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Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  330 ratings  ·  48 reviews
A decade after the Human Genome Project proved that human beings are not naturally divided by race, the emerging fields of personalized medicine, reproductive technologies, genetic genealogy, and DNA databanks are attempting to resuscitate race as a biological category written in our genes. In this provocative analysis, leading legal scholar and social critic Dorothy ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published July 5th 2011 by The New Press (first published June 1st 2011)
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Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When Bill Clinton announced that they had finally mapped the human genome he also voiced a warning: "We must guarantee that genetic information cannot be used to stigmatize or discriminate against any individual or group."

You see, the problem had been that genetics for a very long time had mostly been used to do the exact opposite. Hitler’s death camps were the natural outcome of theories of eugenics that sought racial purity and to protect the health of the nation by eradicating individuals
Courtney Stoker
If you adored Anne Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, you will love this book. In many ways, they felt like sisters to me: critical evaluations of the way that science is cultural, and the way that science creates concepts like race and sex and writes them onto bodies.

Robert Wechsler
Dec 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This was a very frustrating read for me, because there are so many important ideas and so much important information in this book, and yet I found it poorly argued and structured. I was forced to slog (and carefully skim) through too much information, often finding very important information and arguments hidden in the middle of sections. I was sad to discover, in the book’s Conclusion, that I didn’t feel the author had sufficiently supported some of her conclusions and ignored some arguments ...more
Oct 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Speaking as someone who works directly with human genomic data and studies evolution in humans, I think this book is essential reading for the field. Even though this book is now several years old it is shockingly prescient, I was continually amazed that a writer thinking through these problems in 2010 would be so readily able to predict what the science and politics of race would look like in 2019. I certainly wasn't able to see the writing on the wall at that time, but Dorothy Roberts did.

Mark Ainsworth
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding resource

This book is incredibly well researched. A tremendous amount of referenced information is presented is a cogent manner. Super great read and so so important in our world.
Jan 08, 2012 rated it liked it
One of those times I wish GoodReads allowed half stars, as I teetered back and forth between 3 and 4 for a long time. In the end I went with three, mostly because some chapters felt repetitive. Perhaps that's the nature of a book like this, but when it gets to the point that I'm tempted to skip the rest of a chapter because I feel like I already read it, it's a bit too much. But Roberts makes several excellent points, primarily that we are still too quick to try to base race on biology when it's ...more
Margaret Adams
A thorough, dense book on the myth of biologic race (a myth very much alive in contemporary medical education). "Race is not a biological category that is politically charged. It is a political category that has been disguised as a biological one. [. . .] there are no biological races in the human species. Period. That conclusion was confirmed by the most ambitious research project on human biology yet undertaken, the Human Genome Project." Roberts reviews a lot of history I'd never heard ...more
Emma Klein
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommend this book for anyone in health fields. Meticulously documents and then debunks modern attempts at biologizing race, especially with genomics. I learned a lot from this book.
Apr 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For anyone interested in what genetics has to say about who we are, and how we work, this is an extremely important book. With barely concealed frustration, Roberts lays out the ways that our social construction of race combines with the cost-cutting and shortcut-taking to lead to a new enthusiasm for categorising humans into white, black, red and yellow, and pretending this is a biological, rather than a social, set of categories.
Roberts' writing has just the right balance of scientific
B Sarv
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In this extremely well documented book I met a cross between Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and George Lipsitz “Possessive Investment in Whiteness” with a unique look into the science of genetics. Particularly revealing was the author’s look in the the process of FDA approval of a medicine for African Americans with heart disease.

White supremacy once again adapts to try to maintain its systems while trying to find a way to disguise itself in the trappings of respectability.

Thomas Hale
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
A dense, thoughtful and troubling book about how race is socially and politically constructed, and has been perpetuated from colonial times up to the present day. Roberts has a scientist's vigour and a journalist's stubbornness, illuminating the strategies and fallacies of scientific racism and laying out the grim consequences. I like to think I'm fairly well-read in terms of racial politics, but this was one of those "oh no, it's even worse than you think" kind of books, peppered with nasty ...more
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a medical professional, I think this book should be a required text for those in medicine and scientific research. I’m glad I have had some background reading in similar type texts and podcasts, as it made absorbing and understanding all the research a little easier, but it brings to light a number of essential challenges to the conflation of genes, ancestry, and race that happens regularly even in scientific and medical professionals.
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
5 stars
Very eye-opening. I definitely recommend everyone read this. Roberts really lays out all of her arguments in such a clear and easy to follow manner.

