We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.


Throughout history, people have sought to improve themselves – and society – by reducing suffering, eliminating disease or enhancing desirable qualities in their children. But this wish goes hand-in-hand with the desire to impose control over who can marry, who can procreate and ultimately who is permitted to live. Population control has been attempted in every country for thousands of years. But in the Victorian era, in the shadow of Darwin’s ideas about evolution, a new full-blooded attempt to impose control over unruly biology began to grow in the clubs, salons and offices of the powerful. It was enshrined in a political movement that bastardised science, and for sixty years enjoyed bipartisan and huge popular support: eugenics.

Eugenics was also vigorously embraced around the world: forced sterilisations and sex-selective abortion were enacted in dozens of countries, including the great superpowers of the twentieth century, and the two most populous countries on Earth. It was a cornerstone of the policies of the Third Reich and forged a path that led directly to the gates of Auschwitz. But the ideas underlying eugenics are not merely historical. Its legacies are present in our language and literature, from the words ‘moron’ and ‘imbecile’ to the themes of some of our greatest works of culture. And today, with new gene editing techniques, very real conversations are happening – including in the heart of British government – about tinkering with the DNA of our unborn children, to make them smarter, fitter, stronger.

CONTROL tells the story of attempts by the powerful throughout history to dictate and dominate reproduction and regulate the interface of breeding and society. It is an urgently needed examination, deeply steeped in contemporary genetics, that unpicks one of the defining – and most destructive – ideas of the twentieth century. To know this history is to inoculate ourselves against its being repeated.