The plans of Adolf Hitler and the German Nazis to create a Nordic "master race" are often looked upon as a horrific but fairly isolated effort. Less notice has historically been given to the American eugenics movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although their methods were less violent, the methodology and rationale which the American eugenicists employed, as catalogued in Edwin Black's Against the Weak
, were chilling nonetheless and, in fact, influential in the mindset of Hitler himself. Funded and supported by several well-known wealthy donors, including the Rockefeller and Carnegie families and Alexander Graham Bell, the eugenicists believed that the physically impaired and "feeble-minded" should be subject to forced sterilization in order to create a stronger species and incur less social spending. These "defective" humans generally ended up being poorer folks who were sometimes categorized as such after shockingly arbitrary or capricious means such as failing a quiz related to pop culture by not knowing where the Pierce Arrow was manufactured. The list of groups and agencies conducting eugenics research was long, from the U.S. Army and the Departments of Labor and Agriculture to organizations with names like the "American Breeders Association." Black's detailed research into the history of the American eugenics movement is admirably extensive, but it is in the association between the beliefs of some members of the American aristocracy and Hitler that the book becomes most chilling. Black goes on to trace the evolution of eugenic thinking as it evolves into what is now called genetics. And while modern thinkers have thankfully discarded the pseudo-science of eugenics, such controversial modern issues as human cloning make one wonder how our own era will be remembered a hundred years hence. --John Moe
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From Publishers Weekly
In the first half of the 20th century, more than 60,000 Americans-poor, uneducated, members of minorities-were forcibly sterilized to prevent them from passing on supposedly defective genes. This policy, called eugenics, was the brainchild of such influential people as Rockefellers, Andrew Carnegie and Margaret Sanger. Black, author of the bestselling IBM and the Holocaust, set out to show "the sad truth of how the scientific rationales that drove killer doctors at Auschwitz were first concocted on Long Island" at the Carnegie Institution's Cold Spring Harbor complex. Along the way, he offers a detailed and heavily footnoted history that traces eugenics from its inception to America's eventual, post-WWII retreat from it, complete with stories of the people behind it, their legal battles, their detractors and the tragic stories of their victims. Black's team of 50 researchers have done an impressive job, and the resulting story is at once shocking and gripping. But the publisher's claim that Black has uncovered the truth behind America's "dirty little secret" is a bit overstated. There is a growing library of books on eugenics, including Daniel Kevles's In the Name of Eugenics and Ellen Chesler's biography of Margaret Sanger, Woman of Valor. Black's writing tends to fluctuate from scholarly to melodramatic and apocalyptic (and sometimes arrogant), but the end result is an important book that will add to the public's understanding of this critical chapter of American history.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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