Alfred Kinsey has had to wait well over a decade for a biographer, but suddenly he has two. These books complement each other nicely, however. Nearly half of Cornelia Christenson's volume is devoted to the years before Kinsey launched his extensive sexual study in 1938, while Wardell Pomeroy's book is concerned almost entirely with post-1938 developments. Christenson offers an especially convincing portrait of Kinsey's childhood, contrasting the austerity of his family life with the sense of release and mastery he derived from the exploration of nature. Her analysis of his early intellectual interests is equally insightful, as is her account of his romance with Clara McMillen, his first date (he was twenty-six at the time) and his wife within a year. Inevitably, however, Pomeroy's volume commands the greater attention. It is substantially longer, and as with Ernest Jones's life of Freud, it has the character of an official biography, since it is written by one of Kinsey's earliest and closest associates.
Like Freud, Kinsey discovered his historical mission rather late in life. He was an accomplished zoologist and the world's foremost authority on the gall wasp when, at the age of forty-four, he turned to the study of human sexuality. Too much can be made of this transformation, and Christenson's book draws attention to important similarities between the work on gall wasps and that on sexuality. In both undertakings Kinsey became transfixed by numbers. He gathered an enormous collection of wasps-over four million insects-and in his analysis of this immense sample he sought to undermine accepted categories of entomological classification, just as he would later seek to dissolve received categories of sexual classification. In both of the grand projects that absorbed his life, one might say, he functioned as a taxonomic critic.