In Praise of Imperfection

The title bespeaks an unwarranted modesty as Levi-Montalcini, co-winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in medicine, reviews her life and work. An elegant writer, she highlights events and personalities that have altered her life. She examines her family and youth, neither Catholic nor Jewish, but dynamic and creative; her schooling and attempts at research in anguished war-torn Italy; her successful research in the United States; and finally, her work in establishing the Laboratory of Cell Biology of the National Research Council of Italy. She does not reveal her soul, but rather a spirit of determination against social and political forces. Imperfection – says Montalcini – has always allowed continuous mutations of that wonderful and very imperfect mechanism that is the human brain. I believe that the imperfection goes with human nature more than perfection.