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The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bankby David Plotz
"[L]ively and touching....Plotz's book explores both the historical and cultural story of sperm banks and the personal stories of donors and recipients. For a country supposedly so egalitarian and welcoming of diversity, America has always been fertile ground for eugenic theories and horrific applications of them, usually on the poor, the uneducated, the mentally ill, and of course women, usually without their consent and sometimes without their awareness." Carol Tavris, the Times Literary Supplement (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)
Synopses & Reviews
It was the most radical human-breeding experiment in American history, and no one knew how it turned out. The Repository for Germinal Choice — nicknamed the Nobel Prize sperm bank — opened to notorious fanfare in 1980, and for two decades, women flocked to it from all over the country to choose a sperm donor from its roster of Nobel-laureate scientists, mathematical prodigies, successful businessmen, and star athletes. But the bank quietly closed its doors in 1999 — its founder dead, its confidential records sealed, and the fate of its children and donors unknown. In early 2001, award-winning columnist David Plotz set out to solve the mystery of the Nobel Prize sperm bank.
Plotz wrote an article for Slate inviting readers to contact him — confidentially — if they knew anything about the bank. The next morning, he received an email response, then another, and another — each person desperate to talk about something they had kept hidden for years. Now, in The Genius Factory, Plotz unfolds the full and astonishing story of the Nobel Prize sperm bank and its founder's radical scheme to change our world.
Believing America was facing genetic catastrophe, Robert Graham, an eccentric millionaire, decided he could reverse the decline by artificially inseminating women with the sperm of geniuses. In February 1980, Graham opened the Repository for Germinal Choice and stocked it with the seed of gifted scientists, inventors, and thinkers. Over the next nineteen years, Graham's "genius factory" produced more than two hundred children.
What happened to them? Were they the brilliant offspring that Graham expected? Did any of the "superman" fathers care about the unknown sons and daughters who bore their genes? What were the mothers like?
Crisscrossing the country and logging countless hours online, Plotz succeeded in tracking down previously unknown family members — teenage half-brothers who ended up following vastly different paths, mothers who had wondered for years about the identities of the donors they had selected on the basis of code names and brief character profiles, fathers who were proud or ashamed or simply curious about the children who had been created from their sperm samples.
The children of the "genius factory" are messengers from the future — a future that is bearing down on us fast. What will families be like when parents routinely "shop" for their kids' genes? What will children be like when they're programmed for greatness? In this stunning, eye-opening book, one of our finest young journalists previews America's coming age of genetic expectations.
"Building on a series of articles he wrote for Slate, Plotz investigates the legacy of the Repository for Germinal Choice, a California sperm bank that was to have been stocked exclusively by Nobel laureates. Very few donors in the institution's 19-year run really had Nobels, and the one publicly acknowledged laureate was William Shockley, a notorious racist. Plotz has fun poking holes in the eugenic vision of the repository's founder, self-made millionaire Robert Graham, and his ambition to collect 'the Godiva of sperm.' More captivating, however, is Plotz's recounting of the efforts of the women who visited the repository to discover the identities of their donors. As he gets to know a cluster of families and donors, Plotz reaches insightful conclusions about the unforeseen emotional consequences of artificial insemination. The 'reunions' his research helps bring about include the elderly scientist who adopts a grandfatherly role in a young girl's life and a teenager who takes his wife and infant son along to meet his 'dad' and finds him sharing a house with Florida drug dealers. The attempt to breed genius babies may have an aura of surreal humor, but the sensitive narration always reminds us of the real lives affected — and created — through this oddball utopian scheme. B&w photos. Agent, Rafe Sagalyn. (On sale June 7)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Mr. Plotz...writes with endearing, rueful humor....[His] kindness and sympathy are indisputable." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"The Genius Factory is a riveting account of a truly bizarre episode in American history — Robert Graham's crusade to save the human race. David Plotz has written a superb book about the quest for genius, and, ultimately, family." Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point
"I want to start a terrific writers sperm bank, and the first seed I want in the inventory is David Plotz's. Plotz has it all. He's an incredible, unstoppable reporter — unrelenting yet always fair and compassionate — and a deft, witty writer. Plotz's account of the Nobel Prize sperm bank is an absorbing, surprising, deeply human tale of deceit and megalomania, of hopes and dreams and eugenics gone wild." Mary Roach, author of Stiff
"One part detective story, one part cultural snapshot, and one part just plain weird, the tale of California's infamous Nobel Prize sperm bank is unexpectedly enthralling. David Plotz gives us the science, the business, the ambitions, and most especially the people: from founders to donors to mothers and children. A marvelous and thoroughly engaging read." Atul Gawande, author of Complications
"If it weren't so disturbingly true, The Genius Factory would be a gripping work of science fiction. David Plotz's terrific reporting uncovers one man's quest to 'improve' the species and its complex, touching, troubling, very human repercussions." Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players
"Twisted and engrossing." Esquire
"Fresh, funny, with deft profiles of singular individuals." Kirkus Reviews
The Genius Factory is the inside, never-before-told story of the Nobel Prize sperm bank, the most radical experiment in human breeding in U.S. history.
Starting in 1980, millionaire inventor Robert Graham recruited Nobel Prize winners and other accomplished men as donors to his genius sperm bank, in hopes of breeding a cadre of brilliant scientists and leaders. The Nobel sperm bank fathered more than 200 children before it closed in 1999. David Plotz recounts the history of the bank, and also tells the remarkable stories of the bank's children and donors.
He follows Tom, a fifteen-year-old boy who believes his father is Jonas Salk, as he searches the country for his real biological dad, whom he knows only by his Nobel sperm bank code name: Donor Coral. Plotz follows Donor White as he hunts for his biological daughter Joy, one of nineteen children he fathered through the sperm bank. And Plotz describes the extraordinary meetings between the bank's children and their lost fathers — the first time in American history that anonymous sperm donors and their kids have met.
The Genius Factory stands at the frontlines of the fertility revolution and previews America's coming age of genetic expectations.
This is the inside, never-before-told story of the Nobel Prize sperm bank, the most radical experiment in human breeding in U.S. history. More than 200 children were born from this sperm bank between 19801999. It is also the story of the extraordinary meetings between the children and their donor fathers.
About the Author
David Plotz is deputy editor of the online magazine Slate. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and two children.
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