Dalrymple on The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin, in the British Medical Journal (subscription required):
Do students still sit up till three in the morning, arguing passionately but inconsequentially about whether human existence is free or determined? In my time, I took the side of determinism, the fierceness of my defence a cover for my doubts; and my defence notwithstanding, I demanded the greatest possible freedom for myself.I argued, with striking unoriginality, that a human being (save for myself, of course) was the vector of the forces of heredity, environment, and circumstance. What else, after all, could a human be? A causeless cause, like God?….In the book, Dr [Josef] Mengele wants to resuscitate the Third Reich and to this end clones Adolf Hitler…In the event, the Hitler clones show some of Hitler’s traits, such as an early artistic ambition, but do not turn out to be like Hitler in any other sense…This conclusion is hardly surprising. Each person’s environment is unique and hence each person is unique. But if this is so, how can we ever be sure that each person is what I once said they must be—the mere vector of their heredity, environment, and circumstance? Hitler is one of those people about whom we wish to know every last detail in an attempt to understand him; but, however much we learn, we seem no nearer that understanding. In The Boys from Brazil, Mengele wants to reduce Hitler to his genes and a few childhood factors, and fails utterly in the attempt. But are our explanations of people any better?