A follow-up of sorts to All God’s Children, the author’s 1995 book about an African-American family mired in multiple generations of imprisonment. This time, the author chronicles a “a white family with a sizable number of inmates to illustrate this perverse legacy while removing race as a factor in the discussion.”
Based on an extraordinary research effort that combined years of building trust with outlaws as well as searching law enforcement records, longtime New York Times reporter and bureau chief Butterfield, who won the National Book Award for China: Alive in the Bitter Sea (1982), located at least 60 members of the extended Bogle family who have been arrested and sentenced beginning in the early 1920s. Although 60 may seem like an extraordinarily large number, “some oddity out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” the author notes that roughly five percent of families account for approximately half of all crime in the United States. While fascinated with the Bogles, Butterfield never loses sight of a significant question: Why is the intergenerational transmission of violence so powerful in countless specific families? Though the Bogles don’t necessarily present a simple answer to the author’s inquiry, he learned that numerous Bogle fathers and mothers encouraged their children to choose a life of crime, usually at the expense of education. Being sent to prison was viewed by Bogle family members as a rite of passage, even an honor. Certainly for some Bogle crime careerists, prison served as a school for honing skills to become more skilled robbers and burglars. (Butterfield found only one homicide during his research.) Near the end of the book, the author focuses on Ashley, the first Bogle to attend college. How Ashley broke free from a career of crime is such a remarkable saga that it reads like fiction. However, Butterfield provides persuasive documentation about his subjects and also delivers an epilogue that is at least as unexpected.
The occasional shoehorning of academic theories into the Bogle narrative barely mars an outstanding book of sociology and criminology.