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Extreme Measures: The Dark Visions and Bright Ideas of Francis Galton [Hardcover]

Martin Brookes


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Book Description

October 2004
"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. And his obsessive quest for knowledge extended far beyond conventional fields of learning. 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. But it was in the fledgling field of genetics that he made his most indelible impression. Galton kick-started the enduring nature/nurture debate and took hereditary determinism to its darkest extreme, dreaming of a future society built on a race of pure-breeding supermen.

Through this colorful biography, Martin Brookes examines Galton's scientific legacy and takes us on a fascinating journey to the origins of modern human genetics.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 298 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (October 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582344817
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582344812
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14 x 2.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,917,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin, once famously made a beauty map of Britain, counting the number of attractive women he saw in each city (London was number one). This eccentric Victorian snob is one of the greatest forgotten scientists: he invented modern statistics, coined the phrase "nature versus nurture" and popularized fingerprinting as a means of tracking criminals. He did all this in the name of his brainchild, eugenics. Galton was "preoccupied with distinctions of race, class and social status" and saw natural selection as a "prescription for human progress" and a "path to biological excellence." Author and biologist Brookes (Fly: The Unsung Hero of Twentieth-Century Science) writes with understanding but unsympathetic wit of Galton's racist ideas, laying bare his shocking cruelty toward his fellow man, which he tried to hide behind Victorian respectability. Though the book is a little slow in early chapters about Galton's youth, the history of his scientific career is worth persevering, for Brookes explores the mind of this polymath, illuminating how one man could both innovate modern genetics' most useful tools and completely misinterpret the results. Galton deserves his moment in the sun, and Brookes, with his respect for Galton's achievements and condemnation for his conclusions, is the right biographer to explain this controversial man. B&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Martin Brookes is the author of Fly: The Unsung Hero of Twentieth-Century Science. In a previous life he was an evolutionary biologist in the Galton Laboratory at University College London.

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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The book to choose for a general bio of Galton. June 18 2006
By A Pawtuxet Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
An enjoyable introduction to Sir Francis Galton, the brilliant Victorian who gave us weather maps, fingerprints, and (on a less positive note) eugenics. Galton loved to measure things; wherever he was, whatever he was doing, it seems that he found something in his surroundings to measure. His curiosity and enthusiasm for life and discovery make him a sympathetic character even considering his racism, sexism, and classism; he was, after all, a product of his upper-middle-class Victorian environment.

This version of his life story is a good read; choose it instead of Gillham's version unless you want to get into the actual science of what he was doing. One major fault of the Brookes book: it doesn't have an index. Gillham's book has an extensive one.

What would make a Galton biography one step better: more analysis of why Galton became who he was and perhaps a deeper look into his own writings, along with the impact that Galton has on science and psychology today.

For more info on Galton, go to the website [...]
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much author's posturing April 17 2014
By Patrick L. Boyle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bough this book because it was cheap. Maybe I should have expected less.

Galton is an interesting person and an important figure in world history. But this slim biography has entirely too much of the author interjecting himself into the narrative to denounce Galton for his unfashionable ideas. Mr. Brookes seems to live in horror of the thought that anyone might think that he thinks the same way as Galton. Over and over he stops the exposition to make it clear that he thinks Galton is some kind of monster.

Who needs all this? No one who would read this book would fail to know that Galton was the founder of Eugenics. Nor would they know that Eugenics was once very popular and now is out of favor. Indeed one of the main reasons why anyone would want to read this book is to try to understand why eugenics was once so powerful an idea. No one cares what Mr. Brookes thinks.

I've never read a biography of Hitler. Is it like this? Do you have to endure the narrator constantly telling you what a bad man Hitler was and how he the author doesn't agree with Hitler or his ideas?

I probably will have to read Galton's own autobiography. But it's pretty expensive.
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable reading April 8 2013
By Mark C. Roybal - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I always enjoy a book when the author gives descriptive details and assumed anecdotal events that allows the reader to visually enriched their reading experience.
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Quirky Book For A Quirky Man Aug. 11 2008
By Nathan Albright - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is quite quirky, about an individual largely forgotten today but whose innovations in statistics, data gathering techniques, and survival tips are still used today. The book paints a convincing picture of a man who sought a reputation as a man of science but who was (as all human beings are) filled with rather dark sides that showed in his snobbery and in his mania for collecting data. The book appears a bit too sympathetic to evolution and to the moral difficulties that follow from rejecting God's standards, seeking to condemn Galton for his Nazi-esque eugenic fantasies while not understanding the Darwinian root of such problems. Nonetheless, the book is a fine one about a compelling and unusual figure who will remain obscure to most of those who take advantage of his quirky innovations.

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