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

3.44 of 5 stars 3.44  ·  rating details  ·  575 ratings  ·  84 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
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 7th 2005 by Random House (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...more
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...more
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
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
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.
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
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"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...more
Jason Fernandes
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'....more
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
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
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...more
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.
Leah Lucci
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...more
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...more
Hemant Katiyar
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...more
Jun 30, 2008 Christina rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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...more
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...more
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

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
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...more
Leshea Avery
While this was a very interesting read, it did plod along in several places. I vaguely remember hearing about this sperm bank in the early 1980s so it was nice to hear more about it, its founder, and the families who conceived using sperm from this project.

The author went above and beyond for the subjects of this book. He is to be commended. Unfortunately, this same care for them as people, led him to describe them in incredible detail which at times felt too much like him hammering a point home...more
Plotz's book covers the so-called Nobel award sperm bank which had a 19 year run (1980-99), and the donors, mother/applicants and babies born from that bank. Conceived as a project by a rich, eccentric entrepreneur to halt the genetic decline in America, the bank never actually produced any babies from Nobel sperm.
The book grew out of a series of articles on Slate that Plotz has been writing over the years and focuses on the personal experiences of a few known parties, through which the story i...more
Fascinating book. This scary experiment set the standard for modern sperm banks. Great read. Highly recommend.
it's interesting to read about someone who is trying to apply evolution to the human race. as a biologist, the changes graham was hoping to occur would take centuries; microevolution is exactly as it sounds. did he take this into effect?

note, there are biologists who argue we stopped evolving when agriculture and air-conditioning were invented.

it also displays the poor understanding of genetics at it's time. graham may have been smart, but i think he was poorly informed. i would like to know if...more
Michelle Mormul
What a freaky idea of eugenics that has become fairly common now.
FANTASTIC. I can't rave enough about it. Fascinating. I'd just assumed that smarter people made smarter babies just by virtue of DNA. And while you think you'd get the answer here, you find out maybe you aren't getting that answer after all. This story got me interested in a number of ancillary things, like how smart people can make very big mistakes if they're really fervent proponents of something they believe strongly in, and an examination of positive eugenics in addition to the negative eug...more
Oh, how nutty people become when they start thinking about babies. Super-brainiac babies with good teeth and radiant personalities. Eugenics and racism and mothers wanting the best for their kids, it's all here. Except, of course, the science. David Plotz does a great job with the personal side, the history, and does a magnificent job of protecting the innocent and exposing the creepy. He touches on the science of why the idea is so bizarre in the first place, but I wish there was more developme...more
The author does a good job of probing and debunking the whole idea of a genius sperm bank. Many of the details have faded since I read this, but my recollection is that this turned out to be quite a superficial enterprise once it began; very few if any Nobel winners participated, and the other "geniuses" that signed up were questionable, either in fitting the category or in their motivations. One of the stranger trips down artificial insemination lane.
Filipe Lemos
Well researched biography of a (very small) footnote in history.
Art imitates life, as this book doesn't seem be be cut out to be more than its subject.
The author tries to make the lack of interest of the subject with the sociological implications of the sperm-dad effect (not a father, not-not a father).
At some point the author becomes a real live journalist of a reality show I didn't want to watch...
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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...
Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible The Best of Slate: A 10th Anniversary Anthology Backstabbers, Crazed Geniuses, and Animals We Hate

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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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