Peter Gay has many good things to say about Jenny Davidson’s Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century in the most recent issue of Bookforum.
However, before getting to a discussion of the book itself, Gay focuses his attention on the title:
In the course of a long career, I have read many books and reviewed a sizable number of them, but I have never encountered a title quite so felicitous as that of Jenny Davidson’s Breeding. Its subtitle, A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century, is equally ambiguous: The word breeding embraces the work of nature as well as that of nurture in the making of humans; partial is synonymous, on the one hand, with partisan or one-sided and, on the other, with imperfect or incomplete. These are the two double meanings Davidson explores, only to conclude that during the eighteenth century, her special field, breeding meant both human qualities imposed by heredity and those added to original endowment by knowledge.