The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics
by Adam Rutherford
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Pub Date 15 Nov 2022 | Archive Date 31 Oct 2022
How did an obscure academic idea pave the way to the Holocaust within just fifty years?
Inspired by Darwin’s ideas about evolution, the concept of race purification through eugenics arose in Victorian England and quickly spread to America, where it was embraced by presidents, funded by Gilded Age monopolists, and enshrined into racist American laws that became the ideological cornerstone of the Third Reich. Despite this horrific legacy, eugenics looms large today, suffusing our language and culture and echoing uneasily in discussions of modern gene editing techniques.
In Control, Adam Rutherford presents “a remarkable combination of intelligence, knowledge, insight and admirable political passion, on a serious moral problem in contemporary society.” (Carlo Rovelli). With disarming wit and scientific precision, he traces its intellectual origins and confronts the recurring question of whether eugenics could actually work. Control explains why eugenics remains so tempting to powerful people who wish to improve society through reproductive control, and the scientific impossibility of doing so.
About the Author: Adam Rutherford is the author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived.
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Average rating from 5 members
As a geneticist I am very interested in the history of eugenics and worrying about the potential of it happening in the future. Adam Rutherford address both of these topics very well in his most recent book.
The first part of the book focuses on the history of eugenics. I had not realized the extent to which eugenics was present in the America before WWII and how many of the 'greats' in genetics subscribed to eugenics. Throughout this discourse, I appreciated that Rutherford emphasizes that we can't throw out the work of everyone who had these views: "The past is a dirty place, its protagonists are merely people - evil, genius, and everything in between. We cannot and should not abandon no trash the scientific works of Galton, Fisher, Pearson, Jordan, Watson and the many others on whose scientific shoulders we stand."
The second part of the book hypothesizes as to what it could look like in the future and what to watch out for. He really highlights that "one thing we do know about human genetics with absolute confidence is how little we know." Thus, it will be difficult to create 'designer babies' and the like because genetics and the human body is very complicated (which I can attest to).
Overall, this a great read for those interested in the history of science and who want to learn more about eugenics and its impact.
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