Superior

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Member Reviews

Thanks to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Superior is an especially topical book considering the current political climate in the West. Through the election of Trump, the emergence of the alt-right, increasing nationalism and Brexit we are seeing a resurgence in discourse around race science. In this book Saini explores the past and current context of race science and dismantles some of the myths and assumptions that surround the issue of biological race and the problem of setting the benchmark of measuring humanity against white westerners.   

The book is written in a balanced, calm and engaging style which makes it accessible for even the most casual reader. It is continually thought provoking and Saini’s wry observations make her personal standpoints clear without ever overpowering her key messages.  

I took a long time to finish this book as I found so many parts of it profoundly depressing and difficult to read. Some of the social history covered includes the Australian Aboriginal stolen generation, the humiliation and despair suffered by Saartjie Baartman – the “Hottentot Venus”, Parisian human zoos, Eugenics (including Marie Stopes) and the Holocaust. There are some real horrors and accounts of almost unimaginable inhumanity, but some moments of humour too. I was particularly tickled by the revelation that Western Europeans are more likely to have Neanderthal DNA than Aboriginals and the subsequent rehabilitation of the Neanderthal’s public image as a result.  

The book challenges us to reflect on what makes a group of people representative of a worthwhile human society? Is it advanced technology? The presence of skyscrapers in cities? A significant portion of the book explores the resurgence in the scientific theories around biological race. Many modern scientists still make arguments for fundamental genetic differences in racial differences despite lack of any real evidence. I would have hoped we’d moved beyond this by now, but sadly not. This particular line of thought felt a little repetitive sometimes and there were times I felt myself thinking “yes, yes I know” whilst certain sections. 

This is an exhaustively researched account of the current context around race science and the current arguments on both sides of the debate. It is written in an accessible and calm manner despite the difficult subject matter and the emotions and rhetoric involved.
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Thanks to NetGalley and The Publisher for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Superior: The Return of Race Science is a timely and unfortunately necessary book giving what is going on in the world today - the rise and prominence of the far-right, Brexit and Trump just to name a few. 

This book examines how science has be used to determine if there is a biological explanation to explain perceived differences in " racial groups". And how this information has been used and misused and altered as society's feeling to different "racial groups" and racism have changed.

Great care has been given to present voices from both sides of the fence, however only one conclusion can be drawn - THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC FOUNDATION TO RACIAL INEQUALITY!

This is not a biased opinion but a true fact, that this book does a wonderful job of explaining.
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I really enjoyed Saini delving into the history of race science, how it's been misused to bolster racism, and I fell like I learned a lot from the book. What I felt was missing was some kind of steer about what ordinary (non-scientists) can do to help combat ideas that misuse science for their own racist arguments.
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Wow. This book is dense. There is so much information packed into its pages that I'm going to have to sit and ruminate on the theses over the next few days. But it is so, so brilliant. There were moments in this book where I just sat with my mouth hanging open soaking in every single piece of information that Saini mentioned. Touching on topics from experimentation by Nazi scientists during the Holocaust to modern medicines attitudes towards African-Americans having its roots in the slave trade- not to mention the way science often fails non-white people- this book explores every nook and cranny of race science and demonstrates that its existence is troubling enough. 

I will say there were a lot of concepts that I didn't quite understand because there is a basic level of knowledge you need to really get to the core ideas of this book. Saini writes like a journalist- her information is rooted in stories and personable narratives, but she also tends to tangent for a while. The style is something that takes a little while to get used to, but once you're ingrained within a chapter and its thoughts, you're in for good. I particularly enjoyed her examination of the caste system in India, particularly as she related it to her own experiences. 

Her mentions of Brexit and Trump are necessary and important. When she talks about her experiences as a woman of colour in England, particularly during this rise of white nationalism that our country is seeing, it's harrowing to read but something that we all need to hear. This book has its moments of excellence but there's just so much contained to a few hundred pages that it feels overwhelming at times.
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Having grown up as part of an ethnic minority group in London during the 1980s and 90s, Angela Saini has first-hand experience of the racism which was rife during these decades. Unfortunately, after being heavily discredited, race science has slowly and insidiously crept back into public discourse over the past 50-70 years. During her formative years, the murder of Stephen Lawrence in close proximity to her childhood home had a big impact on her and what really stuck in her mind was the difference between someone white being murdered and a black individual; it was obvious that fewer resources and time were dedicated to an ethnic minority individual to those who were white. But was this due to scientific or societal issues?

This childhood experience precipitated Saini's intense interest in the subject of race, racial bias and matters surrounding it, and this is an essential and exceptional work which rebuts the idea of racism as a biological issue rather than a social one. Not only does she debunk the lie that inequality is to do with genetics but she goes a long way to proving that it has everything to do with political power. It is a fascinating and beautifully written piece which has clearly been extensively researched. It is a masterfully written, topical piece by one of the most trusted science writers of our time and should be on the reading lists of anyone interested in the history and evolution of this subject from the beginning of time up to present day. 

