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Dancing Naked in the Mind Field

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,090 ratings  ·  145 reviews
Here is a multidimensional playland of ideas from the world's most eccentric Nobel-Prize winning scientist. Kary Mullis is legendary for his invention of PCR, which redefined the world of DNA, genetics, and forensic science. He is also a surfer, a veteran of Berkeley in the sixties, and perhaps the only Nobel laureate to describe a possible encounter with aliens. A scienti ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published January 4th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1998)
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Average rating 3.81  · 
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 ·  1,090 ratings  ·  145 reviews

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Jun 27, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
tl;dr: trolling is a art

The problem with ebooks is that you can't throw them against the wall. In this case of Mullis' autobiography, or rather loose collection of essays, I wanted to do exactly that about 5 times - it has been a long time since I've been this physically angry at a book.

The first quarter of the book is alright - he details how he perfected PCR, how he got the Nobel Prize for that, etc. The one thing that starts to annoy is his constant drive to portray hi
(review originally written for Bookslut)

It is widely accepted in the scientific community that Kary Mullis is a kook. Which is a rather odd reaction to a man who has won a Nobel Prize in chemistry and who invented PCR, a tool that not many microbiologists or biochemists would happily live without. But I suppose that it's to be expected, as most press attention that Kary Mullis receives is not centered around his scientific achievements, but rather around his passion for surfing, his
Jul 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
My uncle lent me this book and told me that, in his scientific opinion, Kary Mullis will be as famous as Einstein a century from now. I figured that would be a book worth reading; it didn't disappoint, but it did provoke.

There is an entire chapter that talks about horoscopes. Mullis describes his sign as one that comes on strong and then backs off. That is EXACTLY how this book is. About 10 pages in, I was ready to throw the book across the room and give it negative stars; Mullis is
Feb 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction
This was an interesting book in parts. The writer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1993 and the book was published in 1998. Some of the content is fascinating, but much is very dated and some is just plain weird. For example, the author mocks the link between the burning of fossil fuels and climate change, and the link between HIV and AIDS. He believes in astrology, writes a lot about his use of LSD and other drugs, once saw a glowing green raccoon while not under the influence, and ...more
Apr 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Environmentalists, scientists, and anyone in bio or chem related fields.
Shelves: non-fiction
This would be the second somewhat autobiographical book I've read involving a Nobel laureate, and the two are vastly different. Mullis is a serious hippie kid who experimented with mind-altering drugs and has the utmost disdain for his own scientific community, not to mention a delightfully caustic wit for (in my opinion) the majority of the world. He's entertaining is you're a fan of debunking scientific myths, the bitter rants of a biochemist, or the O.J. Simpson trial (of which he was nearly ...more
Apr 07, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
It wasn't as funny as I thought it would be from reading all the reviews.

And I just couldn't accept many of his views. His AIDS denialism, believing in astrology and denying that global warming is taking place. Since the book was written in 1998, I wonder if he has changed his mind of some of his views, seeing that there had been more evidence supporting these issues.

The few chapters he wrote on AIDS was absolutely horrible. You can almost say that he has no clue as to wh
Sep 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: scientists, Carla, anyone in scientific field, everyone else
This guy is my new hero.

So I just finished Mind Field(Sunday 16SEP07) and it was so awesome, I would give it an additional star if I could. This is a truly remarkable book written by an extremely intelligent, eccentric, and keenly observant individual. Be sure to to read the dedication, despite the author's admitted wanderlust, it is quite sweet. I have to include some of the last words in the book, found them very moving:

The appropriate demeanor for a human is to feel lu
Sep 23, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is just short enough for me to call it entertaining. My assessment of Mullis is that he is brilliant but bat shit insane. Take everything he says with .1 moles of NaCl.
Pat Cummings
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
I knew The Emperor of Scent was jogging my memory about something, and finally recalled the flavor of thought from Nobel Laureate Kary Mullis' autobiographical Dancing in the Mind Field . There it was again—that joyful sense of discovery you remember from your childhood explorations of the world, the belief that you can learn it all if you just keep your eyes and mind open.

