Robert Graham, the oddball inventor and millionaire at the heart of David Plotz's book, The Genius Factory
, is the archetype for the cliché, "more money than brains." It was Graham who reckoned America was going to hell in a hand basket and the best way to halt the trend was to impregnate women with sperm donated by Nobel Prize winners and other overachievers (providing they were smart and white). Forget for the moment the not-so-thinly-veiled racism powering the whole eugenics movement that served as the backbone of Graham's Repository for Germinal Choice. Graham's super-sperm idea also conveniently overlooked the fact that the women carrying the babies would also leave a genetic imprint while ignoring the nurture-versus-nature argument. Though Plotz addresses these concepts in his book, the real reason to recommend it is its characters, the sperm bank progeny Plotz unearths through intense and covert legwork. The book's humor is also a selling point: "In abstract, donating sperm seemed fundamentally silly. But actually doing it was seductive," Plotz writes. "I had been accepted by the ultraexclusive Fairfax Cryobak! My sperm was 'well above average'! My count was 105 million! What's yours, George Clooney?" Elsewhere, Plotz writes, "By late 1980, Graham found himself presiding over a Nobel Prize sperm bank that had no Nobel Prize donors, no Nobel sperm left in storage and no Nobel babies. None of the first three women who'd been inseminated with Nobel sperm had gotten pregnant. In fact, no one inseminated with the Nobel sperm ever got pregnant. The Nobel Prize sperm bank would never produce a single Nobel baby." No matter. Graham's experiment, which did produce dozens of non-Nobel babies, was a success in one regard: it made for a heck of a story. And in Plotz's capable hands, it also makes for a heck of a book. --Kim Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
Building on a series of articles he wrote for Slate
, Plotz investigates the legacy of the Repository for Germinal Choice, a California sperm bank that was to have been stocked exclusively by Nobel laureates. Very few donors in the institution's 19-year run really had Nobels, and the one publicly acknowledged laureate was William Shockley, a notorious racist. Plotz has fun poking holes in the eugenic vision of the repository's founder, self-made millionaire Robert Graham, and his ambition to collect "the Godiva of sperm." More captivating, however, is Plotz's recounting of the efforts of the women who visited the repository to discover the identities of their donors. As he gets to know a cluster of families and donors, Plotz reaches insightful conclusions about the unforeseen emotional consequences of artificial insemination. The "reunions" his research helps bring about include the elderly scientist who adopts a grandfatherly role in a young girl's life and a teenager who takes his wife and infant son along to meet his "dad" and finds him sharing a house with Florida drug dealers. The attempt to breed genius babies may have an aura of surreal humor, but the sensitive narration always reminds us of the real lives affected—and created—through this oddball utopian scheme. B&w photos. Agent, Rafe Sagalyn. (On sale June 7)
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