Iagnemma, Karl 1972-

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IAGNEMMA, Karl 1972-


Born October 19, 1972, in MI. Education: University of Michigan, B.S., 1994, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, M.S., 1997, Ph.D. (mechanical engineering), 2001.


Office—Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139-4307. E-mail—[email protected].


Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, research scientist.


Paris Review Discovery Prize; Pushcart Prize; Playboy college fiction prize; Massachusetts Cultural Council artist grant.


On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction (short stories), Dial (New York, NY), 2003.

Work anthologized in Best American Short Stories. Contributor of stories to Tin House, SEED, One Story, and Zoetrope.


A novel about a nineteenth-century scientific expedition.


Karl Iagnemma's collection of short stories, On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, tells of characters who are involved in scientific pursuits and who hope to use scientific methods to further their understanding of personal relations. Iagnemma himself combines the role of an academic research scientist—he specializes in robotics—with that of a writer of literary fiction. "These disparate aspects of his personality work together; he seamlessly blends the lyrical and the precise to create gemlike little portraits of individuals," according to Barbara Hoffert in Library Journal.

All of the stories in On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction demonstrate the impossibility of applying scientific precision to human emotions. In the collection's title story, Joseph, an engineering school dropout, hopes to marry his ex-advisor's daughter, a woman engaged in sexual relationships with several men and not interested in changing her ways. Joseph works out a mathematical equation he hopes will explain to him the nature of his romantic relationship, but the equation ultimately fails him. In "The Phrenologist's Dream" a nineteenth-century phrenologist tours the Midwest, examining the skulls of the rural folks he meets, convinced that the shape of a person's skull holds the key to that person's personality. When he falls in love with a bald woman, she makes him rethink his theory of human nature in an unsuspected manner. Both of these stories, Jim Holt wrote in the New York Times, are "richly imagined and laced with delicate ironies." Speaking of the collection as a whole, James Klise, writing in Booklist, called the works "intelligent, quirky, and suspenseful." A critic for Kirkus Reviews found that "Iagnemma's prose is always lively, well suited to the quirky characters and odd subjects he tends toward."

Iagnemma explained in a statement posted at his Web site: "Many people view science as a chilly, rational exploration of facts, but scientific discovery is often shaped by emotion. Jealousy, fear, and desire can play as much a role in research as quiet contemplation. I wanted to write about people who long to uncover the mysteries of science, which are so often entangled with their own lives and the lives of people around them."



Booklist, April 15, 2003, James Klise, review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, p. 1449.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, p. 335.

Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Barbara Hoffert, review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, pp. 132-133.

New York Times, May 18, 2003, Jim Holt, review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction.

Publishers Weekly, April 21, 2003, review of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, p. 40.


Karl Iagnemma Home Page,http://www.karliagnemma.com/ (October 1, 2003).*