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Dave Wood's Book Report, April 11, 2007

Last year, Allegra Goodman made a splash with her fourth novel, which I missed by a country mile.

Fortunately it's now out in a snazzy paperback edition "Intuition," (Dial Press, $13.95) so I can get another crack at it.

"Intuition" is a rare mixture of science and passion, a love story set in a lab populated by a publicity-hungry oncologist, a talented research scientist and a post-doctoral fellowship recipient. Books like this don't come off the presses with much regularity, so it's difficult to scare up comparisons.

But if you were a fan of Sinclair Lewis's "Arrowsmith," which won the Pulitzer in 1925 and Morton Thompson's "Not as a Stranger," you'll probably come away from "Intuition" a big fan of Allegra Goodman.

Wisconsin author Jane Hamilton put it best last year when the novel came out: "What a feat, to pull off a large story of science and politics in the here and now, with beautifully drawn and compelling characters, with all the large and small details of their lives. What a gift not to pass judgment on any of them, to love each character equally and fairly. The ending is perfection."

As long as we're talking science, why not take a gander at "Evolution for Everyone," by David Sloan Wilson (Delacorte, $24). Wilson, a British evolutionist, takes Darwin a step further, leaving the dinosaur discussion to show how Darwin's theory can help us live and understand our lives and why our fellow creatures act as they do.

Wilson writes with verve and great good humor. He writes that evolution's enemies (creationism and intelligent design) aren't half bad when you consider how some of the theory's friends used it, like Adolph Hitler, who used it to promote genocide, or Darwin's contemporary, Herbert Spencer, who was a proponent because he thought it justified the inequalities of English society.

He's also nimble with the anecdote, as in the following: "According to legend, William James was once approached after a lecture by an elderly woman who shared her theory that the Earth is supported on the back of a giant turtle. Gently, James asked her what the turtle was standing upon. 'A second, far larger turtle!' she replied confidently. 'But what does the second turtle stand upon?' James continued hoping to reveal the absurdity of her argument. The old lady crowed triumphantly, 'It's no use Mr. James -- it's turtles all the way down!'"

"Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life," by Ralph Pite ((Yale University Press, $35) sheds new light on the intersections of life and work by the writer who gave us "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," "Jude the Obscure," and "Far from the Madding Crowd," as well as much memorable poetry.

Pite tackles interesting questions, which is a difficult job because Hardy made a profession of obscuring his life. I was especially interested in his take on Hardy's interest in architecture as it informed the conflicts of his hero in "Jude the Obscure."

Pite is also insightful in his appreciation of Hardy's poetry, which has been obscured by the popularity of his fiction.

All in all, "Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life" is a refreshing addition to the already sizeable collection of Hardiana.