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Fall 1998
The Man Who Knows Too Much
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Diamond's father was a physician who specialized in the study of childhood genetic diseases. His mother was a teacher and silent movie accompanist; like her, Diamond is an accomplished pianist. As a child, Jared planned to become a doctor, but changed his goal to medical research by the time he reached Harvard. In addition to the work that has lately brought him to the attention of the public, Diamond continues his research in his original field, membrane biophysics and physiology, in particular the physiology of digestion. His postgraduate work at Cambridge, which described how water and solutes are transported across epithelial membranes, has stood as a model of its kind for 30 years.

The wall outside Diamond's office, deep in the bowels of UCLA's Center for the Health Sciences, is marked by a large poster of a Burmese python swallowing a rat. Diamond continues his lab work in the evolutionary physiology of digestion, using pythons as a model. A second major area of activity is his fieldwork on New Guinea birds and the impact of the Chevron oil field there. He's also at work on his next big book, about the ecological collapse of various ancient civilizations.

Though the life of the mind occupies a large part of Diamond's universe, at its center are his wife, children and home. His wife, Marie Cohen, is a clinical psychologist and professor at UCLA's School of Medicine. What's it like to live with a genius? "Besides everything else, he was a Harvard debating champion," Cohen laughs. "But after a while, you learn that even a genius is human."

Cohen makes periodic appearances in Diamond's books — turning red with heat exhaustion on a trek through the Australian desert, for instance, or, in a Third Chimpanzee chapter illustrating how we tend to pick mates resembling ourselves (even in weird details like earlobe size or finger length) — inspiring her husband to produce something of a miniportrait of the scientist on a date:

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