Fatal Invention

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"Roberts, a lawyer and sociology professor, examines the development and contemporary consequences of "race as a political system," bringing science, law, commerce, and race ideologies, virtual thickets of controversy, under one canopy. After demonstrating how, historically, "race was literally manufactured by law," and offering an admirably intelligible account of genomic theory, she considers the extent to which the new approaches "tend to merely repackage race as a genetic category rather than replace it." DNA becomes a "marketable commodity," one consequence being that "race soon became the linchpin for turning the vision of tomorrow's personalized medicine into today's profit-making drugs." As she assesses the "new biopolitics of race," she argues that "Race-based medicine gives people a morally acceptable reason to hold onto their belief in intrinsic racial difference." While "pharmacogenomics," "epigenetic," and "allele" are not in most of our conversations, and while the specialized journals Roberts has made germane use of, for support or to controvert, are not most readers' regular stuff, Roberts is consistently lucid. Her book is alarming but not alarmist, controversial but evidential, impassioned but rational." 
 © Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“Race, like Freddy Krueger, keeps coming back after we believe we kill it. In this masterful book Roberts cogently shows that race has been rearticulated in perhaps more pernicious ways in medicine, biotechnology, and social policies. A terribly important book on how the ‘fatal invention’ has terrifying effects in the post-genomic, ‘post-racial’ era.” © Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, professor of sociology, Duke University, author of Racism Without Racists.

“Fatal Invention is a triumph! Race has always been an ill-defined amalgam of medical and cultural bias, thinly overlaid with the trappings of contemporary scientific thought. And no one has peeled back the layers of assumption and deception as lucidly as Dorothy Roberts, whose Killing the Black Body and body of insightful essays has repeatedly excelled at illuminating the persistent illogic that undergirds our necessary fictions of racial ‘science.’ Her engaging tour-de-force Fatal Invention traces the sociopolitical origins and flimsy science that have been married on many fronts to establish contemporary neoracial medicine. But this riveting works’ interviews, case histories and chilling stories of deterministic brutality do much more, as she reveals the human faces of those imperiled by our sub rosa return to race-based medicine. You will not be able to forget these faces, and you will not be able to put this book down. Moreover, you will come away with an education in the surprising shortcomings and the chilling consequences that accompany many elements of our current medical paradigms, from genetic genealogy to personalized medicine and DNA databanks, and more.”
© Harriet A. Washington, author of Medical Aparthied and Deadly Monopolies


"Named on 10 Best Black Books of 2011 (Non-Fiction)" © Washington Afro American & Afro.com

Fatal Invention is an extremely well-written, thoroughly documented, and potentially impactful book. While urging a continued effort to better understand genes and how they work, it challenges us to abandon the politics of biological race and to work to develop the kind of social environments that promote the well-being of all humanity.” 

© David Satcher, MD, PhD, Director, Satcher Health Leadership Institute, Director, Center of Excellence on Health Disparities, and 16th Surgeon General of the United States.


“In Fatal Invention, Dorothy Roberts bravely asks if the new genomic and medical research seeking once again to equate ‘race’ with ‘genetics’ fatally refutes the critical scholarship establishing that ‘race’ is not a biological fact, but rather a fallacious and endlessly modified political fabrication created to establish and naturalize social inequality. Taking a hard look at how ‘race’ plays out in pharmacogenetics, DNA ancestry testing, forensic science, and legal cases, Roberts powerfully exposes the insidious conceptual and methodological flaws, politics, and business—including economic incentives—of contemporary ‘race’ science. Her answer could not be clearer: the false equation ‘race = genetics’ continues to thrive not because it is ‘good science’—it isn’t—but because the ideology that ‘race = biology,’ like any ideology, ignores inconvenient evidence. Ably synthesizing new work on the embodied consequences of racial inequality, Roberts offers a bracing antidote to the fatalistic view that DNA determines social structure, identity and health status, and calls instead for new forms of biocitizenship premised on the full democratic engagement of our one human race. This book should be read by any and all grappling with issues of science, social justice, and racial equality.” © Nancy Krieger, PhD, Professor, Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health


“Roberts has issued a compelling and provocative warning: our freedoms are threatened by a new biopolitics that reinforces a false concept of race and turns us into ‘biocitizens’ whose DNA can be exploited both by the government and big business. Everyone concerned about social justice in America should read this powerful book.” 

© Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union

“Dorothy Roberts has rendered a huge service in drawing together a large and growing literature on the new biologization of race. Professor Roberts synthesizes work from the fields of science and technology studies, the history of science, epidemiology, public health, genetics, and health policy to offer a clear-eyed critique of the new science of race. The book is clearly written and will be of great use in the classroom and for all laypersons concerned about this new wave of racialization. It is must reading for science and health reporters. I congratulate her on this achievement.” © Anne Fausto-Sterling, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Biology and Gender Studies, Brown University, and author of Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality


“Dorothy Roberts’s Fatal Invention is a significant contribution to our understanding of how and why there has been a resurgence of the idea of ‘race as biological’ in the twenty-first century. This book provides a comprehensive and astute analysis that gives new meaning to the idea of ‘co-production’—by carefully piecing together and then explaining how clinical medicine, corporate pharmaceutical interests, and the political science of human molecular genetics have joined forces to resuscitate and legitimize a contested eighteenth-century framework for categorizing humans.” © Troy Duster, Silver Professor of Sociology, New York University, and author of Backdoor to Eugenics.

"Recently however, I had the opportunity of reading her book in its entirety and felt like a kid at the proverbial candy store. I seldom get as excited by a book as I did with this one. This book is full of ideas, innovations, and even racial theory." © Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Contemporary Sociology



fatal invention