From Publishers Weekly
Contemporary media has gone "gene crazy," producing endless reports on genes that make people fat, gay, criminal, sad, happy or ill, according to Rothman. In this updated version of her 1998 book, this astute and opinionated social critic offers a commonsense exploration of the intersection of science, ethics and politics, separating the science from the politics and hype. "Genetics isn't just a science," she declares. "It's a way of thinking, an ideology." Although she discusses new advances in human gene research, Rothman is equally concerned with narrating the intellectual history and political implications of genetics. She ably navigates a wide range of complex topics, including anti-Semitic conceptualizations of Jews as a race; the idea of a "gay gene"; Susan Sontag's discussion of the waning metaphorical power of cancer; and the controversial theory that men with XYY chromosomes are likely to become violent. Rothman is frank about her progressive politics, calling The Bell Curve (Charles Murray's polemic on genes, race and intelligence) "disgusting" while she systemically and convincingly exposes its scientific and logical fallacies. Throughout, she approaches the ethical parameters of her topic with zest, humanity and caution. Even when Rothman's approach is quirky (e.g., she explores cultural and scientific myths about cancer via Thomas Aquinas's proof of God's existence), she can be both playful and illuminating. At her best for example, when charting how changing social ideas about women as well as cancer radically reshaped current understanding of breast cancer, or looking at the theological implications of DNA or eugenics she inserts an incisive and fresh voice into the debate on genetic science, ethics and politics.
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Millions are excited by what scientists promise as they crack the genetic code: the secrets of human evolution, new treatments of terrible diseases, a generation of superbabies. But for Rothman, these promises stir less excitement than fear. Fear that a twisted genetics will kindle a new and respectable racism. Fear that biological technospeak will displace ethical dialogue. Fear that genetic engineering will turn beauty and intelligence into market commodities. Fear that the mystery of human identity will dwindle into memorized formulas. These fears spring not from ignorance but from an anxious wrestling with the latest genetic research and from a deeply personal engagement with the people at risk of losing their dignity at the hands of DNA specialists. To protect a dignified future for the not-so-ordinary people we know as children, parents, siblings, and spouses, Rothman sounds an urgent warning about how genetic maps can be used to build dangerous cultural highways. Lucid arguments informed by honest emotions make this a critically important book for those debating the construction of these highways. Bryce Christensen