Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race
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A journalistic exposé of the early-20th-century American eugenics movement and its application in the death camps of the Third Reich.

By Black’s (IBM and the Holocaust, not reviewed) account, the various American eugenicists who brought crop- and livestock-breeding techniques to the business of creating perfect humans were masters of scientific fraud, working with the blessing and material support of major corporations and foundations in the interest of “racism, ethnic hatred and academic elitism.” Though predicated on overstatement—many such scientists, then as now, were looking to eradicate categories of disease, not of people—Black’s case has many merits: plenty of practitioners, working through hospitals and laboratories meant to stamp out the “feebleminded” and crippled and even those unfortunates with bad vision, had in mind the creation of a Nordic European “super race enjoying biological dominion over all others.” The eugenics program put in practice throughout the US, but with particular zeal in Virginia and California, targeted victims of disease, to be sure, but also the poor and members of ethnic minorities, especially blacks and Native Americans. That program met with some resistance among scientists and social engineers, who complained that such things as tuberculosis and violent crime alike were the products of poverty and not heredity; but it also enjoyed strong support among political leaders, including Woodrow Wilson and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Along the way, Adolf Hitler became enamored of American experiments to rid the nation of the genetically suspect, and American eugenicists did a land-office business as consultants and lecturers in the Third Reich; soon, as US scientist C.M. Goethe noted, the Germans had sterilized more people in two years than California had in a quarter century. But even after WWII, Black writes, “after the Hitler regime, after the Nuremberg Trials, some twenty thousand Americans were eugenically sterilized by states and untold others by federal programs on Indian reservations and in U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico.”

Though sure to be contested at points, of interest to human-rights activists monitoring the doings of bioengineers—who are just eugenicists, Black argues, under another name.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 2003
ISBN: 1-56858-258-7
Page count: 522pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2003


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