Mullane Literary Associates

The Social Life of DNA by Alondra Nelson

The Social Life of DNA Alondra Nelson

Nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award

Read more about Alondra Nelson’s The Social Life of DNA at:

Praise for Alondra Nelson’s The Social Life of DNA

“A smart, timely book about race and genetics...a creative, thoughtful, and clear-eyed look at a thoroughly fascinating subject.

The Boston Globe

“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

One of this generation’s most gifted scholars examines the unfolding mysteries of DNA sequencing and the limits and promises of genetic genealogy at the intersection of race, politics and identity. Alondra Nelson brilliantly guides us on a journey of discovery in this cautionary tale of the high-stakes efforts to reconcile our racial origins and to find redemption as a country. Eye-opening, provocative and deeply humane.

Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns

A valuable and illuminating book...a clear-eyed, sharp, and closely observed account.

Jonathan Weiner, Pulitzer Prize winning author and Maxwell M. Geffen Professor of Medical and Scientific Journalism at Columbia Journalism School

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....It is a brilliant work.

Randall Kennedy, author of The Persistence of the Color Line

Nelson adds another chapter to the somber history of injustice toward African-Americans, but it is one in which science is enriching lives by forging new identities and connections to ancestral homelands... Meticulously detailed.

Kirkus Reviews

“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....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

“From reconciliation projects to attempted reparations claims, Nelson enriches our understanding of how genetic information could ‘expose and substantiate the legacies of racial slavery’ ...considers the righting of past wrongs and the use of DNA to pursue social justice a noble aim.”

New Scientist

“Alondra Nelson analyses the rise in DNA ‘roots’ testing among African Americans seeking their lost identity. Race, politics and science emerge as intertwined as the double helix itself.


About the Author

Alondra Nelson is an interdisciplinary social scientist whose research focuses on the intersections of science, medicine, and social inequality. She is the incoming President of the Social Science Research Council and former Dean of Social Science and professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia University. Dean of Social Science and professor of sociology and gender studies at Columbia University. She has also taught at Yale University and been a visiting fellow of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard, and the BIOS Centre at the London School of Economics, and her work has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. Her previous books include 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, among other media.