A shocking tale about science and law gone horribly wrong, an almost forgotten case that deserves to be ranked with Dred...

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IMBECILES

THE SUPREME COURT, AMERICAN EUGENICS, AND THE STERILIZATION OF CARRIE BUCK

Attorney, journalist, and bestselling author Cohen (Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days that Created Modern America, 2009, etc.) revisits an ugly chapter in American history: the 1920s mania for eugenics.

Among “the most brutal aphorisms in American jurisprudence,” Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1927 pronouncement in Buck v. Bell—“Three generations of imbeciles are enough”—marked the high point of a shameful enthusiasm among the social elite for ridding the species of so-called mental defectives. With the nation anxious about changes wrought by unprecedented immigration, industrialization, and urbanization, and with marriage laws ineffective and segregation and warehousing of defectives too expensive and castration too barbaric, eugenics enthusiasts turned to mass sterilization as the solution to prevent the feebleminded from reproducing. The movement attracted its share of crackpots, racists, and conservatives intent on preserving an Anglo-Saxon heritage, but a shocking gallery of the very best people—professionals, intellectuals, feminists, and progressives—formed the vanguard. From this class came the principal players in Carrie Buck’s case: the physician/supervisor of Virginia’s Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded, the drafter of the state’s sterilization law who defended it in the Supreme Court, the national scientific expert who affirmed its utility, and the celebrated justice who upheld its constitutionality. The stories of these four men and that of Carrie herself—a teenage girl neither mentally nor morally deficient, as her caretakers charged, and never informed of the purpose and effect the operation Virginia demanded—form the spine of Cohen’s compelling narrative. Through them, he also tells a larger story of the weak science underlying the eugenics cause and the outrageous betrayal of the defenseless by some of the country’s best minds. Carrie Buck died in 1983. The 8-1 decision, joined by the likes of Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Louis Brandeis, has never been overruled.

A shocking tale about science and law gone horribly wrong, an almost forgotten case that deserves to be ranked with Dred Scott, Plessy, and Korematsu as among the Supreme Court’s worst decisions.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1594204180

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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A probing study of a scandal that spread even deeper than the standard histories claim—and one that has plenty of lessons...

THE TEAPOT DOME SCANDAL

HOW BIG OIL BOUGHT THE HARDING WHITE HOUSE AND TRIED TO STEAL THE COUNTRY

If corruption is what you want, put someone with strong ties to the oil industry in the White House.

So we learn from business journalist McCartney (Across the Great Divide: Robert Stuart and the Discovery of the Oregon Trail, 2004, etc.) in this lucid account of the Teapot Dome scandal. At its root was Warren G. Harding, the Ohio senator who was a 40-1 shot to gain the Republican nomination for the presidency for 1920 until he secured the backing of Jake Hamon, Harry F. Sinclair, Edward Doheny and other oil titans. The trade-off was that Hamon was to become secretary of the interior and be given control of the Teapot Dome oil field in Wyoming, “an oil supply potentially worth several hundred million dollars—1920 dollars—a bonanza so rich that it was almost beyond comprehension.” Hamon’s wife shot and killed him before the deal could go through, but before he died Hamon sent a sealed note to Harding with orders to “get some of his friends taken care of.” The oilmen got their way with a longtime New Mexico senator named Albert Fall, hard-drinking and murderous, who had fallen on hard times and seemed in danger of losing his huge ranch holdings. No sooner was Fall installed than his money problems disappeared, the dollars flowing into his bank accounts and those of other prominent Republicans as the oil flowed out of Teapot Dome. By way of thanks, Sinclair gained access to two million barrels of public-domain oil per year, on which Harding signed off in a letter to Fall: “I am confident you have adopted the correct policy and will carry it through in a way altogether to be approved.” Of course, when all this backdoor dealing was exposed, approval was not forthcoming. Sinclair thundered that he was too rich to be jailed. He was wrong, but many others walked.

A probing study of a scandal that spread even deeper than the standard histories claim—and one that has plenty of lessons for today.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6316-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2007

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Provocative, polymathic, pleasurable. (Illustrations throughout)

THE LANDSCAPE OF HISTORY

HOW HISTORIANS MAP THE PAST

Entertaining, masterful disquisition on the aims, limitations, design, and methods of historiography.

Gaddis (Military and Naval History/Yale; We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, 1997) adapts the lectures he gave at Oxford while its George Eastman Visiting Professor (2000–01). Employing a wide range of metaphors (from Cleopatra’s nose to Napoleon’s underwear), displaying an extensive knowledge of current thinking in mathematics, physics, and evolutionary biology, alluding frequently to figures as disparate as Lee Harvey Oswald, Gwyneth Paltrow, John Lennon, and John Malkovich, Gaddis guides us on a genial trip into the historical method and the imagination that informs it. He begins by showing the relationship between a cartographer and a historian, asserting that the latter must “interpret the past for the purposes of the present with a view to managing the future.” He also takes us through a set of principles he believes historians must employ and reminds us that the imagination of the historian must always be tethered to reliable sources. He takes on social scientists (especially economists), observing that as they attempt to become more “scientific” (establishing laws, making accurate predictions), they move in the opposite direction of today’s “hard” scientists: “When social scientists are right, they too often confirm the obvious.” Gaddis moves to a discussion of variables (declaring irrelevant the distinction between “independent” and “dependent”: “interdependent,” he says, is the more accurate term), examines chaos theory and explores theories of causation. He ends with an intriguing discussion of the role of the biographer, insisting that historians retain a moral view of events, and with a reminder that they must necessarily distort even as they clarify. Historians, like teachers, he says, both oppress and liberate.

Provocative, polymathic, pleasurable. (Illustrations throughout)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-19-506652-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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