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The Science of Human Perfection: How Genes Became the Heart of American Medicine Hardcover – September 25, 2012
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“Comfort explains how eugenics became part of medicine, and how medical and human genetics therefore derive in large part from eugenics. The great strength of this book is to work this through agnostically and calmly.”—Alison Bashford, The University of Sydney
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Top Customer Reviews
The book's philosophy is an intriguing one, which shows a strong historical vein that runs through both eugenics AND medical genetics. Such a thesis can prove dangerous very quickly, as one might imagine, but Comfort is very careful about how he does this, avoiding normativity to lay out the facts and draw upon isomorphisms between the disciplines, and grounding both in an historical tension that exists between Garrodian theory and Galtonian theory. This is a heterodox and original take on genetics, the thesis being that there is struggle between the biometrics and population of Galton, on the one hand, and the biochemical and individual (i.e. particular organism), on the other. From this philosophical starting point, Comfort traces an history that sees Johns Hopkins University as central, in many respects, to the formal codification and professionalization of the discipline of medical genetics. Comfort considers the politics, economics, social aspects, institutional formation, and prevailing scientific themes.
Maybe the only complaint I have is how little there is in the way of actual science in the book, but that increases the accessibility of the work, I think. On that point, I think this is a book for everyone, regardless of experience in science or history of science. What's more, it is written with a marked literary flair, which is entertaining in itself, if the provocative phraseology isn't enough. All in all, I recommend this book to anyone willing to give it a try, as I found it as entertaining as informative, finding myself possessing a rather good idea about how we have come to have the applied technology of medical genetics. If nothing else, the book is thought provoking, on a number of points.