Privileged Hands by Geerat Vermeij
A Scientific Life

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Synopsis

His fingers move across the surface of a shell, feeling the ridges and contours, searching for clues, gathering information unnoticed by the untrained eye.  For Dr. Geerat Vermeij's fingers are his eyes. One of the most accomplished evolutionary biologists of our time and the world's leading authority on an ancient "arms race" among mollusks, Dr. Vermeij is blind. No ordinary autobiography, Privileged Hands is the story of Dr. Vermeij's challenge and triumph. What makes his story so compelling is how he sees and what his insights reveal about the wonder of life on planet Earth. His exhaustive research of ancient and living mollusks, particularly shells, is extraordinary in its scope and perspective about how species arm themselves, compete, and survive. This is an intriguing irony for someone whose incomparable story is characterized by an unfailing determination to thrive in a sighted world and in the world of science. For Dr. Vermeij's self-portrait is also a portrait of the practice of science--his views on evolution and biodiversity, and the importance of observation are as much the story as are his family relationships, education, and position on arritmative action. Privileged Hands is provocative and intelligent storytelling: it reveals as much about our own lives as it does about this one, remarkable, scientist's life.
 

About Geerat Vermeij

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GEERAT J. VERMEIJ, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Geology at the University of California at Davis. Vermeij was born in the Netherlands and came to the United States with his family in 1955. He has received the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal by the National Academy of Sciences and was honored as a MacArthur Fellow. He has published more than two hundred scientific papers and five books and served as editor for Evolution and Paleobiology, the foremost journals in their respective fields.
 
Published August 15, 1996 by Henry Holt and Co.. 255 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Science & Math, Nature & Wildlife. Non-fiction

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The tale spans the life from early segregation in schools for the blind to undergraduate Princeton days to graduate school at Yale (which admitted him only after a skeptical department chair discovered that Vermeij had no problem identifying specimens by touch alone).

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This gets off to a slow start: the beginning section is weighted down with labored accounts of each teacher, class and playmate of the author's childhood. However, readers should persevere: this is an

Jul 29 1996 | Read Full Review of Privileged Hands: A Scientifi...

Publishers Weekly

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Vermeij, who teaches at UC-Davis, offers an interesting exploration of the ""cold war"" between crabs and snails, a classic example of parallel evolution: the claws of the former become more massive and powerful as the shells of their prey thicken to repel predators.

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