Gratzer, Walter Bruno 1932-

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Gratzer, Walter Bruno 1932-


Born 1932, in England. Education: Oxford University, B.A., 1954, M.A., 1958; National Institute for Medical Research, Ph.D., 1960.


Home—London, England. Office— Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, England. E-mail—[email protected]


Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, research fellowship, 1960-63; King's College, London, England, lecturer in biophysics, 1963-66, MRC scientific staff, 1966-96, professor of biophysical chemistry, 1963- 97, professor emeritus, 1997—.


Readings in Molecular Biology, Selected from Nature, 1970.

(Compiler) A Longman Literary Companion to Science, Longman Scientific and Technical (Harlow, England), 1989.

(Editor) A Bedside Nature: Genius and Eccentricity in Science, 1869-1953, Macmillan Magazines (London, England), 1996.

The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-Deception, and Human Frailty, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Eurekas and Euphorias: The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2002.

Terrors of the Table: The Curious History of Nutrition,Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Also contributor to scholarly publications, including book reviews for Nature.


Walter Bruno Gratzer is a retired professor and a science writer whose books cover a range of scientific subjects, ranging from molecular biology to scientific anecdotes to facts about nutrition. In The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-Deception, and Human Frailty,he delves into a number of seemingly impossible scientific questions that continue to hold the curiosity and attention of researchers around the world, including the concept of cold fusion, N-rays, and homeopathy. While scientific advancement owes a great deal to the tried-and-true process of a scientist conducting an experiment, writing up a report of that experiment, and then presenting the findings to other scientists to attempt with the intention of replicating and thereby proving the results, this system does not always work. Gratzer ad dresses the different ways in which a scientist might delude himself or even perpetuate fraud, taking a particular look at how political influences might affect the reported outcome of vital scientific experimentation. Edward McSweegan remarked in that Gratzer "has skillfully assembled a fascinating mixture of bad ideas from physics, medicine, chemistry, genetics and biology." Skeptical Inquirer critic Tom Napier stated that "while accessible to a lay audience—tricky points of science are explained in endnotes—this is a book as much for the historian of science as for the skeptic," adding that "Gratzer reveals the failures of individual scientists but attests to the strength of science as a whole." In a review for Booklist, Bryce Christensen declared the book "a valuable demarcation of the line separating science from illusion."

Eurekas and Euphorias: The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes takes a look at the more humorous side of scientific research and discoveries, trying to debunk the idea that science is a dull, uneventful form of study. Gratzer has collected nearly two hundred anecdotes about scientific discoveries or methods of learning that include an amusing aspect surrounding the moment of clarity. Stories cover such diverse individuals as Niels Bohr and Archimedes, and run no more than a few pages each. Sciencereviewer Guy Riddihough wrote that "readers will find few deep revelations or poignant moments, but there are a good many belly laughs to be had," adding that the volume "could be a perfect stocking filler for all those interested in the scuttlebutt on science." On the other hand, Jonathan Cowie, in a review, remarked that "the book is not just a commuter or holiday read but actually has a useful function. As such it will be most useful to anyone involved in communicating science."

In Terrors of the Table: The Curious History of Nutrition,Gratzer addresses a range of historical theories regarding what makes up the most nutritious diet, stressing how common ideas regarding what to eat have changed through the centuries. In a review for the Wilson Quarterly, A.J. Loftin remarked that "though Gratzer appears more interested in anecdotes than in theory, you can't read this book without spotting a theme: We blame psychology and environment for everything, until science comes up with the real cause." He concluded that "this entertainingly scary book, especially the chapters on additives then and now, should make us all afraid." Carol Cooper, writing 178 for the Lancet, opined that "Gratzer writes in a style that suits the wealth of wryly entertaining anecdotes he imparts. It is bumper fare, although at times I found it slightly indigestible, with a faint tendency to repeat," but the reviewer concluded that it is "an engaging and detailed history." Skeptical Inquirercontributors Kathryn Langdon and Kendrick Frazier declared Gratzer's effort to be "a dry-witted and smart compendium on one of our most basic needs: sustenance."



American Scientist, January-February, 2003, "Farmyard Thermodynamics," review of Eurekas and Euphorias: The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes, p. 65.

Astronomy, May, 2003, review of Eurekas and Euphorias, p. 106.

Australian Journal of Politics and History, March, 1998, P.P. Giorgi, review of A Bedside Nature: Genius and Eccentricity in Science, 1869-1953, p. 144.

Booklist, October 15, 2000, Bryce Christensen, review ofThe Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-Deception, and Human Frailty, p. 398.

British Medical Journal, May 4, 1996, Jean Claude Mbanya, review of A Bedside Nature, p. 1169.

Economist, December 23, 1989, review of A LongmanLiterary Companion to Science,p. 111.

Lancet, December 17, 2005, Carol Cooper, "Nourishing Narratives," p. 2078.

Research-Technology Management, March, 2001, review of The Undergrowth of Science, p. 62.

Science, December 13, 2002, Guy Riddihough, "The Scuttlebutt on Science," review of Eurekas and Euphorias, p. 2137.

Skeptical Inquirer, January, 2001, Tom Napier, "A Look at the Underside of Science," p. 61; March-April, 2006, Kendrick Frazier, Kathryn Langdon, review ofTerrors of the Table: The Curious History of Nutrition, p. 58.

WilsonQuarterly, winter, 2001, Ann Finkbeiner, review of The Undergrowth of Science, p. 34; autumn, 2005, A.J. Loftin, review of Terrors of the Table, p. 120.

ONLINE, (April 19, 2006), Jonathan Cowie, review of Eurekas and Euphorias.

King's College Web site, 19, 2006), Walter Gratzer faculty biography., (November 30, 2000), Edward McSweegan, review of The Undergrowth of Science.