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A week after her birth in 1992, Dan Kennedy's firstborn daughter was diagnosed with achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism. Reassured by doctors that Becky would have normal intelligence and a normal life span, Dan and his wife, Barbara, quickly adjusted to the reality of her condition. What wasn't so easy was grasping people's attitudes toward those with physical differences.
In Little People, award-winning journalist Dan Kennedy explores dwarfism from ancient times, when dwarfs held an honored position in some cultures, to more modern days when they were featured in freak shows and treated as human guinea pigs by Nazi scientists. While sharing his own poignant experiences, Kennedy works in wonderful passages about dwarf subculture, including the fever pitch of the dating scene during the annual Little People of America convention, and the caste system that exists among those with different varieties of the condition. Kennedy profiles individuals whose small stature has helped them to succeed, and others who have allowed themselves to be exploited and abused.
But the most controversial ground covered in the book is the author's hard look at medical screening procedures, or designer genetics, that already make it possible for parents to eliminate differences ranging from dwarfism to Down syndrome and could soon target genetic traits such as manic depression and homosexuality. While it is true that there has never been a better time for those who are outside the mainstream, whether one is wheelchair-bound, mentally challenged, or gay, it is also clear that most parents do not wish these differences for their own children. Kennedy argues that there is a cultural value to preserving differences, and that eliminating them may harm society in unpredictable ways.
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