'Count wherever you can' was the motto of Sir Francis Galton's extraordinary life. His measuring mind left its mark all over the scientific landscape. Explorer, inventor, meteorologist, psychologist, anthropologist and statistician, Galton was one of the great Victorian polymaths. But it was in the fledgling field of genetics where he made his most indelible impression. Galton kick-started the enduring nature/nurture debate, and took hereditary determinism to its darkest extreme. Consumed by his eugenic vision, he dreamed of a future society built on a race of pure-breeding supermen. Plagued by illness and poor mental health, Galton often let his obsessions run away with him. He turned tea-making into a theoretical science, counted the brush strokes on his portrait, and created a beauty map of the British Isles, ranking its cities on the basis of their feminine allure. Through the story of Galton's colourful life Martin Brookes examines his scientific legacy and takes us on a fascinating journey to the origins of modern human genetics.
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Martin Brookes is a science writer and biographer. He lives in Spain and the United States.From Publishers Weekly:
Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin, once famously made a beauty map of Britain, counting the number of attractive women he saw in each city (London was number one). This eccentric Victorian snob is one of the greatest forgotten scientists: he invented modern statistics, coined the phrase "nature versus nurture" and popularized fingerprinting as a means of tracking criminals. He did all this in the name of his brainchild, eugenics. Galton was "preoccupied with distinctions of race, class and social status" and saw natural selection as a "prescription for human progress" and a "path to biological excellence." Author and biologist Brookes (Fly: The Unsung Hero of Twentieth-Century Science) writes with understanding but unsympathetic wit of Galton's racist ideas, laying bare his shocking cruelty toward his fellow man, which he tried to hide behind Victorian respectability. Though the book is a little slow in early chapters about Galton's youth, the history of his scientific career is worth persevering, for Brookes explores the mind of this polymath, illuminating how one man could both innovate modern genetics' most useful tools and completely misinterpret the results. Galton deserves his moment in the sun, and Brookes, with his respect for Galton's achievements and condemnation for his conclusions, is the right biographer to explain this controversial man. B&w photos.
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