Genetics, Eugenics, Getting to Sleep, Siddhartha Mukherjee

Dear Diary, I keep a book on my bed stand to read myself to sleep. This works as long as the book is at least a little difficult to read, but not so difficult that I never want to pick it up. Science books do the trick, as do some history books. Novels can work, but they can also keep me up if I get caught in the story and the language isn’t a struggle.

This past week I’ve used The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It works well, I usually last from two to ten pages before dozing off, but the early sections lead me on a tour of our eugenic house of horrors. Actually, he only touches on some of it in his overview. There are other authors who have written books on many of the particulars in much more depth. But it’s an interesting overview. America is a “can do” nation, and at one time in the early part of the twentieth century our elites decided it was okay to start a mass sterilization program in an effort to weed out the “worst” ten percent of the population. If you were poor, pregnant, single, Jewish, an immigrant, in trouble with the law, mentally ill, disabled, a person of color, or just an odd duck, watch out. The government had its knives out, literally.


This was a vile mixture of white supremacy, class elitism, and absolute ignorance, but you can see the same thinking that led to these atrocities are still with us today. We have a kind of willful ignorance when it comes to history, and many of us refuse to connect the injustices and inequalities of today with the injustices of yesterday.

So, it’s recommended reading, as both a sleeping aid and an historical wake-up.