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The Bourbaki Gambitby Carl Djerassi
Synopses & Reviews
This novel, like Jurassic Park, hinges on the real-world technology incorporated in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), one of the most important breakthroughs in biomedical science. The 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry recognized the immense significance of PCR, which is a process for quickly generating and then infinitely replicating fragments of genetic material.
An impostor takes all of the credit in Carl Djerassi's fictionalized account of PCR's discovery and development. As the scientific community eventually discovers, Professor Diana Skordylis is not really one of their own, she is four of their own--three men and a woman--who publish their collaborative work under the Skordylis pseudonym. Two of them American, one Japanese, and one Austrian, they average around sixty-five years of age. Their archetype is a famous group of French mathematicians who actually have been publishing collectively for several decades under the nom de plume of Nicolas Bourbaki.
Revenge is the Skordylis group's initial motivation. Victims of subtle age discrimination, they have all seen their research budgets and faculty privileges curtailed; two have been forcibly retired. Each Skordylis project they complete, each paper they publish under her name, is a satisfying poke at a scientific community that marginalized its senior members.
But PCR is different. It is not only their best work, it is among the best work done by any scientist in recent memory. Professional jealousy soon threatens Diana Skordylis's life, as some group members struggle with the urge to claim their share of the fame and separately seek out PCR's most innovative applications.
Djerassi writes engagingly--and from experience--about the collaborative nature at the heart of the scientific enterprise and the desire for personal recognition in the hearts of most scientists; about the graying of Western science; and about the human frailties and humanistic concerns of its practitioners.
About the Author
Carl Djerassi is a professor of chemistry at Stanford University. His books include the novels The Bourbaki Gambit (Georgia, 1994) and Cantor's Dilemma; the autobiography The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse; and essay, short story, and poetry collections. Djerassi is the winner of the National Medal of Science in 1973 (for the synthesis of the first steroid oral contraceptive), the National Medal of Technology in 1991 (for novel approaches to insect control), and the 1992 Priestley Medal, the highest American award in chemistry. He is also the founder of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, an artists' colony near San Francisco that supports working artists in various disciplines.
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