Sophia Roosth, Synthetic: How Life Got Made, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017, 256 pp, $35
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This recent monograph by Harvard anthropologist and historian Sophia Roosth presents the birth and embryonic development of synthetic biology. It tracks the emergence of a new scientific discipline that took off in the early 2000s. The conceptual and methodological promises held by the unprecedented ability to construct new forms of life will, according to Roosth, “soon cease to be remarkable” (p. 178). That is, they are likely to be a central focus of the science of the coming century.
In this study, Roosth offers six chapters and six interludes that weave together a wide array of resources into an astonishingly seamless narrative. The main thread is formed by the author’s 8-year ethnographical study. Personal anecdotes meet philosophy of biology; interview quotes meet history of architecture; anthropological theories meet popular culture references. It surprises no-one to find, in the conclusion, a thorough discussion of the interpretation of René Magritte’s Clairvoyanceproposed by...