on December 6, 2003
A good book captures the time in which it was written, and preserves that time for the future. A great book describes all times. Most of this book is great, current and pertinent a century after its first edition.
I was glad to see a scientist describe science as a personal, passionate, maybe even religious act. He describes the progress of a life in science, from young researcher, to professional, teacher, and finally retiree. At every step, he describes the emotional, social, and even spiritual value of that stage of life. Best, he speaks from an acknowledged place within the world of science.
Only a few parts of this book seem dated. Many specifics of a biologist's education have changed, though some - like the Zeiss brand name - have not. Marie Curie notwithstanding, he assumed that men would generally make or direct the real contributions. Women mattered mostly as support for the husband, though he did note that educated and professional women might be the most understanding company.
What he says about scientists is equally true about serious artists - the dedication, intellectual honesty, and rewards are much the same. His examples are nearly all drawn from the sciences, though. That may prevent artists from seeing themselves in his descriptions and prescriptions.
This book is true inspiration. I can't wait to pass it along.
on February 12, 2000
Santiago Ramon y Cajal's achievement, the neuronal doctrine -undoubtedly the foundation of all relevant knowledge about the nervous systems, including the human brain-, was not the product of teamwork, technology or fashion. It was the achievement of his educated insight and uncomparable dedication. Scholars in the field of psychology teach us that advice can be interpreted as an attempt to justify the thoughts and actions of its originator. It seems inevitable that this work should reflect Cajal's disillusions with the institutionalization of mediocrity and with the arbitrariness of academic hierarchy. Surely, today, readers in numerous parts of the world will find these commonplace. Yet, Cajal's voice sounds as loud and clear as ever as a guiding light in the obscure path of human accomplishment. It will prevent any cultured reason from originating the kind of monsters that arise from its dreams. The book will -quoting Lucian- "...ornament your soul with what concerns you most: temperance, justice, piety, kindliness, reasonableness, understanding, steadfastness, love of all that is beautiful, ardour towards all that is sublime; for these are the truly flawless jewels of the soul... for though you yourself depart from life, you will never cease associating with men of education and conversing with men of eminence".
I have returned to these pages constantly since I was in medical school.
Recommended to lay people or scientists alike of an inquisitive nature who disregard authority, distrust officiality, wish to create, and consider themselves perpetual students of men and nature. A vey useful resource, too, when things go wrong in the lab.
on July 4, 2001
Santiago Ramon y Cajal was a genius of his time, this books is an excellent description of himself and his research methods, but it is unbelievable that the translators decide NOT TO INCLUDE SOME CHAPTERS of the original! Anyone who can read Spanish should avoid this translation and go for the original
on April 14, 1999
In this brief, well composed work, Cajal- a most notable scientist in his own right, outlines his thoughts on what it takes to succeed in science. In fact he covers most of the intangable information that I seem to remember learning in graduate school. Not a bad deal, a few nights reading as opposed to 7 years of indentured servitude.
More seriously, Cajal has a clear idea of what it means to be a scientist and what it takes to be a successful practitioner. He even provides some leavity in the form of diagnosees of scientists' personalities.
All in all a good book, what he said back in the early 1900's is as true today as it was then. I plan on giving copies of it to my grad-school bound students.
on May 13, 2000
There are really no secrets...Ramon y Cajal warns us against several diseases of the will which affect research. He does that with great candour and much charm. I felt myself included in the category of "bibliophiles and polyglots", who collect more books and learn more languages than they could possibly use. Not that I changed: I just added guilt to my innocent vices! It adds to the charm that this book was written in the beginning of the 20th century when, well, wisdom was different. I wonder how the great scientist would react to the success of Marie Curie, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Lise Meitner, Countess Ada Lovelace (whom he could have met) and many other great women of science.
on September 18, 1999
Too often our science is cleaned and polished to the point that it appears logical and quite easy. This remarkable monograph gives a much clearer view of the strenuous, adventurous, and often confusing nature of actually being a pioneer. It explores the social and political nature of scientific advance in a remarkably honest way, and each chapter rings true to the ears of a practicing neurobiologist today. It has quickly become favorite reading and the subject of discussion at our university, and is a must read for anyone interested in the actual craft of doing biology.
on April 20, 1999
What a fantastic book...this advice is so germane to those involved in any kind of research. While the work is ostensibly focused on the "young" investigator, I imagine that this advice could well be heeded by those older, and some more stagnant, researchers.