Masterminding Nature: The Breeding of Animals 1750-2010 (2015)


Author: Margaret Derry

  • ISBN 978-1-4426-4904-2
  • Format: Softcover 6″ x 9″
  • 310 pages

Publisher: University of Toronto Press


Masterminding Nature examines the evolution of modern animal breeding from the invention of improved breeding methodologies in eighteenth-century England to the application of molecular genetics in the 1980s and 1990s. A clear and concise introduction to the science and practice of artificial selection puts the history of breeding in its scientific, commercial and social context.

The book explains why animal breeders continued to use eighteenth-century techniques well into the twentieth century, why the chicken industry was the first to use genetics in its breeding programs, and why it was the dairy cattle industry that embraced quantitative genetics and artificial insemination in the 1970s as well as many other questions. Following the story right up to the present, the book concludes with an insightful analysis of today’s complex relationships between biology, industry and ethics.


Masterminding Nature is an impressive, detailed, and thorough book by an expert who has both academic and hands-on experience in the realm of domesticated animal breeding. It is crisp, clear and meticulous”.

Sandra Swart, Department of History, Stellenbosch University

“Margaret Derry’s book provides an overview that will serve as a starting and reference point for animal breeding studies for years to come. A pleasure to read, the book presents the subject matter in an accessible way: no specialist knowledge is required to understand her narrative.”

Bert Theunisson, Director, Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and Humanities, Utrecht University.