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War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race Paperback – 4 Oct 2004
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About the Author
Edwin Black is the award-winning author of IBM and the Holocaust, which was published in the UK by Little Brown and has sold over 25,000 copies in hardback alone. It won the American Society of Journalists' and Authors' Award for best non-fiction book of 2002. As an investigative journalist, he has written for numerous papers and magazines including The Sunday Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Jerusalem Post. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
Surprisingly that pseudo-science found its greatest 'success', at least until the advent of Hitler and the totalitarian state of Nazi Germany, in America. Indeed, in this book Black convincingly argues that the 'science' of eugenics was founded in America and later transplanted to Germany. Whilst the term and the concept largely originated in England, there it was never more than theory, whereas it took root and actual expression in many states in America. Through organisations and experimental laboratories founded in large part by notable philanthropic bodies such as the Carnegie Institute and Rockefeller Foundation, American eugenicists, including Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood, lobbied Congress, state governments, public health bodies, institutions and care homes, to institute a national program aimed, effectively, weeding out the 'inferior stock' and increasing the ranks of the superior, namely the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic 'races'.
Whilst America never went as far as involuntary euthanasia, many states (over half) did implement laws legislating for involuntary sterilization, marriage restrictions, segregation, immigration restrictions - all designed to prevent those deemed inferior - whether because of intelligence levels, race, religion, hereditary illness or even alcoholism - from breeding and therefore perpetuating and spreading their 'defects' through the body public. California in particular led the way in this movement, with over one third of all compulsory sterilizations in the United States taking place in that state, some 20,000.
One of the truly horrifying revelations in this book was the extent of the legislation and how long the influence of eugenics lingered, and continues to do so. Even though the concept of 'eugenics' fell from favour after World War II and the revelations of the Holocaust, many advocates simply slipped quite effortlessly into the new field of 'genetics', a field Black argues is simply eugenics under another name and shorn of its social and racial elements. Many states took decades after WW2 to repeal their eugenics and miscegenation legislation, and some states continued to perform compulsory sterilization. Indeed, there is evidence that compulsory sterilization is still taking place within California's penal system.
This wasn't an easy read, both in style and in content. The author notes in his preface that each chapter could have been a book on its own, and I can see why. Many chapters feel like stand-alone papers, and Black does occasionally repeat himself or go over the same ground from a slightly different angle. By the time I'd read certain quotes three or four times in different contexts I was getting a little tired. But it is an immensely important book, shedding real light on a topic that has shamefully managed to evade the glaring light of public and academic scrutiny for too long and serving as a real warning to scientists who focus so minutely on aspects of human biology that they become lost in the biology and forget the humanity.
Nevertheless, it is a rather boring read. I'm on page 94 and I'm starting to lose my mind. Black pretty much summed up why the book sucks on page xxii. "Frankly, I had amassed enough information to write a freestanding book for each of the twenty-one chapters in this volume." And essentially, that's what he did. He made every chapter far too long.
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