Book: How to Argue With a Racist
Author: Adam Rutherford
Release: August 2020
If you’re interested in genetics and history, then this book is for you!
A brief summary: Rutherford presents a delightfully conversational discussion on genetics, DNA, and its relationship to (or lack thereof) to race.
My thoughts: While I found this book interesting, I felt a bit let down – from the title, I had the impression that I would be armed with arguments aplenty to combat everyday racists, but this book isn’t quite meant to be used that broadly. It would be a useful tool, though, for arguing with racists that build their arguments around genetics, like skin color and DNA.
Overall: If you like scientific evidence, then this book will definitely hit the spot for you because the author, a geneticist himself, gives countless examples of evidence to tear down racist claims. I also enjoyed how he weaved together a picture of our history with a scientific lens – he brings the reader through tumultuous times in science and the world, from colonization to the evolution of scientific fields, pointing out revolutionary scientists that were also racist but intelligent individuals.
At times, the genetics jargon was a bit overwhelming for me – sometimes things were explained later, other times it felt like the reader was supposed to take for granted what Rutherford was saying. The majority of the text though, I found to be interesting, accessible, and incredibly informative. The author sprinkles in random fun facts that are perhaps not as well-known (while informative, not necessarily so useful in the book’s context); did you know that, even though homo sapiens evolved from Africa (around present-day Morrocco), diverse skin color existed even before that?
Adam Rutherford is exemplary in his use of snark as well, clearly letting the reader know when he believes something to be folly or just plain wrong (uses of phrases like “hulking beefcake” provided me endless amusement throughout reading). He also had snippets of wisdom mixed in, too, such as the quote below:
When all you’ve ever known is privilege, equality feels like oppression.
For such a simple statement, I found it to be a phenomenal and poignant observation of white supremacy.
In the end, I enjoyed this book. I adored the author’s writing style – he uses the right amount of scientific snark and evidence to make his point without coming across as an ass. While this book may not help you argue with your everyday racist, it does provide you with a deeper understanding of how complex science is, and how genetics functions in regard to skin color, DNA, and evolution, and provides arguments against racist views and claims centering around these ideas.