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The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  698 Ratings  ·  98 Reviews
It was the most radical human-breeding experiment in American history, and no one knew how it turned out. The Repository for Germinal Choice–nicknamed the Nobel Prize sperm bank–opened to notorious fanfare in 1980, and for two decades, women flocked to it from all over the country to choose a sperm donor from its roster of Nobel-laureate scientists, mathematical prodigies, ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 10th 2006 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2005)
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Dutch optician/astronomer/naturalist, Nicolaas Hartsoeker's Essai de Dioptrique (1694) contains one of my favorite illustrations in the history of science (sorry Vesalius, De Humani Corporis Fabrica might have to take a back seat for once). What could possibly oust the masterful engravings of volumes of infinitely greater consequence? The homunculus . For those of you who don't parlez français, you needn't fear- the picture pretty much says it all.

Homunculus, Nicolaas Hartsoeker 1694

Yes, Hartsoeker peered through the microscope
Jun 11, 2012 Melki rated it it was amazing
At first it doesn't seem like such a bad idea, trying to ensure a smarter populace. Then words like "racism" and "eugenics" raise their ugly heads. People become specimens, and a whole lot of crazies begin to emerge from the woodwork.

In 1980, Robert K. Graham, a multi-millionaire who made his fortune inventing shatterproof plastic eyeglass lenses, dreamed of a race of super geniuses; the sperm of Nobel prize winners + the eggs of Mensa women = an improved human race. And voila, the Repository fo
Jul 11, 2016 Gwern rated it really liked it

Millionaire Robert Graham’s Repository for Germinal Choice (1980-1999) sperm bank was founded as a form of positive eugenics in order to encourage sperm donation by gifted men (initially Nobelists) for use in the nascent field of artificial insemination. Launched to instant infamy, it turned out to have actually struck a major chord among women seeking sperm, who were generally treated extremely shabbily by the medical establishment which when doing as it pleased, casually chose donors largely a

Leah Lucci
Jul 29, 2012 Leah Lucci rated it really liked it
Spoiler alert: not a single baby was born from a Nobel Prize winner thanks to this bank.

The bank, which started as a very thinly-veiled eugenics project, only used white sperm to inseminate heterosexual, married white women. The book goes into the history of eugenics, the weird people who made the bank a reality, and the stark contrast between the initial plans and the disappointing reality.

The author met a lot of the donors as well as the "genius babies," their mothers, and their families. In
Sarah Clark
Apr 06, 2015 Sarah Clark rated it really liked it
Part history of eugenics, part history of fertility treatment, and a heaping mystery/catfish story to uncover how this "Nobel Prize Sperm Bank" came to be and what happened to the promise of genius children. People had told me this book was funny, which it was in places, so I was surprised how wrapped up I got in the plot. Eugenics in the 1980s? Sperm banks before federal regulations? Yikes!

And then there is the philosophical, human stories that are really the base of the book. How do our genes
May 15, 2011 Peter added it
The story of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, created by a rich entrepreneur who thought that the human genome was being forever compromised because the less intelligent were still allowed to breed. Goes beyond that initial wackiness, however, to explore the children resulting from the sperm bank, what they had become as teenagers, and how they felt upon meeting their biological fathers. Brings up all kinds of complex ethical conundrums surrounding sperm donation and the children brought into this wo ...more
Maayan K
Mar 14, 2016 Maayan K rated it liked it
I picked this up from my gentleman-friend's house out of sheer boredom (we have very different taste in books), because I recognized David Plotz, the author, as one of the hosts of the Slate Political Gabfest, a podcast that I favour.

I'm honestly not sure why I read the whole thing - this is usually a topic I would devote a piece of journalism to perhaps but not a whole book. In fact, it did start as a series of articles by Plotz on Slate (he later went on to be the editor of the magazine).

Jul 24, 2015 Lauren rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfic, 2015-reads
In February of 1980, a millionaire inventor was finally able to open his dream business. After convincing himself of the intellectual decline of the human race, Robert Graham devised a way to ensure the next generation has more to offer the world: by introducing the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank. Designed with the idea that only accomplished Novel Prize Winners could donate and only women with high IQ’s could seek insemination, Graham believed he was saving humanity from its obvious downward spiral.

