Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony

Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony
by Lewis Thomas

176 pp.
SH-P, GA **


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Lewis Thomas is an uncommonly literate physician and medical administrator who has not lost his feel for biology. This volume, the third published collection of his essays, contains astute and provocative comments on a range of subjects. Five of the essays are timely statements about the inanity of the continued buildup of nuclear weaponry. He presents, with grim clarity, the absence of medical care for those whom he clearly regards as unlucky enough to survive a major nuclear war. Several essays deal with the nature of science and its appropriate place in the general culture. Another group considers various technical and social aspects of modern medicine, including a personal response to his surgery for insertion of a pacemaker. Readers with a more general interest in biology will find a clutch of' intriguing accounts of animal behavior and human biology. Thomas' fascination with the mysteries of the sense of smell leads him to make the misguided suggestion that burning leaves should be permitted. There is no guarantee that excellent exposition necessarily leads to correct positions but overall Thomas is convincing as well as interesting. More important than the content of the individual essays is how they illustrate Thomas' argument that the so-called "two cultures of science and the humanities" need not continue divided. His account of the nature of science will disarm those who suspect it. Most telling, perhaps, is how the existence of these essays displays that training and a career in science do not have to produce a technician. Thomas' writing brings together science, music, art, and literature. His favorite subject is linguistics, which is the essence of humanism, and he brings the sciences and humanities closer together--as they should be.

--Reviewed by Robert P. McIntosh in Science Books and Films, 19/4 (March/April 1984), p. 188.