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War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race
by Edwin Black

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Product Details
  • Hardcover: 592 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.73 x 9.18 x 6.36
  • Publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows; (September 2003)
  • ISBN: 1568582587
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars Based on 6 reviews. Write a review.
  • Amazon.com Sales Rank: 6,380

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Editorial Reviews

The plans of Adolf Hitler and the German Nazis to create a Nordic "master race" are often looked upon as a horrific but fairly isolated effort. Less notice has historically been given to the American eugenics movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although their methods were less violent, the methodology and rationale which the American eugenicists employed, as catalogued in Edwin Black's Against the Weak, were chilling nonetheless and, in fact, influential in the mindset of Hitler himself. Funded and supported by several well-known wealthy donors, including the Rockefeller and Carnegie families and Alexander Graham Bell, the eugenicists believed that the physically impaired and "feeble-minded" should be subject to forced sterilization in order to create a stronger species and incur less social spending. These "defective" humans generally ended up being poorer folks who were sometimes categorized as such after shockingly arbitrary or capricious means ! such as failing a quiz related to pop culture by not knowing where the Pierce Arrow was manufactured. The list of groups and agencies conducting eugenics research was long, from the U.S. Army and the Departments of Labor and Agriculture to organizations with names like the "American Breeders Association." Black's detailed research into the history of the American eugenics movement is admirably extensive, but it is in the association between the beliefs of some members of the American aristocracy and Hitler that the book becomes most chilling. Black goes on to trace the evolution of eugenic thinking as it evolves into what is now called genetics. And while modern thinkers have thankfully discarded the pseudo-science of eugenics, such controversial modern issues as human cloning make one wonder how our own era will be remembered a hundred years hence. --John Moe

From Publishers Weekly
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...
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Book Description
The explosive true story of America’s century-long attempt to create a master race—by the author of the New York Times bestseller IBM AND THE HOLOCAUST

In WAR AGAINST THE WEAK, award-winning investigative journalist Edwin Black connects the crimes of the Nazis to a pseudoscientific American movement of the early twentieth century called eugenics. Based on selective breeding of human beings, eugenics began in laboratories on Long Island, but it ended in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Ultimately, over 60,000 "unfit" Americans were coercively sterilized, a third of them after Nuremberg declared such practices crimes against humanity.

It started in 1904, when a small group of U.S. scientists launched an ambitious new race-based movement that was championed by our nation's social, political, and academic elite. Funded by America's leading corporate philanthropies, such as the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation, and entrenched in classrooms across America, eugenicists sought to eliminate social "undesirables." Their methods: forced sterilization, human breeding programs, marriage prohibition, and even passive euthanasia. Perhaps more shocking—eugenics was sanctioned by the Supreme Court. Cruel and racist laws were enacted in twenty-seven U.S. states, and the supporters of eugenics included such progressive thinkers as Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Sanger, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The victims of eugenics were poor white people from New England to California, immigrants from across Europe, Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, Native Americans, epileptics, alcoholics, petty criminals, the mentally ill and anyone else who did not resemble the blond and blue-eyed Nordic ideal the eugenics movement glorified. Through international academic exchanges, American eugenicists exported the movement worldwide. It eventually caught the fascination of Adolf Hitler.

To write WAR AGAINST THE WEAK, Edwin Black led a team of fifty researchers in dozens of archives in four countries, generating some 50,000 documents. In this rigorous, comprehensive, brilliantly told story that spans a century, readers will discover the chilling truth of how the scientific rationales that drove Nazi doctors were first concocted by "scientists" at the Carnegie Institution in New York; how the Rockefeller Foundation’s massive financial grants to German scientists culminated in Mengele’s heinous experiments at Auschwitz; how, after World War II, eugenics was reborn as human genetics; and why confronting the history of eugenics is essential to understanding the implications of the Human Genome Project and twenty-first-century genetic engineering.

