Extreme Measures by Martin Brookes
First published in the UK by Bloomsbury in July 2004.
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How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
'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.
I enjoyed reading this biography of the Victorian polymath Francis Galton. A lesser known cousin of Charles Darwin, he flitted between scientific obsessions after a period of African exploration, discovering and pioneering many things we still use today, such as some forms of statistical analysis and the symbols on weather maps, while at the same time being generally unpleasant to anyone he considered beneath him - that's anyone who wasn't rich, white and male - and getting into tiffs with several other scientists.
Martin Brookes writing style perfectly suits his subject as he is able to smooth over with humour the areas of Galton's life which are particularly anachronistic to 21st century readers while at the same time creating admiration for his genuine achievements. Perhaps Galton's primary obsession with eugenics is why he is not better remembered. The future horrors that were carried out in its name are always apparent in the parts of the book discussing it. However as someone who was very much a man of his time, Galton's life story makes for a fascinating read.
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