In Praise of Imperfection: My Life and Work


In Praise of Imperfection: My Life and Work by Rita Levi-Montalcini

Synopsis: The author, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, recounts her childhood in Italy, her survival during the rise of Fascism, and her biological research in the U.S

Published: June 1988 | ISBN-13: 978-0465032181

Mini-bio: Rita Levi-Montalcini, was an Italian Nobel laureate, honored for her work in neurobiology. She was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with colleague Stanley Cohen for the discovery of nerve growth factor. Wikipedia

This moving autobiography tells the story of a Jewish woman growing up in Fascist Italy. Levi-Montalcini writes poignantly about her family, her youth, her schooling, and how, after Mussolini’s race laws prevented her from having a position in a university, she was inspired by the Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal to set up a bedroom laboratory in her family home. She shows us how she made her life as she wanted it to be, writing “My experience in childhood and adolescence of the subordinate role played by the female in a society run entirely by men had convinced me that I was not cut out to be a wife”. We learn how she was invited to Washington University in St Louis, Missouri for a short stay and remained for nearly 20 years. A visit to Rio was critical in her quest for the NGF, and her later success together with Stanley Cohen. She speaks of this as ”one of the most intense periods of my life in which moments of enthusiasm and despair alternated with the regularity of a biological cycle.” Explaining her title, she writes “It is imperfection – not perfection – that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain…” This is the compelling autobiography of a fiercely independent, creative woman scientist, and is an inspiration to us all. – From 10 Great Books on Women in Science

New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews Book Review
The Quarterly Review of Biology
Publishers Weekly Book Review

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