December 9, 1988

In Praise of Imperfection: My Life and Work

Author Affiliations

Cancer Research Institute University of California San Francisco

Cancer Research Institute University of California San Francisco


by Rita Levi-Montalcini (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Series), 220 pp, with illus, $18.95, New York, Basic Books Inc, 1988.

JAMA. 1988;260(22):3347. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03410220131042

In Praise of Imperfection seems like a disingenuous title for an autobiography of the fourth woman to receive the Nobel Prize in medicine. Yet the title also reveals an outlook that is philosophic and detached, but compassionate and modest. Dr Levi-Montalcini brings this dual perspective to the telling of an extraordinary life story.

She was born in 1909 in Turin, Italy. Daughter of successful and highly assimilated "Israelites," she grew up in a comfortable social milieu, isolated from the traumas of World War I and the rise of fascism in the early 1920s. Although she describes her family members and friends with affection, Dr Levi-Montalcini also experienced "a profound sense of isolation." As a child she avoided physical contact with her father and governess, and as an adolescent she felt she had "deficiencies in matters of sociability and sports." Believing that she lacked the natural talents of her siblings—her twin