“Superior” by Angela Saini

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Thanks to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Superior is an especially topical book considering the current political climate in the West. Through the election of Trump, the emergence of the alt-right, increasing nationalism and Brexit we are seeing a resurgence in discourse around race science. In this book Saini explores the past and current context of race science and dismantles some of the myths and assumptions that surround the issue of biological race and the problem of setting the benchmark of measuring humanity against white westerners.  

The book is written in a balanced, calm and engaging style which makes it accessible for even the most casual reader. It is continually thought provoking and Saini’s wry observations make her personal standpoints clear without ever overpowering her key messages.

I took a long time to finish this book as I found so many parts of it profoundly depressing and difficult to read. Some of the social history covered includes the Australian Aboriginal stolen generation, the humiliation and despair suffered by Saartjie Baartman – the “Hottentot Venus”, Parisian human zoos, Eugenics (including Marie Stopes) and the Holocaust. There are some real horrors and accounts of almost unimaginable inhumanity, but some moments of humour too. I was particularly tickled by the revelation that Western Europeans are more likely to have Neanderthal DNA than Aboriginals and the subsequent rehabilitation of the Neanderthal’s public image as a result.

The book challenges us to reflect on what makes a group of people representative of a worthwhile human society? Is it advanced technology? The presence of skyscrapers in cities? A significant portion of the book explores the resurgence in the scientific theories around biological race. Many modern scientists still make arguments for fundamental genetic differences in racial differences despite lack of any real evidence. I would have hoped we’d moved beyond this by now, but sadly not. This particular line of thought felt a little repetitive sometimes and there were times I felt myself thinking “yes, yes I know” whilst certain sections.

This is an exhaustively researched account of the current context around race science and the current arguments on both sides of the debate. It is written in an accessible and calm manner despite the difficult subject matter and the emotions and rhetoric involved.

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