The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics

Adam Rutherford
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* FROM THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF HOW TO ARGUE WITH A RACIST *Throughout history, people have sought to improve society by reducing suffering, eliminating disease or enhancing desirable qualities in their children. But this wish goes hand in hand with the desire to impose control over who can marry, who can procreate and who is permitted to live. In the Victorian era, in the shadow of Darwin' s ideas about evolution, a new full-blooded attempt to impose control over our unruly biology began to grow in the clubs, salons and offices of the powerful. It was enshrined in a political movement that bastardised science, and for sixty years enjoyed bipartisan and huge popular support. Eugenics was vigorously embraced in dozens of countries. It was also a cornerstone of Nazi ideology, and forged a path that led directly to the gates of Auschwitz. But the underlying ideas are not merely historical. The legacy of eugenics persists in our language and literature, from the words ' moron' and ' imbecile' to the themes of some of our greatest works of culture. Today, with new gene editing techniques, very real conversations are happening - including in the heart of British government - about tinkering with the DNA of our unborn children, to make them smarter, fitter, stronger. CONTROL tells the story of attempts by the powerful throughout history to dictate reproduction and regulate the interface of breeding and society. It is an urgently needed examination that unpicks one of the defining and most destructive ideas of the twentieth century. To know this history is to inoculate ourselves against its being repeated.
A remarkable combination of intelligence, knowledge, insight and admirable political passion, on a serious moral problem in contemporary society -- CARLO ROVELLI Weighty and serious but accessible and perfectly pitched. The scholarship is astounding -- ALICE ROBERTS Genetics has attracted brilliant, visionary scientists. It has attracted racists and charlatans. CONTROL skilfully weaves together these two strands of the discipline' s history -- HELEN LEWIS Rutherford sharply undermines the old trope that science is detached from politics, showing that to stand on the shoulders of giants is no barrier to recognising their flaws and fetishes. A vital warning from both history and science of the quiet horrors that can ensue if society becomes overconfident in its ability to ' improve' the population. Smart and surprisingly entertaining -- CAROLINE DODDS PENNOCK Discussions around the idea of population control are increasingly resurfacing. Control' s strength is that it provides not only much-needed guidance for these conversations by reminding us of the horrors of the past, but also uses scientific evidence to dismantle the viability of these ideas. -- Layal Liverpool * NEW SCIENTIST * A short, sharp, illuminating overview of the science, politics, uses and abuses of human gene editing. -- Tim Adams * THE OBSERVER, Book of the Week *
Dr Adam Rutherford is a scientist, writer and broadcaster. He has written and presented award-winning series and programmes for the BBC, including Radio 4' s Inside Science and The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry with Dr Hannah Fry. He is the author Creation, shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Prize, A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, The Book of Humans, the Sunday Times bestselling How to Argue With a Racist and the co-author of Rutherford and Fry' s Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything (Abridged).