Privileged Hands: A Scientific Life

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Vermeij's extraordinary life reads like that of one of the great early biological explorers, whose theories were all based on extensive fieldwork in remote spots.

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It is also an inspiring tale of a man who, thanks to a remarkably devoted and intelligent family and his own inexhaustible scientific curiosity, overcame his handicap to further the sum of human knowledge. Visit Seller's Storefront.

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    Scientific Method

    May 13, - Published on Amazon. Is this the story of a blind scientist? This is the story of a great scientist who happens to be blind, but who is certainly not without a vision of the world around him. Vermeij chronicles his life and development as a scientific thinker and worker.

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    He draws the reader in as he tells what it's like to work one's way through the ranks and halls of academia, and how he had to simultaneously overcome prejudices and preconceptions others hold about what it means to be blind. He also tells of an ongoing life centered on the accumulation of knowledge, contemplation of those ideas, and the generation of important contributions to his field.

    Privileged Hands Scientific Life by Geerat Vermeij, Hardcover - AbeBooks

    The account of his development as a scientific thinker and worker was a great read, but the perspective he provides on life without sight is outstanding. I'd rate the book 5 stars for myself, and 4 stars for a more general audience: five stars for myself because, as an invertebrate zoologist, I felt a strong connection to the topics and experiences described; and 4 starts for a non-scientific audience. If Vermeij fell down and skinned his knee while performing some family chore, oh well, he'd just have to be more careful next time.

    This instruction, along with his love of reading and his family's willingness to Braille all they could, meant that Vermeij was widely read for his age by the time he left boarding school and moved to the United States, where he finished growing up in New Jersey. Once Vermeij introduces us to the building blocks of his life as a blind child and the various techniques he learned in order to function, he turns to the task of showing us how he applied those techniques toward his interest in natural history as he worked his way toward college in the United States.

    He takes us through the process of collecting, sorting, and cataloguing various collections of shells, plants, and rocks; through days of fishing with his brother Arie; planting and measuring the growth of various plants and herbs; and finally deciding on Princeton University as a place to get his foot in the door and begin his career as a malacologist.

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    Throughout this journey Vermeij details simply and clearly the alternative techniques he used to get the job done. He describes how he learned to work with readers, develop working relationships with lab partners, and earn the trust and confidence of his professors. What makes this journey interesting, however, is not so much how he was able to break into a new scientific field in the mid 's, but rather that blindness was not, and should not have been, his overriding concern.

    For every page Vermeij spends discussing aspects of the way blindness affected his progress into and through his career, he spends at least ten times that many discussing the various theories, questions, scientific puzzles, and his own personal development as an academic in the process of becoming a full-fledged professor.

    Through these pages we learn his theories on the reasons shells differ in various environments around the globe; what it's like to work as a scientist in Guam, the Philippines, the Galapagos Islands, Canada, Hawaii, and the Aleutian Islands; how he developed his ideas on evolution and adaptation; and, through it all, how he dealt with the few barriers presented by his blindness. In short, we meet a man who is obsessed with science and the full life it has to offer and who happens to be blind. Although Vermeij admits that he spent little time developing a social life in high school and during his undergraduate career, he more than made up for it later by traveling around the world performing field work as a scientist, meeting and marrying his wife Edith, and raising his daughter Hermine.

    It documents how to apply that philosophy to everyday living, where to place it in the context of getting on with one's life, and it details how the NFB helps with the process of making blind people successful, first-class citizens. In addition, it is a fascinating view into the mind of a leading scientist in his field and gives a glimpse into the depth and richness of a discipline which involves applying highly technical and political skills in a variety of innovative ways. I would recommend this book to any blind person who wants to know if he or she can succeed in a competitive environment, whether it be law, science, or letters.

    I would also recommend it to anyone sighted who doubts whether or not blind people can make it on terms of equality in a sighted world. The prose is written with clarity, feeling, and a fervor which makes it clear that the author speaks from real-life experience and that he believes not only that blind people are capable of competing on terms of equality with the sighted but that they must compete.