by Adam Rutherford
Thursday, May 4, 2023
I took my time over this because I was enjoying it. In as much as you can enjoy a book about how some people think other people shouldn’t exist anyway. Rutherford’s a top notch author who both knows his stuff and knows how to convey it to non-expert audiences as well as (I expect) expert ones.
The book is split into two halves. The historical first section details the rise of eugenics with the nascent genetics field in the nineteenth century as a purported way to perform “quality control” on humans. The intersection of politics and bad science is always awful to read about but you know exactly where this is all heading. What is perhaps surprising is how widespread - geographically and politically - eugenics is accepted on its way to the Holocaust. It adds a lot of historical nuance.
It would be great if the first half of the book was all of it, and it just said “the end” and the world put eugenics behind it.
But of course it’s not like that and the second half is equally interesting as Rutherford looks into how eugenics is still on modern agendas and delves into topics such as where we draw the line on editing our genes and the perhaps unintended side effects of doing so.
It’s a really interesting read. Yes, eugenics is definitely a bizarre pseudoscience. But also yes, genetics is a real science that has technologies that can help some people. But my real takeaway from this book is that there are much better ways to improve society, for example education and housing, that have real evidence for their efficacy, and looking at genetics in isolation is not the answer. The wider context is always important.