Gillham, Nicholas Wright 1932-

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GILLHAM, Nicholas Wright 1932-

PERSONAL: Born May 14, 1932, in New York, NY; son of Robert Marty and Elizabeth (Enright) Gillham; married Carol Lenore Collins, June 2, 1956. Education: Harvard University, A.B., 1954, A.M., 1955, Ph. D., 1962.

ADDRESSES: Home—1183 Fearrington Post, Pittsboro, NC 27312. Office—Department of Biology, P.O. Box 91000, Durham, NC 27708-1000. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Geneticist, educator, and author. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, began as instructor, became assistant professor, 1963-68; Duke University, Durham, NC, associate professor of zoology, 1968-72, professor, 1973-82, James B. Duke professor of zoology, 1982—, chairman, Department of Zoology, 1986-89. Member of President's Biomedical Research Panel on biochemistry, molecular genetics, and cell biology interdisciplinary cluster, 1975; member of study section in genetics, National Institute of Health, 1976-80. Board chairman of American Type Culture Collection, 1993-96. Member of editorial board, Genetics, 1975-78, Journal of Cell Biology, 1977-79, International Review of Cytology, 1987-97; Plasmid, senior editor, 1977-86. Military service: U.S. Air Force, 1st Lt., Medical Service Corps, 1955-58.

MEMBER: Genetics Society of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: Research Career Development Award grantee, 1972-77; Guggenheim fellow, 1984-85.


(With Joseph H. Coggin, Jr. and Robert G. Krueger) Introduction to Microbiology, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1973.

Organelle Heredity, Raven (New York, NY), 1978.

Organelle Genes and Genomes, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994.

A Life of Sir Francis Galton: From African Exploration to the Birth of Eugenics, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: American educator, geneticist and author Nicholas Wright Gillham has published several books detailing the academic research he has conducted while a professor at Duke University. Gillham began teaching at Duke in 1968, and has risen to the prestigious position of James B. Duke Professor of Biology Emeritus at the institution. Considered by some observers as a leader in the field of genetics, Gillham published his first book an introductory examination of micobiology, in the early 1970s. Since then he has published two books about the quick-growing field of organelle genetics, as well as a biography of Nintenth Century scientist Francis Galton, who is considered the father of a notorious field of eugenics.

In Organelle Heredity, Gillham examines the study of organelle genes. Gillham describes the basic structure, function, and behavior of these genes, including how they affect mitochondria and chloroplasts. In addition to numerous illustrations, graphs, and diagrams, the book includes helpful tables listing existing data about the organelle genes of many organisms. According to C. William Birky, Jr., the book is a good science contributor introductory look at the world of organelle genetics. "Organelle Heredity is a careful and thorough record of most of the main lines of progress in the field," Birky wrote in the periodical Science. "Questions of general interest for students of cell biology and genetics arise at every step."

Published in 2001, A Life of Sir Francis Galton: From African Exploration to the Birth of Eugenics was lauded by several literary critics and science writers, including American Scientist writer Daniel J. Kevles, who called the book a "highly readable biography." Born in 1822, Galton was a cousin of Charles Darwin. While his cousin is better known today, Galton, as Gillham points out in his book, also played a significant role in the scientific world of Victorian England. Galton's contributions to science include determining the latitudes and longitudes of part of Africa, which helped cartographers accurately map the area, and his participation in the discovery that each individual human has a unique set of fingerprints, which led British police officials to adopt the fingerprint identification system. Most importantly, however, Galton is considered the father of eugenics, which is the study of hereditary improvement of the human race through selective breeding. Gillham spends much of his book discussing Galton's link to eugenics, while also distancing him from the brutal eugenics policies practiced by the Nazis several decades after Galton's death. Gillham thinks many modern observers are mistaken to link Galton to the Nazi experiments during the World War II-era. Gillham writes in the book that Galton "would have been horrified had he known that little more than 20 years after his death forcible sterilization and murder would be carried out in the name of eugenics, for Galton was not a mean or vindictive man." While some of Galton's work might seem politically incorrect today, Gillham doesn't believe his work can be "properly appreciated by applying modern or revisionist standards to his career." Gillham admits in the book that he admires Galton's work, though he accepts some of his shortcomings. "Galton meant well in his efforts to improve mankind, but he viewed the world through the lens of class, privilege, and the predominant role played by men in virtually all affairs in Victorian England," he writes. Although there have been other biographies of Galton, some literary critics felt Gillham's work was especially good. "This may well prove to be the definitive biography," wrote a contributor for Publishers Weekly. David Reich of the New York Times, felt A Life of Sir Francis Galton was a "fascinating account" of Galton's life and work. "Gillham writes lucidly about Galton's science, and his contextualization of Galton's work illuminates its considerable significance," Kevles similarly wrote in American Scientist.



A Life of Sir Francis Galton: From African Exploration to the Birth of Eugenics, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.


American Scientist, May, 2002, review of A Life of Sir Francis Galton: From African Exploration to the Birth of Eugenics, p. 270.

Booklist, October 1, 2001, review of A Life of Sir Francis Galton, p. 289.

National Review, January 28, 2002, review of A Life of Sir Francis Galton, p. 53.

New York Times Book Review, February 10, 2002, review of A Life of Sir Francis Galton, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, October 15, 2001, review of A Life of Sir Francis Galton, p. 55.

Science, May 18, 1979, p. 761.