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The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome
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The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  125 ratings  ·  24 reviews
The unexpected story of how genetic testing is affecting race in America

DNA has been a master key unlocking medical and forensic secrets, but its genealogical life has also been notable. Genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the United States, and the outpouring of interest in it from the African American community has been remarkable. After personally and professi
Hardcover, 216 pages
Published January 12th 2016 by Beacon Press
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4.02  · 
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 ·  125 ratings  ·  24 reviews

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Zoe's Human
Dec 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Alondra Nelson has done an exemplary job of breaking down incredibly complex social and scientific topics into language a layman can understand without oversimplifying. While it was a bit dry at times, The Social Life of DNA was replete with information. It was so dense with knowledge that it took me thrice the normal time to read.

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 t
We think of DNA as clear-cut scientific evidence, but this book shows how in many cases the data are incomplete and, in any case, we often see only what we are hoping to find. Even so, DNA analysis can provide a valuable sense of social inclusion. The book is very dryly written and clearly aimed at academicians, but as a lay reader I still gained a deeper understanding of the politics of DNA and of the importance of the social role it plays in reconciliation for African Americans. I will no long ...more
Sarah Schulman
Fascinating book about the marketing of genetic tracing by private companies to African Americans looking for reconciliation with Africa and healing from slavery. It raises so many, many questions - the book could have been three time as long: Does biology tell us who we are? Is family the source of our identity? A view into very thorny questions about the ethics of placing science at the service of commerce.
Tonstant Weader
Mar 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: issues, politics, science
I was very eager to read The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations and Reconciliation After the Genome. I requested it from the library several months ago and have waited impatiently for my hold request to rise to the top. I am interested in genetics and the socio-political implications of DNA research and testing. I also endeavor to be an ally in the struggle against racism. I am aware of the troublesome history of science being exploited and misused to further racist agendas from Charles Murra ...more
David Leonard
May 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Alondra Nelson’s Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome is thoughtful provoking, timely, and forward thinking. It embodies the power in interdisciplinarity scholarship, building bridges between the historic and the sociological, between African American political discourse and scientific inquiry, between everyday conversations and social movements and those archival and ‘scholarly’ spaces. The book’s power is evident (and was felt) in the fact that as I finished I was reminded al ...more
Esther Marie
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
One of the best books I've read recently. Highly, highly recommend. It was excellent in terms of research, writing, and, most of all, content! I learned quite a bit about the place genealogy holds in Black American/African-American communities. (There's a whole world of history that we never learn in school...) Add to that recent breakthroughs in matrilineal and patrilineal DNA testing after the mapping of the human genome, and you have an exceptional book. I tend to be pretty critical of non-fi ...more
Jennifer Rilstone
Feb 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read this for its loose relevance both to my graduate studies in genetics and my own genetic ancestry results (or 4% thereof). I think it was a beneficial read. I'd previously accepted the limitations of the data you can glean from DTC ancestry tests, and sort of dismissed their value as being loosely interpretable at best. So I think the importance to me of reading this book was pulling my mind out of the technical granularity and considering what social value these tests bring to people who ...more
This is an accessible and engaging look at DNA in the particular social context of African-American genealogy. Nelson examines how DNA and genetic lineage knowledge--and the act of interpreting said knowledge--assist people in shaping their own identities, senses of self and orientation to the past, and community ties. The book is weakest on the reparations angle of its subtitle, but that's because DNA's usefulness in seeking legal reparations is weak; in general, the American legal system is no ...more
McKenzie Richardson
I received a copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

This is a very interesting topic and Nelson covers it well. Overall, I liked the book. I think the sections on reparations were especially interesting in the brief history given and how DNA has been used in connection with reparations.

I like how Nelson combined her own personal experience with the history of DNA and how it has been used in matters regarding race. This added an individualized tone to the text, which
Dec 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-books
I want to thank goodreads first reads and the author for allowing me this opportunity in winning a free copy of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome for an honest review.
I found this to be a fascinating book on the dna genetic genealogy of race,politics and identity.the author her unique insight into the genetic science and history of our dna.I find that gives people a more clear and understanding of how our dna transforms us all and how we too can under
Aug 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"...the double helix works a spyglass that telescopes back in time allowing us to see the healing that remains to be achieved in American society."

