This is NOT summer beach reading. Powers writes rich, powerful, intellectual novels and this is his masterpiece (so far). Two couples -- a pair of scientists working on the secrets of DNA in 1957 Champaign-Urbana (the woman is already married to someone else), and a reference librarian and computer programmer/art history dropout in New York circa 1982-86 -- fall in love and provide the human quartet that matches the four base constituents of DNA. Bach's "Goldberg Variations" plays a big role in the plot, and to a lesser extent Poe's classic tale of cryptography. Jan O'Deigh, the librarian, is the partial first-person narrator, and a very sharp heroine she is! This novel takes patience and concentration (I've just finished reading it for the second time and still don't get all of it -- maybe never will) but if you give it the attention it requires, it should fill you with wonder and awe at the miracle of life: "Science ... is about reverence, not mastery"; "The purpose of science was to revive and cultivate a perpetual state of wonder."
This report prepared by David Loftus