12,172 book reviews and counting...

A Dominant Character Reviews

A Dominant Character by Samanth Subramanian (Author)

A Dominant Character

The Radical Science and Restless Politics of J.B.S. Haldane

Samanth Subramanian (Author)

4.00 out of 5

3 reviews

Imprint: Atlantic Books
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Publication date: 6 Aug 2020
ISBN: 9781786492814

The bold and brilliant biography of maverick British scientist J.B.S. Haldane, one of the twentieth-century's greatest thinkers, by an award-wining author.

4 stars out of 5
16 Aug 2020

"Subramanian’s superb biography of this extraordinary man "

Subramanian summarises Haldane’s contribution as “an incandescent persona: the man who lifted the arras that hid the work of nature; the man who stepped down, into the everyday world, from his tower of ivory; the man who shrugged away convention and defied authority”. Haldane deserves a biographer who is eloquent, intelligent, fair, but unsparing and as good at explaining science as politics. Not an easy combination, but he has got one.


3 stars out of 5
James McConnachie
2 Aug 2020

"This is an intelligent and energetic book"

This is an intelligent and energetic book, but it has longueurs. Two detailed sections on Soviet biologists, and how they squared evolutionary theory with Marxism, is at least one too many. There is some brilliant phrasing (1920s Europe was “still steaming and hissing from the war”), yet somehow the book does not quite capture the heart.

5 stars out of 5
Jonathan Weiner
28 Jul 2020

"...the best Haldane biography yet. With science so politicized in this country and abroad, the book could be an allegory for every scientist who wants to take a stand. "

Subramanian, a journalist and regular contributor to The Guardian, is a strong writer, and he recounts Haldane’s communist adventures with brio: the hoarse, roaring speeches in Trafalgar Square; the admiring trip to Stalin’s Soviet Union; the tour of the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, where Haldane kicked around a bit with Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn. (He almost got them all blown up.) In London during the Blitz, Haldane designed a giant, inexpensive underground bomb shelter that he argued could save thousands of lives. These “Haldane Shelters” were never built. To Haldane that was another crime of capitalist society, and in this telling, at least, he had a case. British intelligence kept him under surveillance for more than 20 years on the suspicion — probably unfounded — that he was a Soviet spy. (In a way, as Subramanian says, MI5 was Haldane’s first biographer.)