Friday, August 09, 2013

"There's So Much To Do:" Lives of the Scientists (Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull

"There's so much to do!" said Jane Goodall when asked the secret of her lifelong stamina.

From Goodall to Galileo, Marie Curie to Ivan Pavlov, Ibn Sina to James Watson and Francis Crick of DNA fame, famous scientists, who once gazed stodgily out of thick biographies filled with strange woodcuts and fusty oil-painted portraits, step off the pages as real people, in all their energy and ideas, with all their arcane fascinations and focus, and with all their quirks and very human selves, all alike in that one quality, an obsession with understanding how things work and their realization that "there's so much to do" for them to find out.

Author Kathleen Krull is the biographer laureate of the children's literature firmament. Author of the notable Lives of ... series, Krull once again proves her mettle in her forthcoming Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).

Krull has the knack of summarizing the core work of subjects while ferreting out those funny personal quirks that made them interestingly unique persons. Ibn Sina wrote his famous treatises on treating illness while on horseback whenever he had to;  while Jane Goodall's fascination with the chimpanzees of Africa began with her obsession with Tarzan,  trying to swing through the trees in her parents' English garden. Newton was too busy thinking all night to change clothes or to comb his hair for days, and Albert Einstein refused to waste time putting on socks.

When as a child Charles Darwin found two fascinating beetles, he popped a third into his mouth to keep it safe from the ones in each hand. (It tasted pretty bad, he reported.) Pasteur's first triumph was in solving the mystery of sick French silkworms and then discovered pasteurization while devising a way to save French wines and beer from spoiling, and with all that out of the way, he found time to discover cures for anthrax and rabies. Curie wore the same dress to the presentation of both of her Nobel Prizes, but James Watson welcomed the Nobel as an occasion to dress to the nines and get dates with good-looking women. Grace Murray Hopper, whose parents had to limit her dismantling of clocks to one at a time, went on to put together COBOL, the first widely used computer language in the world.

Krull's famous scientists step off the page as real people of imagination, spirit, and personality, yet all driven by the knowledge that "there's so much to do!"  Krull's droll cameos are set off perfectly by Kathryn Hewitt's illustrations, particularly her distinctive "bobble-head" portraits of famous scientists doing their thing.

Other books in Krull's biographical series are Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought), Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought), and Lives of the Pirates: Swashbucklers, Scoundrels (Neighbors Beware!), to name a few in this eclectic series. Her celebrated stand-alone biographies include Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman, The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth, and The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) (see my review here.)



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