Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781474622387

Price: £12.99

ON SALE: 3rd February 2022

Genre: Mathematics & Science

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Throughout history, people have sought to improve society by reducing suffering, eliminating disease or enhancing desirable qualities in their children. But this wish goes hand in hand with the desire to impose control over who can marry, who can procreate and who is permitted to live. In the Victorian era, in the shadow of Darwin’s ideas about evolution, a new full-blooded attempt to impose control over our unruly biology began to grow in the clubs, salons and offices of the powerful. It was enshrined in a political movement that bastardised science, and for sixty years enjoyed bipartisan and huge popular support.

Eugenics was vigorously embraced in dozens of countries. It was also a cornerstone of Nazi ideology, and forged a path that led directly to the gates of Auschwitz. But the underlying ideas are not merely historical. The legacy of eugenics persists in our language and literature, from the words ‘moron’ and ‘imbecile’ to the themes of some of our greatest works of culture. Today, with new gene editing techniques, very real conversations are happening – including in the heart of British government – about tinkering with the DNA of our unborn children, to make them smarter, fitter, stronger.

CONTROL tells the story of attempts by the powerful throughout history to dictate reproduction and regulate the interface of breeding and society. It is an urgently needed examination that unpicks one of the defining and most destructive ideas of the twentieth century. To know this history is to inoculate ourselves against its being repeated.


Rutherford sharply undermines the old trope that science is detached from politics, showing that to stand on the shoulders of giants is no barrier to recognising their flaws and fetishes. A vital warning from both history and science of the quiet horrors that can ensue if society becomes overconfident in its ability to 'improve' the population. Smart and surprisingly entertaining
Genetics has attracted brilliant, visionary scientists. It has attracted racists and charlatans. CONTROL skilfully weaves together these two strands of the discipline's history
A remarkable combination of intelligence, knowledge, insight and admirable political passion, on a serious moral problem in contemporary society
Weighty and serious but accessible and perfectly pitched. The scholarship is astounding
Discussions around the idea of population control are increasingly resurfacing. CONTROL's strength is that it provides not only much-needed guidance for these conversations by reminding us of the horrors of the past, but also uses scientific evidence to dismantle the viability of these ideas
Layal Liverpool, NEW SCIENTIST
A short, sharp, illuminating overview of the science, politics, uses and abuses of human gene editing
Tim Adams, OBSERVER, Book of the Week
There are many involving arguments, historical surprises, detailed case studies and amiable jokes in this book, and you'll finish it with renewed respect for, and interest in, what real scientists do
Insightful and compelling
Sharron Logan, PRESS ASSOCIATION review syndicated across regional press
A clear-sighted look at the past and present dangers of eugenics. Rutherford tells [the story] with great concision and with clarity, both scientific and moral. [He] condenses tricky concepts into smart and often witty prose, combining erudition with humility . . . honest, informed and humane
CONTROL is persuasive, sensible and ultimately reassuring, but it is not complacent . . . To know history is "to inoculate ourselves against its being repeated", Rutherford argues. From that perspective, this book is a shot worth having
Katy Guest, GUARDIAN, Book of the Day
[Rutherford's] scientific demolition of the eugenic project is brilliantly illuminating and compelling. His book will be indispensable for anyone who wants to assess the wild claims and counter-claims surrounding new genetic technologies
Rutherford presents a profoundly sensible take on the complexities of history . . . an important book
Shaoni Bhattacharya, MAIL ON SUNDAY
Rutherford's swift, well-written account of these fascinating scientific and moral issues is well worth a read
Emma Duncan, THE TIMES, Book of the Week
Fizzy and pugnacious . . . brilliant . . . A fierce and funny broadside against eugenics and its admirers
An important book . . . It might be true, as Rutherford claims, that "eugenics is a busted flush, a pseudoscience that cannot deliver on its promise", but this book is a reminder of why we must remain vigilant
Tina Beattie, THE TABLET
Rutherford takes us on a journey that encompasses both the history of eugenics and its current-day practice . . . an insightful and compelling study
Roger Cox, i NEWSPAPER
An insightful and compelling look into the story of eugenics, showing how its legacies are still prevalent in language and literature today. It's a hard one to put down . . . Rutherford makes it easy to digest
Few are as well-qualified to perform the necessary demolition [of eugenics] as Adam Rutherford
Dominic Lawson, DAILY MAIL, Book of the Week
Breathtakingly brilliant and dark, a popular science book that doesn't talk down to you.
Alex Preston in the i paper
From Victorian polymaths to Nazi breeding programmes, Rutherford traces the history of eugenics with punch and brio - but his book really shines when it takes aim at contemporary pseudoscience.