were really a tough bunch ever since I watched some botanists collecting samples while hanging on a side of a slippery mountain cliff face. Hard-core!

The title of the book is deceptively simple, and yet the mysteries behind Time, Love and Memory are deep and vast and unfathomable for most of us. How do we know time? What IS time? How do we fall in love? How do we make memories? What determines what color our eyes will be, and will it also determine how we see ourselves and other people? And why do I find these fascinating?  It’s great to read about these things — I think my love of reading is also in my genes. (Though I wish I also inherited a better memory and better brain power to go along with it. Sigh.)

Author Jonathan Weiner has given his readers a great gift – a quiet seat inside the laboratories from where we can see for ourselves the unfolding stories of discoveries that have changed our world. His is an almost invisible hand that moves us along the narratives.  And I appreciate that there’s no heavy-handed voice-over lectures that some writers do to pound on the reader that “I’m so smart I understand all these”.

Instead, the way Weiner writes is that the more I got into it, I began to feel confident that even I would be able to understand all these. (Not that I did all the time, but I was not intimidated by my own limited abilities).  I was simply and naturally pulled in by the story and the technical parts became totally organic to the telling and didn’t stress me out.  The experience is more like a movie that weaves along timelines and plots and you only have to stay alert to keep pace with the many characters that come in and out.

And what characters we have in this story. The central figure of the book may not be as familiar to some of us – Seymour Benzer – but you probably know Watson and Crick. Yes, this story is set at that time, with that generation, when molecular biology and genetics were born – not too long ago really. Really.

How amazing that all these were happening when I was just placidly going through elementary school and the entire Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series. While somewhere in the world sparks of genius were being fanned into flames of new knowledge. This is what genius is, I’ve always thought – the ability to think new. I take great pleasure in reading about the genius of other people – it somehow gives me hope. Pleasure and hope – this is what good books give me.

After I read this book, I’ve been on the look out for Weiner’s other works – “The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our TIme” (for which he was awarded the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction), “The Next One Hundred Years: Shaping the Fate of Our Living Earth”, and his latest “Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality”.  My quest continues…back to the Hunt.

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