As dramatic as The Double Hex and as absorbing as The Soul of a New Machine, Natural Obsessions explores the advanced reaches of molecular biology, the nature of the human cell, and the genes that control cancer. It unforgettably portrays some of the best young scientists in the world, the rewards and discouragements of scientific research, and the very process of scientific inquiry.
Two rival teams of eminent biologists studying oncogenesthe coils of DNA that control cancer growth in cellsare the focus of this overlong, detailed report by a New York University Graduate School instructor. One group, at the MIT-affiliated Whitehead Institute, is led by molecular biologist Robert Weinberg, portrayed here as the father figure of a bickering but close-knit tribe of underpaid graduate students and ``postdocs.'' Michael Wigler, a flamboyant, eccentric prodigy, heads the other team at the Cold Spring Harbor laboratory in New York. The significance of cancer-fighting discoveries tends to get lost here amid soul-searching, petty rivalries and tentative experiments. Scientific research, we learn, is an enterprise beset by ridiculous mistakes and false results. A fondness for solving puzzles seems to motivate these scientists more than a desire to help suffering humanity. Photos not seen by PW. (June)