A well-told, richly contextualized investigation of an appalling episode in American history.



The author of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia (2018) returns with a history of Virginia’s eugenics movement and its interconnections with racial, gender, and class prejudices.

In this grounded, well-rendered, and highly disturbing account, Catte examines the period from the late 1920s to 1979 at the Western State Lunatic Asylum. It was, she writes, “a long era in the history of psychiatric medicine when therapeutic efforts primarily focused on containment and control, not care or cure.” As part of the eugenics movement, Western State advanced its purity-of-race ideology, which taught that people with disabilities—and the just plain poor—were expensive social burdens. They were viewed as a disorderly class populated by “undesirables.” Proponents of this concept were worried that the “unfit” would reproduce and create an ongoing social debt that could never be repaid. With justified outrage backed by copious archival evidence, Catte describes the process by which Virginia made eugenic sterilization legal. Importantly, the author also demonstrates how practitioners of eugenics did more than just sterilize the mentally ill and those who were not considered “pure.” They also advanced the cause of White supremacy, controlled anti-establishment women, and exploited the impoverished. The movement created a comprehensive, hateful belief system about the kinds of lives that marginalized people deserved. Catte details the dire consequences for a whole galaxy of “mongrels”—a reprehensible classification that included immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, Blacks, poor Whites, and Native Americans—from the illegalization of intermarriage (“when interbreeding between two races occurred, the worst traits always became the dominant traits”) to the displacement of more than 500 families to create Shenandoah National Park. The author closes by examining the suppression of memory as it pertains to the thousands of sterilizations that occurred as well as Western State’s use of patients for free labor.

A well-told, richly contextualized investigation of an appalling episode in American history.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-948742-73-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Belt Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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