Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics by Adam Rutherford

Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics
by Adam Rutherford

I read Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics last year when I was in search of a text that would A. layout a basic and linguistically accessible history of eugenics suitable for a first- and second-year undergraduate audience and B. be cheap enough to assign as a required text. Rutherford’s Control fit my requirements across the board (but, I opted not to assign it as a required purchase).

Control is a very well-written popular press style non-fiction; Rutherford superbly breaks down what might be confusing historical and academic jargon into easy language and approaches this complicated subject with an eye towards a neophyte reader, a reader who has an interest but not preexisting knowledge of eugenics at all. The book therefore unfolds in chronological order, permitting the reader to develop and understanding of the historical and popular narrative of eugenics as it was understood in various moments of time.

The beginning of the book outlines the birth and rise of eugenics as a popular real and pseudo- science, starting with Francis Galton, and ending with the present, the tinkering of Dolly the sheep’s DNA and duplication as well as other unethical uses of reproductive science. As a historian I found the first half of the book very useful; it was this half which enticed me to use it in my history courses.

The second half of the book diverges into more contemporary concerns and reads as distinctly editorial; there is no hiding Rutherford’s intentions here — nor should there be. I wholehearted agree with Rutherford’s concerns about the future uses of eugenics and what this means for human rights and humanity as a whole. But Rutherford was preaching to the choir here; leaving me well aware that I am not the target audience for this work. Nevertheless, I would encourage everyone to read Control since it doesn’t harm anyone to revisit the horrors of eugenics.

Overall, a very readable and thought-provoking book. References are sparse (for a work of scholarship), but fully adequate for a popular press non-fiction and useful for the interested reader to delve deeper into the topic.

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