“A Slot Machine, A Broken Test Tube” by Salvador E. Luria

Judging a Book by the Cover

What stuck me the most before opening this book was Dr. Luria’s photo on the back cover. His alert eyes behind dark rimmed glasses, thin, pressed lips with an ironic upward curl in the left corner, his head tilting slightly backward in an air of aloofness. I thought perhaps he was not as communicative as some of the other scientist-authors whose autobiographies I had read and enjoyed. Fortunately, I was wrong.

In the first part of the book, he gave a very dry, reserved account of his personal life. However, when he started to describe his scientific research (which earned him a Nobel Prize), he became more and more animated and expressive, articulating how logic (“a slot machine”), luck (“a broken test tube”), discernment and perseverance all play import roles in good scientific research. His passion and dry sense of humor also came through strongly when he recounted his political activities, his participation in the fights against social injustice.

Dr. Luria intended his autobiography to be a confession, and indeed it was, although he remained analytical throughout and revealed his emotional life only at the very end. Upon reading it, one gains an understanding of his life, his character, his views on science, art, politics and religion, his triumphs and weaknesses, joys and sorrows. One can not help but feel sorry that such a life ended.

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