Cover: Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, from Harvard University PressCover: Fatal Misconception in PAPERBACK

Fatal Misconception

The Struggle to Control World Population

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Product Details


$25.00 • £18.95 • €22.50

ISBN 9780674034600

Publication: March 2010

Academic Trade

544 pages

5-11/16 x 8-7/8 inches

16 halftones, 6 line illustrations

Belknap Press


Though painful to read, [Fatal Misconception] contain[s] many valuable lessons for anyone who cares about making development programs work, both technically and politically.—Helen Epstein, The New York Review of Books

Mr. Connelly’s story is a global one, partly because so many of the groups seeking to influence the reproduction of others were transnational, but also because often it was those in one country who wished those in another to have fewer children… Mr. Connelly’s most devastating critique of population control is not that it destroyed lives, or was based on imperialist or eugenic ideas, but that it did not work.The Economist

A devastating account of the population-control movement; he demonstrates, detail by shocking detail, how a movement that believed it was acting from the highest humanitarian ideals became responsible for callous abuses of human rights on a global scale, ruining millions of lives in a grotesque eugenic experiment.—Dominic Lawson, The Sunday Times

Connelly decisively confronts the historical baggage of reproductive rights by detailing the confluence of social Darwinists, Malthusians, racist eugenicists, public health advocates and feminists who coalesced around the century-long effort to control world population.—James J. Hughes, The Times Higher Education Supplement

[This] brilliant new history of the population control movement is useful not simply on its theme but for the light it sheds on the political corruption that inevitably accompanies these world-saving enthusiasms… As Connelly lays out in painstaking detail, population control programs, aimed chiefly at developing nations, proliferated despite clear human rights abuses and, more importantly, new data and information that called into question many of the fundamental assumptions of the crisis mongers.—Steven F. Hayward, Claremont Review of Books

[A] disturbing and compelling global history of population control programs… Drawing from records in more than 50 archives in seven countries, including those from Planned Parenthood and the more recently opened Vatican Secret Archives, Connelly provides extensive examples of movements to adjust populations… The world population growth is slowing and the age of population control appears to be over for the moment, but Connelly writes that his book is not just about history: It is a cautionary tale about the future.—Lori Valigra, The Christian Science Monitor

The subject of population control—perhaps the most ambitious social engineering project of the 20th century—has been somewhat neglected by historians… Fatal Misconception is a welcome contribution to the field, original and thought-provoking.—Clive Cookson, Financial Times

The shocking theme of Connelly’s book is how Western governments—and most especially successive U.S. administrations—supported a policy which would have appalled them if it had been imposed on their own families.—Dominic Lawson, The Independent

Highlight[s] the importance of knowing who speaks for whom… Fatal Misconception describes a historic clash of opposed interest groups wrestling to impose their own population policies on the developing world.—Michael Sargent, Nature

This book provides the best historical record yet of how our culture was shaped by the acceptance of birth control.—Patrick Carroll, The Catholic Herald

[A] voluminous history of global population policy.—Elizabeth Pisani, New Statesman

Connelly’s book is an excellent work of reference on the history of the population-control movement… It gives important insights into the emergence and the workings of the population-control lobby.—Frank Furedi, Spiked Review of Books

Passionate and troubling… Connelly tells the story of the 20th-century international movement to control population, which he sees as an oppressive movement that failed to deliver the promised economic and environmental results… Ambitious, exhaustively researched and clearly written, this is a highly important book.Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Matthew Connelly bravely and eloquently explores the dark underside of world population policies. It is a clarion call to respect individuals’ freedom to make their own reproductive choices.—William Easterly, author of The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good

One of the most gifted historians of his generation has given us an exciting and thought-provoking new way to understand the making of the ever-globalizing world of today.—Akira Iriye, author of Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World

Connelly raises the most profound political, social, and moral questions. His history reveals that the difference between population control and birth control is indeed that between coercion and choice.—Mahmood Mamdani, author of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror

This is a superb global history. By focusing on NGOs and transnational networks, the United Nations and nation states, Connelly has given us an important new way of seeing world politics.—Emily Rosenberg, University of California, Irvine

This is history written from the heart. The story it tells is of misplaced benevolence at best and biological totalitarianism at worst. Deeply researched and elegantly written, it is a disturbing, angry, combative, and important book, one which raises issues we ignore at our peril.—Jay Winter, Yale University

Awards & Accolades

  • An Economist Book of the Year in Science and Technology, 2008
  • A Financial Times Book of the Year, 2008
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