Dec 22, 2007 Stephen rated it it was amazing
This looks like a popular science book, or another instalment in the endless nature/nurture debate. But in fact it's a very moving story of children plentiful and their parents and vice versa. What actually struck me the most is that intelligence doesn't make you happy-unless it is of the emotional kind
Apr 07, 2010 MikeFromQueens rated it liked it
Kind of interesting in that I was new to this subject. Probably not the best way to learn about an actual "nature versus nurture" research project, though that wasn't the purpose of the sperm bank, but it fed some of my suspicions. I found it interesting in a weird kind-of way.
Apr 14, 2016 Alok rated it liked it
This book contains fascinating character portrayals of the personalities involved, including Robert Graham, the sperm bank founder, William Shockley the Nobel prize winning scientist turned eugenicist, the sympathetic Donor White, and the less sympathetic Donor Coral.

The book touches on many concepts, and some of the chapters are more convincing than others.

A lasting take home from the book are the stages of acceptance:

- Denial: This is physically impossible
- Revulsion: This is an outrage agains
Tara Cooper
Apr 05, 2016 Tara Cooper rated it it was amazing
Excellent, entertaining/thought provoking book about a sperm bank, conceived and started by the guy who made his fortune by inventing shatterproof eye glasses. He was a bit of a white supremacist, and worried about the human stock being diluted by stupid poor people, so set about trying to preserve the sperm of Noble Prize winners (and later, other bright men). He only allowed the sperm to be given to married women (no single or lesbians). The author finds some children who are the offspring of ...more
Although this book appears well researched and the subject seriously treated, there is an underlying inference that the clinic's ideals were a bit of a joke. "Great delusions" "The strange experiment" "The Nobel sperm bank may not have met the world's expectations." (These are just a quick selection from the final pages.) But then, according to the book's own admittance, before this sperm bank existed, choice was limited - eye colour if you were lucky. After the Nobel sperm bank came into existe ...more
May 27, 2009 Tricia rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 16, 2008 Robin rated it really liked it
"Just like the first Nobel sperm bank customers, we are captive to the great delusion that we can control our children, that we can make them what we want them to be, rather than what they are."

"There's nothing worse than a wish unfulfilled, except a wish fulfilled."

These two quotes sum up the gyst of what this book is primarily about. It's what happens when some baby-hungry women go shopping for superior genetic material by which to harvest the next generation of geniuses. David Plotz discusses
Jason Fernandes
May 29, 2013 Jason Fernandes rated it liked it
David Plotz says in his book The Genius Factory – Unravelling the Mysteries of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank that it was not uncommon for people to respond to the subject of his book with the assumption that it was a novel. It is not. The 'Nobel Prize Sperm Bank' was real. In fact it only closed operations in 1999.

To be fair, we should make clear from the beginning that it was the media that dubbed the enterprise 'The Nobel Prize Sperm Bank'. It's official name was 'Repository for Germinal Choice'.
May 31, 2016 Cindy rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book was suggested to me by my calendar. I have one of those book-a-day calendars that I keep at the office. I found myself looking back at the calendar throughout the day saying “Really?”. I requested the book and found myself asking the same question from start to finish. The author was inspired by his father’s outrage at this when the bank was active in the 80s. He mixes the history of this sperm bank with his interaction with the families as part of his research. I found the story very ...more
Deborah Joyner
Aug 16, 2007 Deborah Joyner rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Browsing Stanford's student bookstore, I came across this title: a curious blend of history and detective reporting and, and knew I had to read it. If you can't wait to find the book, large portions of it began as a series of articles in the internet magazine, Slate, and can be read online. Plotz's interest in the "Noble Sperm Bank" or more exactly the Repository for Germinal Choice, led to an article that encouraged people involved in the project, donors - mothers - children, to contact him. Th ...more
Mar 09, 2010 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this book on audiotape. The subject is interesting, you learn about The Noble Prize Sperm Bank, a.k.a. "The Repository for Germinal Choice", and their quest for spreading 'intellegent genes'. You also learn about the practice of eugenics, and the lives of babies produced from said clinic, their parents, the donor and the consequences of such an endevour.
The book can be a bit dry and read like a textbook at times and the author's style of describing the families reads like a poor n
Feb 18, 2014 Michelle rated it liked it
Some quite interesting history but seems dated in its fear of IVF as a form of conception. The author's bias is injected throughout in a way that seems to impact how he presents the subject. Human subjects he usually presents with humility and compassion, but he puts in snide comments or asides throughout. The portions with children tracing their Donor fathers dragged on and were not satisfying in any real way.
Jan 19, 2011 Kimberly rated it really liked it
Slightly akin to Hitler's ideology of the "master race", an erratic scientist decides to collect the sperm of "smart people" and impregnate other "smart people" to create a race of "smarter people" to be the intelligent guiding force for a "new tomorrow".

