Cover image for War against the weak : eugenics and America's campaign to create a master race
War against the weak : eugenics and America's campaign to create a master race
Black, Edwin.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Four Walls Eight Windows, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxviii, 550 pages, 14 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ755.5.U5 B53 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Genetics is in the news. What's not in the news are its origins in a racist 20th-century pseudoscience called eugenics. In 1904, the U.S. began a large-scale eugenics movement that was championed by the nation's medical, political, and religious elite. Eugenics sought to eliminate social "undesirables" and was eventually copied by the Third Reich. Whites, blacks, Native Americans — nearly everyone was subject to sterilization, castration, and in some cases, euthanasia. In the aftermath of world revulsion over Nazi atrocities, eugenics was reborn with a new name and new packaging: genetics. This is an explosive, detailed, and vigorously researched account of U.S. race science and its "enlightened" reincarnation worldwide as human engineering. Illustrations accompany this startling investigation of America's century-long attempt to create a master race through mass sterilization and human breeding programs.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Read all of his new book, investigative reporter Black insists, or none of it. Good advice, despite Black's many repetitions, odd word choices, and grammatical gaffes, for the story he tells shouldn't be imperfectly known. Its crux is that American researchers and laws inspired Nazi racism. Building on nineteenth-century English statistician Francis Galton's speculations about human heredity, and calling their highly subjective work eugenics, early-twentieth-century American researcher-activists persuaded many states to permit sexual sterilization of the mentally and physically inferior. With American eugenists cheering them on, the Nazis advanced to exterminating those deemed inferior. Thoroughly chronicling eugenics in America and Germany, Black stresses what happened rather than why. He doesn't probe individual eugenists' deep motivations or hazard cultural explanations; indeed, after exposing Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger's lifelong adherence to eugenics, Black pronounces her a great humanitarian. Less timorously, he asks whether contemporary genetics is becoming "newgenics" as insurance companies and employers find reasons to create an uninsurable, unemployable genetic underclass. Turgid but impressive, probably the popular history of eugenics for the foreseeable future. --Ray Olson Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the first half of the 20th century, more than 60,000 Americans-poor, uneducated, members of minorities-were forcibly sterilized to prevent them from passing on supposedly defective genes. This policy, called eugenics, was the brainchild of such influential people as Rockefellers, Andrew Carnegie and Margaret Sanger. Black, author of the bestselling IBM and the Holocaust, set out to show "the sad truth of how the scientific rationales that drove killer doctors at Auschwitz were first concocted on Long Island" at the Carnegie Institution's Cold Spring Harbor complex. Along the way, he offers a detailed and heavily footnoted history that traces eugenics from its inception to America's eventual, post-WWII retreat from it, complete with stories of the people behind it, their legal battles, their detractors and the tragic stories of their victims. Black's team of 50 researchers have done an impressive job, and the resulting story is at once shocking and gripping. But the publisher's claim that Black has uncovered the truth behind America's "dirty little secret" is a bit overstated. There is a growing library of books on eugenics, including Daniel Kevles's In the Name of Eugenics and Ellen Chesler's biography of Margaret Sanger, Woman of Valor. Black's writing tends to fluctuate from scholarly to melodramatic and apocalyptic (and sometimes arrogant), but the end result is an important book that will add to the public's understanding of this critical chapter of American history. (Sept. 7) Forecast: The publisher is supporting this in a big way, with a 75,000 first printing, a $100,000 marketing budget and a 20-city author tour. Given the success of IBM and the Holocaust, this stands to get media attention and excellent sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

That there existed an organized eugenics movement in America during the early 20th century is one of this country's dirty little secrets. In this bombshell of investigative journalism, Black (IBM and the Holocaust) reveals that it was extensive, systematic, well funded, and supported by major political and intellectual leaders; perhaps most startling, it directly inspired the rise of Nazism in Hitler's Germany. In America, the doctrine of eugenics was justified by pseudoscientific ideologies of social Darwinism and aimed, ultimately, to improve the human race by culling inferior lineages from the gene pool. The primary tool was forced sterilization of those deemed "feeble-minded." In practice, it became a legal and purportedly high-minded means by which to conduct racial and class warfare-the very features that made it appealing to the Nazis. It took the horrors of the Holocaust to discredit eugenics, but, as Black cautions, with governments today creating DNA banks of their citizens and groups from law enforcement to insurance companies seeking access to these banks, there is a reborn threat. This chilling and well-researched book is highly recommended.-Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This is a chilling account of the development of the pseudoscience of eugenics and its ultimate effects. Black (IBM and the Holocaust, 2001) begins with the earliest work in the subject, begun by British researcher Francis Galton, who coined the term "eugenics" and who pushed ideas that encouraged human individuals with strong positive genetic traits to reproduce ("positive eugenics"). Americans interested in improving the human race accepted Galton's ideas, but they developed a far different approach--that of "negative eugenics," by which they hoped to identify and sterilize, by force if necessary, those people who were "defective," according to their standards. Eugenics acquired prominent US supporters, including Mrs. E.H. Harriman and the Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations. Black argues convincingly that US eugenicists inspired German researchers, who were able to apply negative eugenic principles with the enthusiastic support of the Nazi government. This book carries an important message about the use and misuse of scientific and social research. That message is especially important in an age when the term "genetic engineering" is heard frequently. Buy this book. Put it on your shelves. Urge your patrons to read and ponder its contents. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All libraries. J. P. Sanson Louisiana State University at Alexandria