Mullane Literary Associates

The Social Life of DNA by Alondra Nelson

The Social Life of DNA Alondra Nelson

Praise for Alondra Nelson’s The Social Life of DNA

“Alondra Nelson takes us into a complex and endlessly fascinating space where genetic ancestry testing meets racial politics. With Nelson’s unique and wonderful gifts for research and insight into genetic science, ethnography and history, The Social Life of DNA comes at a moment when the questions it raises about race and social justice couldn’t be more pressing and urgent.”

Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

“The Social Life of DNA is remarkable. Alondra Nelson explains the ways in which genomic research is being deployed by people, particularly black Americans, to explore their genealogical roots. She also examines the meaning of this activity:  the motivations behind it, the communities it creates, the conflicts it engenders, the enterprises it supports, the changes in self-definition it encourages. Nelson explores this large, sprawling, fascinating subject with clarity, passion, rigor and a keen eye for revealing detail. The Social Life of DNA will appeal to a broad readership interested in history, race and science. Geneticists, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and jurists will be stimulated by reading this book. It is a brilliant work.

Randall Kennedy, author of The Persistence of the Color Line

“Alondra Nelson tells a story for anyone interested in their own family, even their own memory. Using fresh genetics and writing like an investigative reporter, Nelson clears up the mystery about our society’s rush to DNA.”

Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family

A brilliant ethnography of the recreational uses of DNA.  Besieged as our culture has become by beguiling promises of romantic heraldry and forensic infallibility, Nelson takes an unflinching yet sympathetic look at how popular yearning for ‘lost roots’ has led to DNA as metaphor: ‘reading’ our genes has become an inferential, often scientifically unsubstantiated link between past, present and future. It has emerged as the symbolic grounding for magical cures, heritage tourism, escapist fantasy, as well as legal actions for ethnic and racial reconciliation, reparations and repatriation. Timely and original, this book offers a nuanced and engrossing negotiation between genetic truth and ‘truthiness.’

Patricia J. Williams, author of The Alchemy of Race and Rights

“Alondra Nelson’s account of how genetic data was transformed into contested political culture is as lucid as it is path-breaking. This exhilarating survey of how DNA became an agent in the politics of reparation and reconciliation has not only extended analysis of race and racism but created a new field of comparative research.”

Paul Gilroy FBA, King’s College London and author of The Black Atlantic

About the Author

Alondra Nelson is Dean of Social Science and professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia University. She is author of the award-winning book Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination and her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Science, Boston Globe, and the Guardian. She lives in New York City.