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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 77
basic questions. His wide knowledge and penetrating analytical powers made him a superb expositional writer, teacher, and author of a first-rate, inspiring textbook.
Bernard D. Davis was born on January 7, 1916, in Franklin, Massachusetts, where his parents, immigrants from Lithuania, had settled. ''Bernie'' (I hope that the reader will forgive this familiarity, but I have known him by this name over a forty-five-year period of close association) was raised, together with three siblings, in the close-knit environment of a Jewish family. There was great emphasis on learning and intellectual achievement. All four children graduated as valedictorians from the local high school. Despite the limited financial resources generated from his dry goods store the elder Davis managed to provide his children with an education at Harvard (for the two sons) and Radcliffe (for the two daughters).
From early childhood Bernie had a penchant for rational explanations. This turned him off at an early age from the rituals of the Jewish religion, and he became an agnostic. In high school he excelled in science and mathematics. His valedictorian address dealt with "creative chemistry." A complication arose because the year of his graduation coincided with the bicentenary of George Washington's birth. His teachers insisted that the valedictorian address should deal with the first president. Bernie overcame this obstacle by starting his speech with, "Little did George Washington dream that chemistry. . . ." This diplomatic approach satisfied his teachers.
At Harvard, after an abortive attempt to broaden his education by taking courses in history and literature, Bernie settled down to a hard-science curriculum with a concentration in biochemistry. His undergraduate honors thesis dealt with the oxygen dissociation curve of hemoglobin. Twenty years later he was able to point out the generality of