- Hardcover: 216 pages
- Publisher: Beacon Press; 1 edition (January 12, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0807033014
- ISBN-13: 978-0807033012
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #758,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome 1st Edition
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"Alondra Nelson takes us into a complex and endlessly fascinating space where genetic ancestry testing meets racial politics. With her unique and wonderful gifts for research and insight into genetic science, ethnography and history, The Social Life of DNA comes at a moment when the questions it raises about race and social justice couldn't be more pressing and urgent."
--Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
"Nelson explores this large, sprawling, fascinating subject with clarity, passion, rigor, and a keen eye for revealing detail....It is a brilliant work."
--Randall Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor at Harvard Law School and author of The Persistence of the Color Line
"Using fresh genetics and writing like an investigative reporter, Nelson clears up the mystery about our society's rush to DNA."
--Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family and The Genetic Strand
"One of this generation's most gifted scholars examines the unfolding mysteries of DNA sequencing and the limits and promises of genetic genealogy at the intersection of race, politics and identity. Alondra Nelson brilliantly guides us on a journey of discovery in this cautionary tale of the high-stakes efforts to reconcile our racial origins and to find redemption as a country. Eye-opening, provocative and deeply humane."
--Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns
"The double helix now lies at the center of some of the most significant issues of our time,' Alondra Nelson writes in this valuable and illuminating book. Since 2003, she has been following the ways that DNA intertwines with race, and The Social Life of DNA is her clear-eyed, sharp, and closely observed account of the phenomenon. It couldn’t be more timely."
--Jonathan Weiner, Maxwell M. Geffen Professor of Medical and Scientific Journalism at Columbia Journalism School
"Alondra Nelson’s account of how genetic data was transformed into contested political culture is a lucid as it is path-breaking. This exhilarating survey of how DNA became an agent in the politics of reparation and reconciliation has not only extended analysis of race and racism but created a new field of comparative research."
--Paul Gilroy, FBA, King's College, London, author of The Black Atlantic
"The Social Life of DNA is a brilliant ethnography of the recreational uses of DNA. Besieged as our culture has become by beguiling promises of romantic heraldry and forensic infallibility, Nelson takes an unflinching yet sympathetic look at how popular yearning for ‘lost roots’ has led to DNA as metaphor: ‘reading’ our genes has become an inferential, often scientifically unsubstantiated link between past, present and future. It has emerged as the symbolic grounding for magical cures, heritage tourism, escapist fantasy, as well as legal actions for ethnic and racial reconciliation, reparations and repatriation. Timely and original, this book offers a nuanced and engrossing negotiation between genetic truth and ‘truthiness.’”
--Patricia J. Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University and columnist for The Nation
"meticulously detailed study... adds another chapter to the somber history of injustice toward African-Americans, but it is one in which science is enriching lives by forging new identities and connections to ancestral homelands."
-- Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Alondra Nelson is Dean of Social Science and professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia University. She is the author of the award-winning book Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination, and her reviews, writing, and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Science, Boston Globe, and the Guardian. She lives in New York City.
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Not only do I feel that I have learned something about genetics and genealogy, I have, more importantly, come to a greater understand of the cultural significance of these studies in the black community. I have long understood the theft of culture and family from Africans and African-Americans as a part of the many horrors of slavery. What I had failed to understand was how emotionally significant an ethnic identity can be to a person. In particular a person for whom this identity has not only been taken but replaced with an identity as victim.
This has given me a great deal to process for which I thank the author.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Goodreads First Reads program
For readers interested in any of these topics this book would be a good starting point.
The book includes interviews with "kin-keepers" (family members who research and keep alive family histories); intros to scientist-activists such as Rick A. Kittles; and a trip through the legal minefield of reparations lawsuits. Nelson's grasp of the science and its socio-political uses is admirable and her explanations accessible.
This story is far from finished. As the science becomes more advanced, we'll be able to go back further and with more accuracy. Will these developments herald an age of greater justice and acknowledgement of the sins of the past? It's unlikely. Such a reckoning would involve major admissions of guilt on behalf of families, communities, companies, states and the national government. Whatever the outcomes, Nelson's excellent book shows us the truth is out there, and someone in a lab coat may one day help us find it.