Galileo’s Middle Finger

March 30, 2015 Uncategorized 10 ★★★

Galileo’s Middle FingerTitle: Galileo's Middle Finger
Author: Alice Dreger
Source: Edelweiss
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: This was an interesting and worthwhile story, but it was more memoir and less general commentary on the interaction of science and activism than I had hoped.

Alice Derger never expected her research into the historical treatment of intersex children to lead her to become an activist protesting present treatment of intersex children. From risky “normalizing” surgeries without scientifically proven benefit to unethical lies told to parents of intersex children, there was plenty to protest. After seeing some scientists unjustly, personally attacked by the activist community she valued, she decided to look further into the relation between science and activism. Her most challenging question was what happens when scientific truth seems to conflict with the easiest, politically correct story.

I thought this was a fascinating and well-written book, but it wasn’t the book I had hoped for. The author starts with a story of medical abuse. She then briefly talks to several researchers who were attacked for their work and end with another story about medical abuse based on poor science. Neither the beginning nor the ending story were particularly interesting to me, because they seem so clear cut. There wasn’t any question of what needed to be done to resolve the science and the activism. I do think these stories were very worthwhile. The way intersex children were and sometimes still are being treated is shocking and we must be aware of it in order to change it. And individual scientists who were targets of personal smear campaigns because of their work certainly deserve a platform from which to spread the true story.

I also understood why the author would focus on issues relating to gender, sexuality, and identity; this is her field of study. I don’t think this meant the story had to be as purely anecdotal as it was. I loved the author’s enthusiasm for using science to find the truth and then build an ethical system based on the facts instead of nice, simplistic stories. I only wish I’d seen some of that here. For example, I’m very curious about the number of scientists experiencing personal attacks because of their work and how many of them are in different fields. For example, I would guess that scientists have been personally attacked for controversial research in genetic engineering (a topic I work on) as well. This wasn’t a bad book, but in retrospect, I think the stock description did it an injustice. Had this been billed as a memoir about the author’s science activism, I probably wouldn’t have been disappointed when she failed to more generally address the interaction of science and activism. As long as you go into this with more accurate expectations, it’s a book I’d recommend.

What’s the most poorly described book you’ve ever read? Are you less likely to enjoy a book if the description doesn’t match the book?

10 Responses to “Galileo’s Middle Finger”

  1. Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf

    This seems like an oddly marketed book. I’m very interested in what the book is actually about, but its description and the blurbs I’ve seen didn’t really convey that, so I skipped it over. I’ll have to see if my library gets a copy in.

    • DoingDewey

      I thought it was oddly marketed too. I picked it up hoping for a book more focused on science and so didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have, but the actual topic was also very interesting and I could see you enjoying it.

  2. Vasilly

    I can’t remember the most poorly described book I’ve read, though I did read a children’s book who’s title and description was so off. My son and I ended up discussing it since it wasn’t at all what we expected it to be. I hate it when that happens. Now that I know what this book is really about, I will probably read it.

    • DoingDewey

      I hate when that happens too! I really think I would have picked this book up and enjoyed it more had I gone into it with expectations that matched the content.

  3. Leah @ Books Speak Volumes

    I’ve been kind of on the fence about whether I want to read this one, so thanks for sharing your thoughts! It’s good to know that it has such a high memoir component if I do decide to read it.

    • DoingDewey

      It definitely helps me like I book if I have the right expectations going in! If you do pick this up, I hope you enjoy it even more than I did 🙂

  4. Allison @ The Book Wheel

    I read a book once that was SO different from the description that it almost ruined the book for me. Turns out, authors don’t have much of a choice in what goes on the synopsis (someone reached out to me on a discussion post they had about this very topic to link to the article), which made me feel a little less duped by the author. I think it was Kingdom of Men but I’d have to check. Anna Karenina was a little like that, too. It was less about Anna than I thought (which turned out to be a bonus).

    • DoingDewey

      Since I’ve heard that authors also have very little input into the cover, it surprises me less than it might to hear that they don’t have much control over the synopsis either. Although I can see why it makes sense to have professional marketing people in charge of marketing, also suspect that more author involvement would help prevent mismarketing like this! A synopsis that doesn’t match a book can definitely ruin the book for me, since I try to pick up what I’m in the mood for and will be disappointed if I’m not as interested in the book as I was in the synopsis.

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