Back Cover Blurb
- Weaving together keenly observed interactions with root-seekers alongside historical details and revealing personal narrative, Alondra Nelson shows that genetic genealogy is a new tool for addressing old and enduring issues.
- Nelson explores how these cutting-edge DNA-based techniques are being used in myriad ways, including grappling with the unfinished business of slavery: to foster reconciliation, to establish ties with African ancestral homelands, to rethink and sometimes alter citizenship, and to make legal claims for slavery reparations1.
- Engrossing and highly original, The Social Life of DNA is a must-read for anyone interested in race2, science, history; and how our reckoning with the past may help us to chart a more just course for tomorrow.
- “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 race3, politics, and identity. 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.”
→ Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns
- “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 race4 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
- 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 Guardian. She lives in New York City.
Amazon Book Description
- The unexpected story of how genetic testing is affecting race5 in America.
- We know DNA is a master key that unlocks medical and forensic secrets, but its genealogical life is both revelatory and endlessly fascinating. Tracing genealogy is now the second-most popular hobby amongst Americans, as well as the second-most visited online category. This billion-dollar industry has spawned popular television shows, websites, and Internet communities, and a booming heritage tourism circuit.
- The tsunami of interest in genetic ancestry tracing from the African American community has been especially overwhelming. In The Social Life of DNA, Alondra Nelson takes us on an unprecedented journey into how the double helix has wound its way into the heart of the most urgent contemporary social issues around race6.
- For over a decade, Nelson has deeply studied this phenomenon. Artfully weaving together keenly observed interactions with root-seekers alongside illuminating historical details and revealing personal narrative, she shows that genetic genealogy is a new tool for addressing old and enduring issues. In The Social Life of DNA, she explains how these cutting-edge DNA-based techniques are being used in myriad ways, including grappling with the unfinished business of slavery: to foster reconciliation, to establish ties with African ancestral homelands, to rethink and sometimes alter citizenship, and to make legal claims for slavery reparations specifically based on ancestry.
- Nelson incisively shows that DNA is a portal to the past that yields insight for the present and future, shining a light on social traumas and historical injustices that still resonate today. Science can be a crucial ally to activism to spur social change and transform twenty-first-century racial politics. But Nelson warns her readers to be discerning: for the social repair we seek can't be found in even the most sophisticated science. Engrossing and highly original, The Social Life of DNA is a must-read for anyone interested in race7, science, history and how our reckoning with the past may help us to chart a more just course for tomorrow.
In-Page Footnotes ("Nelson (Alondra) - The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome")
- It’ll be interesting to see who these claims are against (given that the slaves were already enslaved before they were purchased in slave markets).
- What has genetics to do with the matter, unless the claims are to be against African countries?
- If reparations are for ill-treatment rather than for enslavement per se, there’ll be no end to the matter. What about the ill-treatment of indentured servants, children sent up chimneys or working in mills? Then there are the indigenous peoples around the globe, those who suffered at the hands of the Turks, the Mongols and the Vikings … where would you stop?
- Also, how do you make reparations to those – long dead – who suffered the wrongs?
- As for the descendants who are after the reparations – are their lives better or worse in the USA than they would have been (had they existed) in the counterfactual situation of their ancestors having stayed (as slaves, or free) in Africa?
- Maybe I’ll get answers to these questions when I read the book (just received end-September 2020).
Beacon Press (20 Sept. 2017)
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)