BOOKS & ARTS COMMENT masturbation as causes for mental ill- ness, alienists fixed on the only pattern left: Books in brief patients’ pedigrees. Heredity was “the one great cause … the cause of causes”, as French surgeon Ulysse Trélat proclaimed in 1856. The Inner Level Thus asylum scientists unwittingly laid a Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett a LLne Lena (2018) path to disaster. For if mental illness boiled In The Spirit Level (2009), epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and down to heredity, the final cure — if you Kate Pickett probed the powerful correlation between a society’s insisted on imposing one — became both inequality and indices of well-being such as social mobility. Here, they obvious and unspeakable. narrow the focus to individuals. Drawing on wide-ranging research, Porter’s chapters, with titles smacking of they examine how inequity unsticks communities, leading to status gothic Victorian novels, trace the long walk to anxiety, isolation, depression and rampant consumerism. They lay corruption. ‘Narratives of mad despair accu - out pragmatic means of democratizing labour and dismantling class mulate as information’ gives way to ‘German distinctions. And they put forth a salient point: that ability is generally doctors organize data to turn the tables on a product, rather than a determinant, of social position. degeneration’, a foretaste of horror. The final chapter, ‘Psychiatric geneticists create colo -s sal databases, some with horrifying purposes, Music by the Numbers: from Pythagoras to Schoenberg 1920–1939’ , sees eugenics deployed en masse. Eli Maor Pnotecnir u ytisrevin Psser (2018) After the 1927 Supreme Court decision Buck From precise notation to rhythmic patterns, music and mathematics v. Bell, US programmes forced sterilization often chime. In this intriguing study, maths historian Eli Maor traces on tens of thousands of people deemed men- those echoes, along with the trajectories of the “scientists, inventors, tally deficient. The Nazis built on that exam- composers, and occasional eccentrics” behind them. We encounter ple in the 1930s by sterilizing some 400,000 the musical ‘firsts’ of classical philosopher Pythagoras; composer Germans labelled hereditarily ‘defective’. In Arnold Schoenberg, whose “relativistic” music might have been 1940, they launched their wider genocidal influenced by the theories of Albert Einstein; the German musicians programme by gathering more than 10,000 who in 2001 launched a 639-year performance of John Cage’s people from asylums all over southern Ger- composition ‘As Slow as Possible’; and scores more. many and gassing them at Grafeneck Castle. The story of the era, Porter insists, is not one “of isolated failings by a few bad scien- The Design of Childhood tists” . Every genetic insight along the way was Alexandra Lange BLsmoo Byru (2018) sucked into the stream. Many geneticists and Millions of children are in digital overdrive, risking limited interaction alienists had invested too heavily to stop. Oth- with the material world (see B. Kiser et al. Nature 523, 286–289; ers had the task brought to them. It was not by 2015). Alexandra Lange reminds us why that is an issue. Her chance that the Holocaust found its first vic - captivating design history begins with construction toys such as tims in asylums, which also housed the ros- Lego, Tubation and Zoob, and moves through home, school and ters, records and rationale that doomed them. playground as they morph to accommodate children’s needs and This matters for many reasons, accord- inspire their creativity ever more fluidly and beautifully. She shows, ing to Porter, the most immediate being the too, how in mixed urban spaces, child-centred elements such as elemental links between this history and play areas and mental-mapping landmarks are often elbowed out. contemporary study of heredity. As Porter exposes strand after strand of connection, he draws sobering parallels between the motives, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now methods, obsessions and promises of bygone Jaron Lanier Hyrne Ho Lt (2018) asylum directors, and those of the enormous Fiercely unequivocal and utterly timely, Jaron Lanier’s manifesto human-genomics institutes that now enjoy urges those still in thrall to social media to bin their accounts — unprecedented funding and power. now. The virtual-reality pioneer (see A. Faisal Nature 551, 298–299; To Porter, these connections are roots, and 2017) lays out ten rationales, starting baldly with “You are losing today’s genomics industry the tree. “Sold with your free will”. His argument, as an insider’s insider, is that these a promise to find the genes for talents, dis- “social modification empires” undermine truth, destroy empathy, eases, and every kind of personal character - promote unhappiness and make a joke of politics through constant istic”, he writes, genetics has returned to “the surveillance and manipulation. As he puts it, it’s better to be a cat, tradition of amassing, ordering, and depict- autonomous and in charge, than a subservient dog — or lab rat. ing data of biological inheritance” that started more than two centuries ago, in squalor. Some will reject this idea ferociously. But Around the World in 80 Trees I suspect this bold, dauntingly well-docu- Jonathan Drori and Lucille Clerc Lecnerwa Kgni (2018) mented book will prove difficult to dismiss. ■ This tome, gorgeously illustrated by Lucille Clerc, pays homage to the tree as a scientific subject, a cultural mainstay and an exemplar David Dobbs, author of My Mother’s of biological majesty. Educator Jonathan Drori has isolated Lover, writes on science, culture, music and 80 species for his global survey, each wreathed in intriguing tales. sport for publications including The New Blossoms of the long-lived lime (Tilia x europaea), for instance, exude York Times, National Geographic, WIRED the bee-befuddling sugar mannose, and seedpods of the Costa and The Atlantic. His work can be found at Rican sandbox (Hura crepitans) explode with the sound of a pistol neuronculture.com. shot, ejecting their load at up to 240 kilometres an hour. From upas e-mail: email@example.com to coco de mer, an arboreal odyssey. Barbara Kiser 7 J U N E 2018 | V O L 558 | N A T U R E | 29 © 201 8 Mac m ill an Publi shers Li m it ed, part of Spri nger Nat ur e. A ll ri ghts r eser ved.
Nature – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 6, 2018
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