‘Genetics in the Madhouse’ chronicles the early days of the science
William Hogarth/Wikimedia Commons
Genetics in the Madhouse
Theodore M. Porter
Princeton Univ., $35
England’s King George III descended into mental chaos, or what at the time was called madness, in 1789. Physicians could not say whether he would recover or if a replacement should assume the throne. That political crisis jump-started the study of human heredity.
Using archival records, science historian Theodore M. Porter describes how the king’s deteriorating condition invigorated research at England’s insane asylums into the inheritance of madness. Well before DNA’s discovery, heredity started out as a science of record keeping and statistical calculations. In the 1800s, largely forgotten doctors in both Europe and North America meticulously collected