Cover: Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father, from Harvard University PressCover: Paternity in HARDCOVER


The Elusive Quest for the Father

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Product Details


$36.00 • £28.95 • €32.50

ISBN 9780674980686

Publication Date: 06/10/2019

Academic Trade

360 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

16 photos


Expertly uses vignettes…to richly contextualize a history of paternity in the twentieth century… The transatlantic sweep and the dense, archivally supported detail of Milanich’s analysis is breathtaking.—Michele Pridmore-Brown, The Times Literary Supplement

Solidly researched and enlightening.—Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker

Milanich has a knack for finding a gripping story and telling it in almost novelistic or journalistic cadences. Surely, this is the definitive book on the subject of paternity testing.—Lennard Davis, Times Higher Education

Milanich follows the incremental changes, through the emergence of DNA fingerprinting in the 1980s all the way to mobile units—resembling ice-cream vans—testing DNA on the streets, all part of the billion-dollar industry of genetic knowledge.The Economist

Very readable, occasionally riveting… Milanich’s basic claim, that the search for the father reveals central aspects of modernity, proves convincing.—Kerstin Maria Pahl, Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung

Milanich, a skilled storyteller, offers a fascinating social history, from the earliest times and across cultures to the rise of Big Paternity… This deeply researched and engaging exploration will likely challenge readers’ notions about paternity and shift their perspectives.—B. K. Jackson, Severance

Sifts through decades worth of family sagas, articles, and court records to reveal how cultural ideas about fatherhood have remained stubbornly consistent in the face of scientific progress.—Elizabeth Svoboda, Undark

‘Mama’s baby, Papa’s maybe.’ DNA testing has all but destroyed the uncertainty that has attended paternity for millennia. Milanich has written a fascinating history of the ways societies have coped with anxiety about paternity, and how that anxiety has helped construct notions of fatherhood, masculinity, race, and family.—Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

In this rigorous and beautifully researched volume, Milanich considers the tension between social and biological definitions of fatherhood, and shows how much we still have to learn about what constitutes a father.—Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Dazzling in scope and masterfully written, Milanich’s book delves beneath the quest for certainty to find what we are really looking for in paternity and why it continues to haunt us.—Steven Mintz, author of The Prime of Life: A History of Modern Adulthood

This splendid work shows how the development and use of paternity testing over several centuries determined individuals’ fates. For millions of people, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ was not simply an idle question, but often a matter of life or death.—Sonya Michel, author of Children’s Interests/Mothers’ Rights: The Shaping of America’s Child Care Policy

Paternity offers a rich, erudite, and often humorous historical analysis of how paternity testing technologies developed at the intersection of science, national governance, and popular culture.—Rayna Rapp, author of Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America

Original, well-written, and wonderfully researched, this exciting new book provides an analysis of paternity that is rich and global in scope.—Alexandra Minna Stern, author of Telling Genes: The Story of Genetic Counseling in America

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Jacket: An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns, by Bruno Latour, translated by Catherine Porter, from Harvard University Press

Honoring Latour

In awarding Bruno Latour the 2021 Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy, the Inamori Foundation said he has “revolutionized the conventional view of science” and “his philosophy re-examines ‘modernity’ based on the dualism of nature and society.” Below is an excerpt from An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. For more than twenty years, scientific and technological controversies have proliferated in number and scope, eventually reaching the climate itself. Since geologists are beginning to use the term “Anthropocene” to designate the era of Earth’s history that follows the Holocene