Of course, not many of us have childhood memories that include compounding tear gas or keeping laboratory refrigerators stocked wi
Ken Householder
Aug 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Hilarious and informative. This book contains some of the most entertaining stories from one of the greatest minds of the 20th century and it goes on to challenge some very large assumptions we make about the world around us. From LSD to global warming and HIV.
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Here we have a true scientist in the real sense of the word. He bases his findings on valid research, not just what most people accept as a theory. He has a valid question that no scientist can satisfactorily answer: Where can he find any reference on the claim that HIV is the probable cause of AIDS? No one can answer this and there is no research or findings to support the claim, yet many PhD scientists get angry at any other suggestion. The book is utter brilliance, including his views on astr ...more
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
The LSD fueled meanderings of an arrogant man
Mar 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, science
Should one wait for tenure or winning the Nobel Prize to become controversial? You can become anytime, but then you may wait longer for honors, seems to be the answer of Kary Mullis, the Nobel prize laureate in Chemistry that propelled DNA research by discovering the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Kary seems to be at odds with public and political beliefs and the ones of the scientific establishment. He implies that many ideas that the scientific community dismisses could be further investigat ...more
J.G. Keely
From a consummate genius; developer of PCR; a bit of a strange man. It was lovely to see a person with a passionate and intelligent vision of the world, whose sense of joy and rationality led him down unexpected and influential paths; one of which led to a Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, there is also a cautionary tale in this: that no matter how ensconced one is in the rational process, it is easy to be 'caught up'.

Mullis reference several drug-based and sober experiences which support certain bel
Nov 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mullis is nuts. I guess once you get to the sort of rarefied scientific air that Mullis climbed to you sort of have to be. Or maybe being nuts beforehand is what allows you to get there in the first place. In the end, he invented something that allowed the pace of molecular genetics to advance by leaps and bounds in a few years and is in use in literally every moderately funded biology lab in the world.

It's a quick read at just a few pages over 200. I got a kick out of his many offbe
Jul 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
A brief, hilarious and often provocative book by the Nobel Prize winner who invented the polymerase chain reaction, which greatly improved DNA analysis and eventually launched many crime shows. The book was published in 1998, so it's dated. The author is entirely contrarian and makes some interesting points about such things as HIV and AIDS never having been proved to be connected, how big pharma invents maladies for which it can sell us expensive drugs, how horoscopes calculated by scientists m ...more
Dec 11, 2007 rated it liked it
It's like reading a smart asshole's blog that has been edited and shoved into a short paperback.

About every sixth page, expect him to mention his nobel prize, or some reason that scientists are the highest order of life amongst humans and have been repressed and humiliated throughout history.

There are many chapters that will remind you of some strange guy you met at a bar that seemed smart and interesting until he felt you were worthy of hearing about his "special" knowle
Feb 03, 2016 rated it liked it
WOW, is this conspiracy or controversy?

Ozone hole is not an issue (it's all about money!).
HIV does not cause AIDS (it's all about money!).
Global warming is not an issue (it's all about money!).
Every psychologist should study astrology and horoscopes (not about money).
Trans fats are OK (don't remember what about that was).
Could they have been aliens (no idea)?
And this is what a person who got Nobel thinks? Could it be he is wrong in the other fields apart from PCR
Jul 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
If you're interested in how scientists actually make great discoveries - read this book. You might be surprised. The part I remember most about this book was when the author was driving down the road, exhausted, pulled over and suddenly had the flash of insight that was the basis for his discovery of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) - for which he won the Nobel Prize. Just an amazing story.

I loved the way Mullis was so open about his quirkiness and the mistakes he has made during his
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I want to party with this guy.

