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

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  1,069 ratings  ·  139 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 Rober ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published July 5th 2011 by The New Press (first published June 14th 2011)
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 ·  1,069 ratings  ·  139 reviews

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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 dee
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 sh ...more
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.

Jan 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the following protests against police brutality, many medical schools took it upon themselves to hold workshops or assign texts addressing racism in medicine. During orientation week at my school, two faculty delivered a presentation on the troubled history of medicine and the barring of women and Black people from the profession. They read excerpts from Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial T ...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.

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
Sep 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
~4.5/5. There's no arguing that this is an extremely important book that I want to put in the hands of everyone I meet. I did however find the book difficult to follow at times and I fear that someone who isn't committed to finishing it will give up near the beginning during very surface explanations of DNA and alleles that lead into detailed ideas.

That being said, this is an excellent book and 100% worth the read. I thought I was pretty educated on social and racial issues but within the first
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 21, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio-book
This is an extremely informative and challenging read. I think my major misstep with it was choosing to listen to it on audio. I felt like I was being hit with a tidal wave of information, and was trying to absorb as much as I could as I listened, but I know some of it washed over me. This is the kind of book I wish I had read with pen in hand, really engaging with the test. Instead, I listened to it on audio. I found the narration to be choppy, with a strange emphasis on certain words, or odd p ...more
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 informa
Dorothy Roberts is just brilliant. I need more people to read her so we can talk about her work. Years ago I read Killing the Black Body, and it really challenged my understanding of how racism and classism are used to portray certain women as inherently unfit for and undeserving of motherhood. Fatal Invention is both very different and not at all.

Here Roberts shows how some scientists grasp at straws to “prove” there are biological differences between socially constructed races. In the 21st Ce
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.
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. ...more
Jul 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook, nonfiction
"Race is the product of racism; racism is not the product of race." ...more
She makes a compelling case about how the medical establishment uses race inaccurately, further arguing that not only is the use of race as a proxy for genetics bad science, it's also harmful. Many of her arguments are well articulated; for example, she describes a doctor who keeps researching genetic explanations for why poor, urban children of color are more likely to develop asthma, instead of examining the obvious, which is that poor, children are more likely exposed to environmental toxins ...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 before ...more
Rachel Lee
Jan 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So thankful that Ms. Robert was so thorough in her research for this book. She guides us through the US’s history of defining race in scientific forms in order to subjugate black and brown people. It makes me feel more equipped to face potential healthcare challenges; I have a better sense of what questions to ask providers and how to best advocate for myself. At its best, science is extremely helpful, but it seems that scientists have become obsessed with finding something that just doesn’t exi ...more
Jessica Taylor
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned-reads
After making it through Parts 1-3 I couldn't spend the time to finish Part 4. This book could easily have been half the length. My frustration about how repetitive it was kept me from taking in the better points. ...more
Olivia Rowland
Could benefit from more explicit and sustained engagement with feminist science studies (eg Haraway) re ontology/semiotics, scientific objectivity, biology/culture, etc.
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Yes, human beings are remarkably similar at the genetic level. But what should link us together is not our genetic unity; we should be bound by a common struggle for the equal dignity of all of humankind. Americans are so used to filtering our impressions of people through a racial lens that we engage in this exercise automatically—as if we were merely putting a label on people to match their innate racial identities. Race is not a biological category that is politically charged. It is a polit ...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.
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My Youtube review of the book:

Highly recommended for any human biologist (especially a geneticist) or healthcare worker, and written at a level that will be accessible even for non-scientists. Roberts criticizes the tendency of modern researchers, especially geneticists, to think of research on genetic ancestry and its relevance to disease as a largely post-racial endeavor, one that no longer is informed by historical definitions of race whose definitions were rooted
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.

Mar 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Dorothy Roberts lays out successive interpretative frameworks for understanding race. In the introduction she draws the following analogy:

“Aristotle claimed that he could tell if a man was a citizen by looking at him. Most intelligent people today would think it preposterous to judge someone’s citizenship status by physical appearance. Citizenship is a political category, not a biological one…Like citizenship, race is a political system that governs people by sorting them into social groupings b
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 sur ...more
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.
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. ...more
Nancy Herrera
May 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
great insight into the sociopolitical construction of race
Jade Dill
Oct 08, 2017 added it
Shelves: school
Roberts is an icon and THIS BOOK IS SO IMPORTANT
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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 Libert ...more

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“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.” 2 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.” 2 likes
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