Control by Adam Rutherford review – a warning from history about eugenics

To know the story of this dark science is to inoculate ourselves against its being repeated, argues the science writer and broadcaster

This is a short book about a big subject, with a thorny history stretching from the Spartans and Plato’s Republic, all the way to present-day science and policymaking. A glance at the index gives some idea of its scope. Ancient Greece rubs shoulders with Avengers: Infinity War and the “Do Not Resuscitate” notices of the Covid-19 pandemic with the doctors’ trial at Nuremberg.

It takes patience to trace the complicated web linking these ideas, and Rutherford does so with much-needed nuance and an absence of alarmism. “For just over a century, we have referred to the deliberate crafting of society specifically by biological design with a word which was for half of its existence regarded as desirable, and for the other half, poisonous,” he writes. As a geneticist and author of books such as How to Argue with a Racist, Rutherford aims to distil a rounded, scientific analysis from the deeply tainted and overheated subject of eugenics.

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