What We Are Reading Today: Genetics in the Madhouse

Updated 30 July 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Genetics in the Madhouse

In this compelling book, Genetics in the Madhouse, author Theodore Porter draws on untapped archival evidence from across Europe and North America to bring to light the hidden history behind modern genetics.

“Porter’s masterful book casts the fresh light of sanity over a previously uncharted sea of data on madness,” Stephen M. Stigler, author of The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom, said in remarks published in the Princeton University Press website.

“Porter brings analytical order to an intriguingly chaotic subject, illuminating the challenges of ‘big data’ from a past era when the plasticity of categorization resulted in data being deduced from conclusions, a problem with uncanny similarities to those we face today,” added Stigler.

Porter is Distinguished Professor of History and holds the Peter Reill Chair at the University of California, Los Angeles.  His books include Karl Pearson: The Scientific Life in a Statistical Age, Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life, and The Rise of Statistical Thinking, 1820–1900 (all Princeton). 

Carl Zimmer, author of She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity, commented: “The book is a fascinating exploration of the long-running conviction that madness, criminality, and other mental traits can be passed down from parent to child.”


What We Are Reading Today: Volcanoes in Human History

Updated 18 February 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Volcanoes in Human History

Authors: Jelle Zeilinga de Boer & Donald Theodore Sanders

When the volcano Tambora erupted in Indonesia in 1815, as many as 100,000 people perished as a result of the blast and an ensuing famine caused by the destruction of rice fields on Sumbawa and neighboring islands. Gases and dust particles ejected into the atmosphere changed weather patterns around the world, resulting in the infamous “year without a summer” in North America, food riots in Europe, and a widespread cholera epidemic. And the gloomy weather inspired Mary Shelley to write the gothic novel Frankenstein.
This book tells the story of nine such epic volcanic events, explaining the related geology for the general reader and exploring the myriad ways in which the earth’s volcanism has affected human history.
Zeilinga de Boer and Sanders describe in depth how volcanic activity has had long-lasting effects on societies, cultures, and the environment. The authors draw on ancient as well as modern accounts — from folklore to poetry and from philosophy to literature. Beginning with the Bronze Age eruption, the book tells the human and geological stories of eruptions of such volcanoes as Vesuvius, Krakatau, Mount Pelée, and Tristan da Cunha.
Along the way, it shows how volcanism shaped religion in Hawaii, permeated Icelandic mythology and literature, caused widespread population migrations, and spurred scientific discovery.
From the prodigious eruption of Thera more than 3,600 years ago to the relative burp of Mount St. Helens in 1980, the results of volcanism attest to the enduring connections between geology and human destiny.