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The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse by Carl Djerassi (129,000 words; 26 illustrations)

This unusually wide-ranging memoir, moving from Europe to America, academia to industry, science to art, triumph to tragedy, is the idiosyncratic life story of Carl Djerassi, teenage refugee from Nazism and prodigiously gifted chemist who experimented with a local yam in Mexico, synthesized steroids and, along with Gregory Pincus and John Rock, fathered the birth control pill. In this personal, incisive account, Djerassi tells the story of an extraordinarily driven and successful scientist-businessman, who taught for decades at Stanford University while maintaining a foothold in industry, married three times, had two children, and became an art collector as well as author and playwright. He describes how he lost his only daughter to suicide and his beloved third wife, biographer Diane Middlebrook, to cancer and how he has continued to live his extraordinary life.


“Mr. Djerassi has a great deal to be immodest about… He is the very model of the scientist-businessman who knows how to turn his discoveries into commercially useful and profitable enterprises without jeopardizing his academic standing…” —
The New York Times

“Djerassi became enormously wealthy thanks to the soaring value of the Syntex stock acquired when he worked at the company... where he led the research team that synthesized the first orally active steroid contraceptive compound... and he took up art (and house) collecting. Emotionally, his life was turbulent: he married three times, and had to face the tragedy of his daughter’s suicide in 1978. His marvellous first autobiography, The Pill, Pygmy Chimps and Degas’ Horse, covers this era in his life.” — Nature

“The pill here is the first oral contraceptive, synthesized by the author at age 28 in 1951; pygmy chimps were the subjects of a mid-career biomedical experiment and Degas's horse represents the delights of art collecting, to which the award-winning scientist turned in later life… Shattering the cliche of scientists as one-dimensional technocrats, the book reveals a singular life with more than its share of pain, self-discovery, danger, wit, joy and irony.” —
Publishers Weekly

“Carl Djerassi, who is a scientist, artist, philosopher and mensch all in one, has produced the very best of scientific autobiography… Read this book.” —
Stephen Jay Gould

“I found the first few pages so interesting that for two days I neglected my work in order to read the book from beginning to end.” —
Linus Pauling, Nobel Laureate

“Delightfully unconventional… hilarious and wide-ranging.” —
Arthur C. Clarke