The Social Life of DNA is a wonderful book that explores the history/significance of DNA testing for African-Americans and at the same introduces a much-needed critique of the ways in which it's been received and put to use. It is at once an academic and personal journey with interesting twists and turns.

If I have any complaint, it's that the whole t
Nov 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book takes a look at genetic genealogy (specifically in tracing African American roots), at it's positive and negative aspects, and at it's capabilities and limitations. Dr. Nelson explores how DNA testing effects the discussion of race in America, and brings the discussion back into the public sphere. She also briefly reviews the history of attempts for African Americans to gain reparations for enslavement of themselves and there ancestors (A fight that has never truly stopped). She looks ...more
Aug 23, 2015 rated it liked it
It was okay. I have complex feelings about reparations, and about DNA testing to find out where in Africa my ancestors MAY have come from. My younger sister got one of the free tests offered a few years ago, and we are matrilinially descended from a "Bantu speaking Congolese" woman. It's nice to have a big piece of the puzzle from before the abduction from Africa, and the sale of our ancestors in this hemisphere. There is so much more to our story between there and here.
Leslie Clement
I can't add any insights or thoughts about that book that hasn't already been said in previous reviews. I have a background in Black History and Archaeology and I was thrilled when I received this book. It brought up some issues I'd not thought of regarding DNA studies and Reparation in clear just-technical-enough prose. Kudos to Ms. Nelson. She has a winner here.
Sep 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a Goodreads win review. This is the first book I have read about DNA. I have always wondered about my own DNA roots but cannot do a family tracing. It is a complex book to reconcile our racial origins.
Hannah Notess
Oct 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writers-of-color
Academic, but full of fascinating anecdotes about (OK as the title says) the role of DNA in understandings of race, reparations, and reconciliation. Looking forward to hearing her speak in a couple of weeks.
Apr 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Very accessible text, kind of all over the place in tracing DNA testing vis a vis race (and potentially social justice? This part felt underdeveloped).
Nov 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Very heavy reading but interesting.
J.J. Amaworo
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book brings together racial politics and DNA-based science in a startling and original way: Nelson shows us how DNA is being used by genealogists to discover the roots of African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved.

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-po
Jun 11, 2017 rated it liked it
While impressive in its scope and ability to show interconnections between science and politics in very different areas like reparations, the book could have been longer and substantiated more instead of using stories. It wavered between being a sociology book or a pop culture book and in the end, didn't really satisfy either.
Jul 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Great ideas, interesting thoughts. The book could use heavy editing since much of it is repetitive. Using it for research on teaching and reaching students of varied ethnicities.
Bryce Van Vleet
I sat in on a lecture of Dr. Nelson's in which she pretty much summed up this book, so understand that I skimmed this more than read it. While interesting, the book was much more academic and dry than I personally enjoy. However, Nelson does a great job of making her science relatively easy to understand. Her observations are acute and her subject matter, interesting. She seeks to tackle a great depth of intersecting social and biological sciences, and is generally successful. While this book wa ...more
Keerthi Purushothaman
Fabulous book that focusses on the gene in genealogy and deals with histories of African Americans after the introduction of home genetic-testing kits. It is shorter than most other academic monographs and is accessible enough for anyone who isn't familiar with "The Social Life of Things". It combines interviews that show us the aspirations of individuals in tracing their histories to a whole other continent and how family histories told as stories is used to verify the claims made by the DNA te ...more
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
A very informative book and narrative. It was a bit beyond me, at times, but I learned a great amount of knowledge.
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Alondra Nelson is professor of sociology at Columbia University, where she has served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science and director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Before arriving at Columbia, she was on the faculty of Yale University and received the Poorvu Award for interdisciplinary teaching excellence.

She is the author or editor of four books, including Bo