Kary Mullis, known to us biology dorks as the guy who invented PCR, reflects on growing up, synthesizing psychoactive compounds in a garage in college, dropping acid and inhaling a whole lot of nitrous while working for Cetus (oh, and coming up with PCR), winning the Nobel Prize, hitting on the empress of Japan, the OJ trial, being abducted by aliens, and my favorite-- being paid 7 grand NOT to give a talk at Glaxo. A fantastic read.
Ivan Voras
A book which to me describes what it means to be an independent thinker, whether right or wrong.
May 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Genius/madman/party animal. I know this guy. Fascinating journey into the mind of a real mad scientist.
Willy C
May 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
an interesting dude who would probably score very high (off the charts!) in Openness to Experience-- as a consequence, highly creative, also highly kooky.

Some quotes:

* "there is a general place in your brain, I think, reserved for Melancholy of relationships past. It grows and prospers as life progresses, forcing you finally, against your better judgement, to listen to country music. " (13)
"They didn't know me, and they were asking everyone who came out of
Costin Manda
Feb 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
Kary Mullis is a chemist who, in 1983, invented Polimerase Chain Reaction, something that would revolutionize DNA analysis in terms of increased speed. He won the 1993 Nobel prize for that. He also is a controversial scientist who claims possible alien encounters and telepathy, denies global warming as an effect of human intervention, is skeptic about HIV causing AIDS and generally believes that most scientists are inventing reasons to get funded rather than doing anything scientific. He also ad ...more
Oct 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
The worst book I've ever read.

You would expect a Nobel Prize-winner to be a clever guy, but here is a book where the author turns out to be anything but a good scientist: in my opinion the book is a collection of disorganised (and embarassing) chapters, where Dr. Mullis does not give any proof to his wild and crazy thoughts.
It is very easy to criticize anyone and anything, like the author does, while it is much more difficult to work hard on a topic and find proofs to scientifi
May 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
I once read something about Kary Mullis along the lines of "take all the superstar basketball, baseball, and football players, add all your favorite celebrities, add all the world famous politicians, banker, and stockbrokers... and collectively they have not improved the current and future welfare of the humankind as much as Kary Mullis". Being a molecular biologist myself, I can't agree more. I give Mullis credit for the oddball out-of-the-box scientist he is. I give him credit for the inventio ...more
Patrick G Cudahy
Jul 01, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

Mullis tries to present himself as a free spirited surfer and independent thinker but shows himself to be supremely narcissistic, arrogant and misogynistic. I don't know what compelled him to share his views on OJ Simpson, but his conclusion that he was innocent based on a brief conversation and his sexist views of Marcia Clark tell you a lot about his overall lack of judgement. His other opinions on HIV medications bring ineffective or the ozone hole being fake are laughably (and kind
Rebecca Watts
Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This guy is probably fun at parties. And though I'm not entirely sure I agree with or believe a lot of what he says, HE believes it and that's interesting enough. His stories are thought provoking and a few of them had me saying "what an IDIOT!" (But in a nice way. In an "I care about you" kind of way. And a "Gee that sounds dangerous" way.)

Since the book was written nearly 20 years ago, I wondered if he'd changed much of his thinking about some of what he's written. I don't think he
Ram Vasudeva
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
I must be honest on this one. The edition I read had 22 chapters and I must say 19 out of the 22 chapters are a great read, others not so. Probably as a scientist, it is not that interesting. But Kary's book has been like a breath of fresh air, i didn't want to put it down (barring those 3 chapters). He gives an excellent account of the discovery of PCR and the brilliance of his scientific endeavours. His points are worthy of paying attention to, that is exactly how science is practise. Question ...more
Steven Li
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
People rag on this book for being a Feynman rip-off but so what. A tangerine is kind of a rip-off of an orange but I still eat both.

I will say Mullis is definitely edgier than Feynman. Fir example, he openly promotes LSD while Feynman was way more discrete about it. But then again, Mullis doubts HIV causes AIDS and thinks aliens communicated to him via a talking rodent... :/

At any rate, a great read. I think I finished it in one sitting.
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