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A Terrible Thing to Waste

A Terrible Thing to Waste

Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind

A powerful indictment of the notion of hereditary intelligence, A Terrible Thing to Waste shows how environmental racism drives the black-white IQ gap and explains what can be done to remedy its toxic effects on marginalized communities.

The 1994 publication of the The Bell Curve and its controversial thesis catapulted the topic of genetic racial differences in IQ to the forefront of renewed and heated debate. Now, in A Terrible Thing to Waste, award-winning science writer Harriet A. Washington adds her incisive analysis to the fray. She takes apart the spurious notion of intelligence as an inherited trait, pointing instead to environmental racism — a confluence of institutional factors that relegate marginalized communities to living and working near sites of toxic waste, pollution, and urban decay — as the prime cause of the reported black-white IQ gap. Investigating the deleterious heavy metals, neurotoxins, deficient prenatal care, bad nutrition, and pathogens as the main factors influencing intelligence, Washington explains why certain communities are so disproportionally affected and what can be done to remedy the problem.

Featuring extensive scientific research and Washington’s sharp, lively reporting, A Terrible Thing to Waste is sure to outrage, transform the conversation and inspire debate.
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Genre: Nonfiction / Social Science / Discrimination & Race Relations

On Sale: July 23rd 2019

Price: $28 / $36.5 (CAD)

Page Count: 288

ISBN-13: 9780316509435

What's Inside

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Reader Reviews

Praise

"It's amazing how far you can get if you just study the data. And have a keen analytical mind. And are a gifted reporter. With a sense of social justice. By which I mean, if you are Harriet Washington. She methodically indicts environmental racism and its catastrophic effects, particularly on the cognitive abilities of America's children, a reminder that what we're told is immutable -- our social conditions, our 'intelligence' -- is nothing of the kind. The news she brings is grim, but she leaves the reader feeling not paralyzed by despair but determined to act."—Randy Cohen, host of Person Place Thing and original author of New York Times Magazine's The Ethicist column
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"A Terrible Thing to Waste is a powerful and indispensable book for anyone who cares about a just and healthy future for all Americans. Harriet Washington asks the critical questions that get at the heart of racism and inequality in health, income, social welfare and power in 21st century America."—Gerald Markowitz, author of Lead Wars and Distinguished Professor, John Jay College, CUNY
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"In her groundbreaking new book, A Terrible Thing to Waste, award-winning science writer and bioethicist Harriet Washington explores how environmental racism damages young minds, particularly the minds of impoverished African American children who are exposed inordinately to toxins and pathogens in marginalized communities. She writes lucidly of how pollutants such as heavy metals and neurotoxins injure developing brains and recounts vividly case after case of the devastating cost to human brains and bodies. As she demolishes racist notions of inherited intelligence, she describes the medical consequences of horrific environmental catastrophes that have largely been forgotten or overlooked. Revelatory and compelling, Harriet Washington's A Terrible Thing to Waste is the Silent Spring for the 21st century."—Robin Lindley, JD, Features Editor, History News Network
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"Terrifying and comforting in equal measure. Infectious Madness will inspire healthy debate and...bold new strategies for prevention and treatment."—Priscilla Gilman, More magazine
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"A fascinating exploration of how common infections can affect mental illness."
Shanda Deziel, Chatelaine
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"An impressive array of technical research is presented in a readable style in Infectious Madness."
Library Journal
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"It used to be obvious what caused mental illness--depravity, a rotten soul, being in cahoots with the Devil. Or maybe just terrible mothering. We've escaped this primordial muck of attribution, learning that mental illnesses are biological disorders, complete with chemical and structural abnormalities in the brain, and with risk factors ranging from genes, hormones and fetal life to socioeconomic status. This superb book reviews the novel realization that infectious pathogens, and the immune system's response to them, can be risk factors for mental illness as well. The book has a broad, exciting range, considering 'contagion' in both the reductive sense, as well as an in the expansive societal manner. This is fascinating material and Harriet Washington is a great writer -- clear and accessible, witty, probing, and able to dissect the controversies in this field with great objectivity."
Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers
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"Your views on the causes of mental illness will be forever altered when you read this profoundly humane and transformative book."—Carl Hart, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology, Columbia University
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"Infectious Madness is a fascinating book about the role of infectious diseases in mental illness. Washington challenges us to expand our view of the causes, prevention, and treatment of emotional disorders. I highly recommend it!"
Alvin F. Poussaint, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
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"With Infectious Madness, Harriet Washington sounds a much-needed alarm -- although not a welcome one. Turning old-fashioned germ theory inside out, she explains that we humans are the slow-moving interlopers in a world of microbes. And it's not just our health but our instincts, desires, feelings, and even our grasp on reality that are at stake."
--Philip Alcabes, Professor of Public Health, Adelphi University, author of Dread: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to Avian Flu
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"In Infectious Madness, Harriet Washington confirms her position as one of our most thought-provoking medical writers. Led by Washington on a whirlwind tour of early modern medicine in the 18th century, germ theory, Western anorexia, African sleeping sickness, schizophrenia, and everywhere else, we will forever be unable to think of our microbial environment in the same way. The same, for that matter, might be said of our view of the social environment in which the collective enterprise of medicine transpires."—Samuel Roberts, PhD, Director, Columbia University Institute for Research in African-American Studies, and Associate Professor of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
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