The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm
Robert Graham, the oddball inventor and millionaire at the heart of David Plotz's book, The Genius Factory, is the archetype for the cliché, "more money than brains." It was Graham who reckoned America was going to hell in a hand basket and the best way to halt the trend was to impregnate women with sperm donated by Nobel Prize winners and other overachievers (providing they were smart and white). Forget for the moment the not-so-thinly-veiled racism powering the whole eugenics movement that served as the backbone of Graham's Repository for Germinal Choice. Graham's super-sperm idea also conveniently overlooked the fact that the women carrying the babies would also leave a genetic imprint while ignoring the nurture-versus-nature argument. Though Plotz addresses these concepts in his book, the real reason to recommend it is its characters, the sperm bank progeny Plotz unearths through intense and covert legwork. The book's humor is also a selling point: "In abstract, donating sperm seemed fundamentally silly. But actually doing it was seductive," Plotz writes. "I had been accepted by the ultraexclusive Fairfax Cryobak! My sperm was 'well above average'! My count was 105 million! What's yours, George Clooney?" Elsewhere, Plotz writes, "By late 1980, Graham found himself presiding over a Nobel Prize sperm bank that had no Nobel Prize donors, no Nobel sperm left in storage and no Nobel babies. None of the first three women who'd been inseminated with Nobel sperm had gotten pregnant. In fact, no one inseminated with the Nobel sperm ever got pregnant. The Nobel Prize sperm bank would never produce a single Nobel baby." No matter. Graham's experiment, which did produce dozens of non-Nobel babies, was a success in one regard: it made for a heck of a story. And in Plotz's capable hands, it also makes for a heck of a book.
By: David Plotz