Except, some of those supposed "smart sperm donors" were actually shockingly average. The fatherless children become disillusioned when they trace their genetic linage and find that their sperm donor has 20 kids and lives in a ramshackle house
Aug 29, 2011 Hemant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thouroughly researched and documented this book is an account of the sperm bank established by Robert Graham with the sole purpose of improving the future race by donating the sperms of nobel prize winners (and High IQ males) to the women who were tested for IQ beforehand.
Robert Graham himself a genious disgusted by the mediocricity stumbled upon this idea (similar to hitler's Eugenics campaign but subtler in intesity of operation) and established the sperm bank.He was convinced that the offspri
Jun 30, 2008 Christina rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who has parents

Don't let the word "history" in the subtitle scare you. Though Plotz thoroughly recounts the sperm bank's history, he keeps it moving and interesting at every turn. He puts everything in helpful perspective. It's eye opening how new the sperm-bank industry is...and I couldn't believe some of the crazy laws that existed not so long ago calling for sterilization of the "unfit." Even the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of it once! "Genius Factor" is enlightening and entertaining in equa
Jun 16, 2013 Jane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Fascinating historical details about eugenics in Europe and the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th century that I didn't know about. While I was aware of the long history of racial discrimination against Jews, I had no idea how fertile the ground was for Hitler's seeds of eugenic craziness.

There were times the book lagged for me, but still, the contradictions in the way this sperm bank was run, and the unintended consequences that sometimes--if not often resulted--will leave me thinking for a
Ericka Clou
Fun read, but it's more history and entertainment, with many personal stories about sperm bank donors, recipients, and resulting children. It's not a science book, and as such discusses genetics very little and in very vague terms. Read if you're curious about the "Nobel Prize Sperm Bank," skip if you're not.
Bookmarks Magazine

Critics are split on whether the book, which emerged from a series of articles Plotz wrote for Slate, is better when it focuses on personal stories or when it discusses the larger issues. The light tone that Plotz takes is never disrespectful. The author's seeming ambivalence about the genetic component of intelligence, and the lack of scientific context, might leave the reader equally undecided about both the morality and feasibility of this exercise in voluntary eugenics. In any event, the sto

Nov 30, 2014 Elyse rated it it was amazing
Fascinating from several perspectives - the eugenics inspiration for the sperm bank, how everything played out in practice, history of artificial insemination, and ultimately, the human interest aspect. Compelling read, well-written with good pacing.
Nov 20, 2008 Tapestrymlp rated it liked it
Finally a non-fiction book that wasn't dry as dust and actually readable. This wasn't a stand-out book, but it was interesting and the author did a pretty good job of bringing the story to life. One of the only drawbacks was the way the book skipped around from story to story, abandoning one in the middle only to pick up the thread of that narrative several chapters later. I am pretty sure the author did that deliberately to try to create anticipation and leave the reader curious and eager to ke ...more
Jemiah Jefferson
Apr 01, 2015 Jemiah Jefferson rated it really liked it
Shelves: from-library
Engaging, witty, and heartfelt. I had this on my list for years and finally read it on a whim - I don't read a ton of nonfiction but whatever had caught my interest in the first place was totally justified. I have no personal stake in this subject, just curiosity. Well researched, well written, funny and appalling by turns.
Sep 16, 2013 Becca rated it really liked it
I picked this book up because of the provocative title, and suspected that the actual writing would not deliver the entertainment the title promised.
I was wrong. From the first page all the way through I was highly entertained. I knew next to nothing about sperm-banking when I began reading this book, but would consider myself able to share an informed opinion about the practice now.
The specific history is indeed curious, and I appreciated Plotz's ability to share it in a narrative inter-spliced
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Plotz, an American journalist, has been a writer with Slate since its inception and was designated as the online magazine's editor in June 2008.

He is the author of "The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank" (2005) and "Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned when I Read Every Single Word of the Bible" (2009).
More about David Plotz...

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“In the early 1980s, Graham worked hard to turn the Repository into a respectable business, rather than a ludicrous one: Graham's wife didn't like keeping the sperm at the Escondido estate. Not only had the house been picketed, but a Japanese trespasser had once made a run at the sperm, only to be nipped by a family dog.” 1 likes
“Like my father, Donor White could hold in his head the incompatible demands of rationality and irrationality, of facts and love.” 1 likes
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