The Emergence of Genetic Rationality: Space, Time, and Information in American Biological Science, 1870-1920

Paperback (Print)
Buy Used
Buy Used from
(Save 32%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $11.85
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 60%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (13) from $11.85   
  • New (6) from $26.71   
  • Used (7) from $11.85   


The emergence of genetic science has profoundly shaped how we think about biology. Indeed, it is difficult now to consider nearly any facet of human experience without first considering the gene. But this mode of understanding life is not, of course, transhistorical. Phillip Thurtle takes us back to the moment just before the emergence of genetic rationality at the turn of the twentieth century to explicate the technological, economic, cultural, and even narrative transformations necessary to make genetic thinking possible.

The rise of managerial capitalism brought with it an array of homologous practices, all of which transformed the social fabric. With transformations in political economy and new technologies came new conceptions of biology, and it is in the relationships of social class to breeding practices, of middle managers to biological information processing, and of transportation to experiences of space and time, that we can begin to locate the conditions that made genetic thinking possible, desirable, and seemingly natural.

In describing this historical moment, The Emergence of Genetic Rationality is panoramic in scope, addressing primary texts that range from horse breeding manuals to eugenics treatises, natural history tables to railway surveys, and novels to personal diaries. It draws on the work of figures as diverse as Thorstein Veblen, Jack London, Edith Wharton, William James, and Luther Burbank. The central figure, David Starr Jordan - naturalist, poet, eugenicist, educator - provides the book with a touchstone for deciphering the mode of rationality that genetics superseded.

Building on continental philosophy, media studies, systems theory, and theories of narrative, The Emergence of Genetic Rationality provides an inter-disciplinary contribution to intellectual and scientific history, science studies, and cultural studies. It offers a truly encyclopedic cultural history that challenges our own ways of organizing knowledge even as it explicates those of an earlier era. In a time in which genetic rationality has become our own common sense, this discussion of its emergence reminds us of the interdependence of the tools we use to process information and the conceptions of life they animate.

University of Washington Press

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Journal of the History of Biology - Michael Dietrich
... fascinating and wide-ranging... Revealing that challenge [the need to articulate the connections between the emergence and realization of genetic rationality] may be the most lasting contribution of this narrative for the history of genetics.
American Studies
Thurtle's use of other literary figures-Theodore Dreiser and Jack London, in particular-to reflect key features of his argument is strong and inviting.
This work is an extraordinary writing in its comprehensiveness, conciseness, and interdisciplinary focus. Thurtle presents an intellectually historical journey, weaving cultural, economic, political, social, literary, and artistic forces that shaped thinking and developments related to genetics during this 50-year period.... Highly recommended. All undergraduates, graduate students, researchers, and faculty.
The Quarterly Review of Biology
An important, novel way to look at the history of genetics.... By studying the way time and space are mapped, classified, used, and interpreted by 19-century industrialists and the scientists who received their philanthropic largesse, Thurtle brings out a part of the history of heredity that scientists like myself have tended to ignore....I recommend this book for anyone who likes to see how the interplay between science and society worked in 19th-century biological thought.
Technik und Medizin NTM: Zeitschrift fur Geschichte der Wissenschaften
Reading Phillip Thurtle's book is an immersive experience and the book should be read from cover to cover. Thurtle...explores literary representations of practices of meaning-making, spaces of sense, and modes of being in turn-of-the-century literature. Thurtle uses these devices to profound effect and the power of the book lies in its literary portrayal of the experiences of living and working in and with these cultures and technologies.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

Meet the Author

Phillip Thurtle is assistant professor in the Comparative History of Ideas Program, University of Washington.

University of Washington Press

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents


I. Harnessing Heredity: Middle Class Mores and Information Management in Large-Scale Breeding


1. Middle Class Mores: Beaufort's Bastards2. Breeding True: Processing a New Elite

Conclusion-"A Backward Glance": Corporate Inheritance as Bastard Birth

II. Fish-Market Phenomenology: The Habits of Thought and the Space of Exchange in Late Nineteenth-Century Natural History


3. The Political Economy of Natural History4. Homologous Networks of Exchange: The Intersubjective Infrastructure of Scientific Exchange5. Categorizing Experience: Space and Time in Nineteenth-Century Natural History6. The Pacific Railway Survey: The Subject in the Panoramic Mode

III. History Writing Great Men Writing History: Recapitulation Narratives and Stories as Scientific Models


7. Storied Pasts8. The Plot Thickens: The Political Economic Dimensions of Biological Stories

Conclusion-Osborn and the Horse: The Conservative Literary Inheritance of Evolutionary Stories

IV. The Poetics of Wandering: Time, Narrative, and the Affective/Phenomenological Body


9. Wandering and Narrative10. Wandering and Inheritance in Light of the Sensory-Motor Complex11. Writing, Goods, and Memory

Conclusion-New Folds in Space and Time

V. Hybrid Space, Hybrid Time: Record Keeping and the Indexing of Genomic Space and Time


12. Industrial Perspectives: Luther Burbank13. Record Keeping: A Post-Hermeneutic Means for Charting the Space of Flows

ConclusionThe Different Domains of Life


University of Washington Press

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)