Although it is frequently referred to as race science, I think the most appropriate and fitting terminology is racist science. Many thanks to Fourth Estate for an ARC.
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An interesting read about an issue that is a topical political and social issue.
There're still some old ideas that are being passed as science and it was interesting reading this book because the author is very good to rebut them.
The book is well written, engaging and entertaining.
I like the style of writing, the clarity of the explanations and the sense of humour.
I hope this book will be read by a lot of people because we need to know how to distinguish between political made pseudo scientific thesis and the reality.
Recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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What struck me most on reading Angela Saini’s timely book is the persistence of ideas in scientific circles that have no actual basis in science and no place in today’s world. Race is a social and political construct and yet scientific research is still being conducted with aim to eventually show that one kind of people are more superior to other kinds of people. Fitter, happier, more productive as the Radiohead song goes. And, as Saini ably demonstrates, this research tends to be so selective that it can’t be called anything other than pseudoscience. Medical research that avoids looking at socioeconomic factors, genetic research that looks only at nature/ heritage and ignores nurture and culture. And while this type of research exists in margins of science and is widely disproved, it does continue and even seems to be on the rise, providing fuel for right wing nationalist and populist agenda. 

Saini writes with passion, looking at history of racism, from Enlightenment and colonialism to eugenics before focusing on the past thirty or so years and the resurfacing of political and intellectual racism. While modern genetic research has shown constant mixing and migration over thousands of years, making “the world a melting pot long before the last few centuries, long before the multicultural societies we have today.”, the ideas of exceptionalism and genetic determinism continue to exist. 

Superior is an important book, exposing and debunking modern racial myths that many people are not even aware of. It is well researched although focused mainly on the US, Britain and India to a lesser extent, I suppose because that is where a lot of modern research that aims to perpetuate racism is still being conducted and published. This sometimes makes Superior a little too narrowly focused and repetitive. Saini does mention the rise of far right and nationalism around the world but only in passing and it would have been interesting to see whether and to what extent has science (or rather pseudoscience) been used in other countries to support political and intellectual discrimination.
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This is a journalistic account of 'race science' - where both terms 'race' and 'science' are scrutinised with a sharp eye. Saini is quite up-front with her own stance: that there's no genetic or biological support for racial difference beyond the merest superficialities such as skin pigmentation. Driven by the re-emergence of the most pernicious ideologies that many of us thought had been exposed for what they are by the Holocaust and other race-based genocides of the C20th, this takes an interesting look at the history of 'race science' and the role it still plays in academic research today, however contested and controversial.

Saini is a relaxed writer, always accessible and with a sense of humour that is light but with just the right level of suppressed snarkiness: witness the anecdote of the geneticist who proclaims that he's discovered the 'chop-stick using gene' in Chinese people! Well, we laugh - but, of course, it's not much of a jump to go from 'Chinese are biologically pre-determined to use chopsticks' to insidious and horrific claims about racialised intelligence, justifications for slavery, and we're soon back at those looming gas ovens of Auschwitz. 

What is most dispiriting about this book is the extent to which highly-educated scientists at the heart of the academe in both Europe and the US can cling to old views of racialised genetic predermination and 'race fate' *in the face of an almost complete lack of biological evidence for racial difference in humans*. It's an important point, of course, but one which perhaps gets slightly repetitive. 

There are some horribly disconcerting moments such as when we realise that Maria Stopes favoured eugenics  to stop the 'wrong' kind of people from giving birth in favour of so-called 'racial progress'; or that the legendary James Watson (of Crick and Watson fame) was openly racist and sexist and believed that cultural qualities such as Jewish intelligence, in the example given, is genetically pre-determined. 

It's impossible not to snigger at some of the desperate manoeuvers of 'race scientists': in the 1920s, when Greeks, Italians and other southern Europeans were being stigmatised as having sub-par intelligence, one 'scientist' claimed that artists such as Dante, Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo and da Vinci were clearly 'Nordic' - as, apparently, was Jesus! 

A high point, too, is Saini's digging behind the story from 2018 when the mummy of so-called 'Cheddar Man' was discovered and offered the opportunity to profile an ancient Briton - to the horror of many, not least the UK right-wing press, Cheddar Man turns out to have been black, not white. Which, considering the fact that humans all migrated out of Africa, is hardly surprising. (Light or white skin is an evolutionary development as ancient humans who migrated to less sunny northern Europe needed to maximise absorption of Vitamin D from the sun). So much, then, for all the Brexit-associated nostalgia for a mythic (white) England. 

And, of course, that's both the point of the book and why it's so important: this isn't a light-hearted review of old, done-and-dusted attitudes, this is about *now*: it's about Brexit and Trump, it's about the alt-right appropriating and mis-using science, it's about respected scientists and scientific institutions themselves (though a marginal number, it must be stressed) still trying to find the elusive biological basis for race and differentiation - and all that follows along with it.
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