Plus, she gives ample amounts of research and evidence that backs up all of her arguments. Nothing is ever said(written) without fully stated evidence as to how Roberts got to that conclusion.
Michelle Mccrary
Oct 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An incredible book. It really challenged every thing I thought I understood about race. A very compelling read and very accessible-even the science of the genome and DNA as Roberts explains it is easy to follow.
Dec 31, 2012 rated it liked it
While I agree with many of the arguments presented in this book, I don't feel they are presented as clearly or persuasively as necessary. Definitely as the book progresses, the arguments become clearer, but I found the first section hard to follow with parts unclear.
Apr 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent, informative and well-written book about what Roberts calls the "new biopolitics of race" in the areas of medicine, genetics and reproductive rights. Highly recommended if you're interested in critical race theory, medical sociology or related fields.
Nancy Herrera
May 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
great insight into the sociopolitical construction of race
Jade Dill
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Roberts is an icon and THIS BOOK IS SO IMPORTANT
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is so good and necessary! Every science writer should read it, and everyone working in medicine or human genetics.
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a must read for all health field personnel. It squashes the belief that race is a biological concept. Great information throughout, just very dense.
3.75 stars. This is a hard one to rate because it got a bit frustrating. The premise is strong, but the execution isn't always great. The premise is something we've known for years: race is a political construct and has no basis in biology. But the arguments tend to get weighed down in details, and there's a lot of repetition. I skimmed a lot toward the end. Nonetheless, the ideas are important and raise a lot of interesting and thorny questions. So I recommend reading it, but to expect to want ...more
Apr 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed
Interesting. I learned a lot about genetics, genetic research and the problems (social and otherwise) involved with that. This book is also almost a decade old (sorry, I'm slow to get to things) and I'd like to see if I can find out the state of the research now. Are scientists/companies still trying to force the research into old race based models? Tech changes so fast - but our wrong thinking seems to remain the same no matter what the new tech.

One thing I didn't quite understand about the
Lucas Miller
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm interested in learning about race science, but have struggled with the science books. I only made it about half way through Mismeasure of Man.

Roberts front loads a lot of the scientific research in her book. She is meticulous and thorough. A major component of her thesis is the way that the new racial science dismisses criticism as social/political activism that doesn't understand science. In light of this, Roberts works to understand the science she is criticizing. This is slow reading,
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I always learn a ton reading Dorothy Roberts. This books delves into how race really has no biological basis, even in the medical community where so many diseases are treated as if they are the result of being part of an ethnic group (surprise! environmental factors, including to existence of racism are much more likely to be the culprit rather than genes belonging to a socially/politically created group) and how new racial science incorporates more of the old racial science than we'd like to ...more
Rachel Olzer
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a really great book!

The topic is much narrower than I expected though no less useful. I started the book thinking it would lay out a history of scientific racism and racialized science practices in the past and present day. Instead, the book focuses primarily on new genetic technologies and their role in perpetuating a biological definition of race. Nice to read a long-form analysis of a single topic. This book is extremely timely, especially as reprogenetics and DIY genetic testing
Robert Rittel
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: racism
Finishing this book felt like a real accomplishment. It is a dense book with so much knowledge and research packed into it. It isn't an easy read but it's an important one. Dorothy Roberts lays out very clearly the way genetic science is redifining race and creating a new "biopolitics" built on a biological definition of race. By denying race as a sociopolitical category and defining it as a genetic and biolical category society is creating a new, more advanced form of scientific racism.
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
There was a lot of information in this book, and the concept of eliminating race as a biological category of human beings was a complete paradigm shift for me personally. Overall, the book was extremely well thought out, organized, and sited. There were times where I thought that certain conclusions were leaps from the researched information, but even if I disagreed with some of the author's conclusions, without a doubt all the concepts were well researched.

"Locating the causes of inequality in
Ben Jones
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A convincing argument that race is a social creation rather than a biological classification. Dorothy Roberts leaves little room for doubt with this highly thoughtful and compelling compilation of research on race and its devastating effects.
Riley Kaye
Aug 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Really interesting read. Super informative, and the subject is fascinating. It made me rethink what I thought I knew about all those genetic test kits. Some of it was science heavy, so it was a little hard for me to read those parts, but overall very fascinating.
Hannah Warren
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
wow wow wow this book, y'all. What a great and wrecking account of how science and medicine work within and support a system of oppression.
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Dorothy Roberts is a scholar, professor, author and social justice advocate, and currently the 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She has published a range of groundbreaking articles and books analyzing issues of law, race, gender, health, class and social inequality, including Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of ...more
“scientists are using advanced genomic theories and technologies to create a new racial science that claims to divide the human species into natural groups without the taint of racism.” 1 likes
“Reviewing the history of official racial classifications reminds us that these categories are not natural—and neither are the institutional inequities that race undergirds.” 1 likes
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