by Ben Carson, Cecil Murphey, & Candy Carson
Reviewed by Bret Peterson, Ph.D.
Because becoming a scientist or a surgeon is always difficult, stories of success in spite of adversity can provide an inspirational, engaging read. Recent examples include a magazine profile of geneticist Mario R. Capecchi and an autobiographical book by pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
The August, 1999 issue of Scientific American profiled Capecchi, who is responsible for developing techniques allowing targeted insertion and deletion of genes in mice. His life is fascinating not only in terms of his professional accomplishments but in terms of what he overcame in his youth before reaching such a high level of success. Capecchi was a boy in northern Italy during World War II and ended up living on the streets alone. His nutrition was so bad that he is much shorter today than he would otherwise have been predicted to be. After the war, he came to America and entered school at the age of nine with little education and knowing no English. Despite this inauspicious beginning, Carpecchi attended graduate school at Harvard and went on to become a renowned scientist.
Ben Carson also came from humble beginnings, and he and ghostwriter Cecil Murphy describe Carson’s journey to become a famous pediatric neurosurgeon in Gifted Hands — The Ben Carson Story. Carson’s mother was the center of his early life. Through her strength, determination, and intelligence, and despite little education and a struggle with mental illness, she was able to instill a strong work ethic within her son and taught him to set high expectations for himself. At each level of his academic career, Carson started as an average or below-average performer. But after much hard work, he always eventually moved up through the ranks to emerge at the top.