Plotz, David 1970(?)–
Plotz, David 1970(?)–
PERSONAL: Born c. 1970; married Hanna Rosin (a reporter); children: two. Education: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, graduated, 1992.
CAREER: Journalist. Washington City Paper, Washington, DC, writer and editor, c. 1992–96; Slate.com, 1996–, became Washington bureau chief.
SIDELIGHTS: In his first book, The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, journalist David Plotz writes about a millionaire's plan to have more smart babies born by establishing a sperm bank whose donors are Nobel Prize winners. Robert Graham established the Repository for Germinal Choice in 1980. After getting a couple of prize winners to donate, he could find no more willing to participate in his project, and so began accepting donations from others, including successful entrepreneurs, math prodigies, and various scientists. The project participated in the conception and birth of 215 children before it closed in 1999.
To tell his story, Plotz tracked down both former donors and their children, despite the fact that the program's records had either been sealed or destroyed. Although he located many of these individuals, the author focuses primarily on the cases of Donor White and Donor Coral. "Those were the two I was most involved in … but there were other stories that might have been just as compelling if I had pursued them as I pursued the two main stories of White and Coral," Plotz told William O'Sullivan during an interview on the Washingtonian Web site. "For example, I knew seven half siblings in four different families by the same donor—they are just starting to meet each other, and that might have been a fascinating story as well. I also began with the notion that I would write more about Alton Grant—another Donor Coral child—than I ended up doing. That is because I found Tom's story so moving."
As Plotz tells the story of Tom, the reader learns of an unsure young man who thinks that finding his donor father may give him some direction in life. Although his father had a medical degree, he ended up being an unlikable man who lived in a dilapidated house and associated with drug dealers. As revealed by Plotz in the book, Tom and the other donor children were largely unaffected by their genetic father's supposed genius pedigree, which Tom's adopted father certainly lacked. Based on his observations, Plotz concludes that it likely has been the influence of the birth mother and other family members that has made these children into who they are today. In his story, Plotz probes other social issues as well. "He also uses his narrative to consider cultural anxieties that are as widespread today as they were when Graham opened his bank, including fertility (1 million American children have been born because of donor sperm, with 30,000 more born every year); the parental fever to do anything to create highoctane, Harvard-bound offspring; and the ever-present threat of racial fanaticism," wrote McKay Jenkins in the Miami Herald.
"Plotz travels the country, using a combination of ingenuity and pure patience to find the Nobel boys and girls, to find their mothers and especially their fathers, to break bread with them, drink beer with them, to interview them and hang with them and capture the complexity inherent in any eugenics experiment," wrote Lauren Slater in her review of The Genius Factory for Mother Jones. As Slater went on to note, "Plotz's book is, at once, a mystery and a meditation: It seeks to unravel the age-old question of IQ and the degree to which it is heritable." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "fresh, funny, with deft profiles of singular individuals." Janet Maslin, writing in the New York Times, commented that the author "writes with endearing, rueful humor" and also noted that "Plotz's kindness and sympathy are indisputable." Business Week contributor Catherine Arnst concluded: "Plotz is a good writer, and he has a fascinating story to tell."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Business Week, July 4, 2005, Catherine Arnst, review of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, p. 100.
Entertainment Weekly, June 10, 2005, Bob Cannon, review of The Genius Factory.
Esquire, June, 2005, Tyler Cabot, "No, Really, Who's Your Daddy?," p. 42.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2005, review of The Genius Factory, p. 405.
Miami Herald, July 3, 2005, McKay Jenkins, review of The Genius Factory.
Mother Jones, May-June, 2005, Lauren Slater, review of The Genius Factory, p. 77.
New York Times, June 2, 2005, Janet Maslin, review of The Genius Factory, p. E10.
People, June 20, 2005, Alicia Shepard, "Weird Science," interview with author, p. 131.
Rocky Mountain News, June 24, 2005, Karen Algeo Krizman, review of The Genius Factory.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 12, 2005, Jonathan Kiefer, review of The Genius Factory, p. B6.
Seattle Times, June 24, 2005, Clark Humphrey, review of The Genius Factory.
Washington Post Book World, June 12, 2005, Robin Marantz Henig, review of The Genius Factory, p. 3.
Genius Factory Web site, http://www.thegeniusfactory.net/ (September 16, 2005), profile of author.
Journalism Jobs Web site, http://www.journalismjobs.com/ (August 30, 2005), "Interview with Slate.com's David Plotz."
New Statesman Online, http://www.newstatesman.com/ (September 16, 2005), Tim Adams, review of The Genius Factory.
Washingtonian Online, http://www.washingtonian.com/ (June 21, 2005), William O'Sullivan, interview with Plotz; (September 5, 2005), William O'Sullivan, review of The Genius Factory.