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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful:

3 out of 5 stars Interesting Muckraker Look At American Eugenics Movement!, October 16, 2003
Top 10 Reviewer Reviewer: Barron Laycock (Labradorman) (see more about me) from Temple, New Hampshire United States
Many are familiar with the litany of 20th century regarding the plethora of ways in which the Nazi thugs used the much-hyped science of eugenics to gain acceptance for their many horrific activities, from programs of forced sterilization, euthanasia of the old and infirm, and later even as the justification of genocide during the conduct of the war along the Eastern front. In fact, much of the rationalization for the racist phlegm spouted by Hitler and his ilk was derived from the semi-scientific ideas of the eugenics movement. Much less well known is the fact that the early medical experiments and notions spouted by medical doctors like the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele were highly respected and even revered in the United States as well as Europe, and that Dr. Mengele in fact held public presentations that were hugely successful in this country. Moreover, as the author of this provocative book reveals, there were several popular centers of eugenics research and support for such research for well over thirty years before the Second World War.

While the book is both interesting and full of shocking facts, it is also not especially convincing nor especially well written. It appears to be a somewhat muckraking attempt to sensationalize a particularly lurid aspect of 20th century history in American history, and much of what he purports does not appear to be independently verifiable or consistent with information one finds elsewhere on the topic. In fact, his most outrageous claim, one that argues that the notion of so-called "Nordic " racial superiority originated here in the United States, is quite poorly supported by the evidence he cites. While it is admittedly a sad and despicable period of our history, there is little verifiable documentary evidence to lend credence to such a thesis.

This is not to deny there is much of interest in this book. He traces the sad progress of the so-called Immigration Act of 1924, showing how it was inextricably tied to the pseudo-scientific notions popularly associated with the eugenics movement, and with a rampant fear of foreigners as well. Given the rapid influx of immigrants from both eastern and southern Europe at the time, the purported facts regarding potential damage to the genetic makeup of the country was seen to be at risk, and some sad and retrogressive legislation attempted to stem the tide against such potential dangers. The legislation led to a number of state laws outlawing interracial marriage, and were part of a growing campaign of both racial and ethnic intolerance most Americans would just as soon forget rather than learn about in the kind of detail offered here. Thus it is a potentially valuable book, but one which one can recommend only with appropriate caution regarding its veracity and accuracy.

Still, while the author does admit as to the fact that the eugenics movement arose in an atmosphere of ignorance, fear and intolerance, and added and aggravated the long-term manifestations of such emotive passions, the kind of complied list of eugenic sins delivered in a polemic style is hardly the sort of dispassionate and accurate document one would associate with a more scholarly approach that attempts less to sensationalize and much more to elucidate, explain, and analyze the topic at hand. It is indeed a sad period of time in our history, but one that deserves a more dispassionate, less muckraking, and more scholarly approach to truly serve the admirable stated purpose of this work. Enjoy!

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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful:

5 out of 5 stars From Eugenics to Newgenics, August 28, 2003
Top 500 Reviewer Reviewer: John Landon (see more about me) from NYC, NY United States
You learn something new everyday, here in an important book: the history of the American eugenics movement and its influence on the perpetrators of the Nazi version leading to the Holocaust. Sanitized or amnesiac history has forgotten the details here, and they are grisly, the more so being American data of record, deep in the many archives the author and his team researched. The details include the involvement of many of the foundations, Carnegie, Rockerfeller, et. al. The eugenics era is routinely denounced, but the facts are diffused from discussion and this book is eminently worth reading carefully to see how it actually happened. The account has eye-popping details on every second page,viz. the actual episodes of tracking down hill billies for enforced sterilization. That's right, in the US of A.
The cheerleading of the Eugenics movement for the Nazis continued right up through the beginning of World War II in certain scientific journals. After that eugenics became genetics, and the author explores at the end the implications of all this as we enter the age of the genome under the banner of genetic fundamentalism.
I would get this book under your belt asap, and it is also an indirect contribution to the legacy of historical Mendelism/Darwinism/Social Darwinism as these generated the milieu for this phase of Americana Goes Haywire. It can happen here. So watch it.

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

5 out of 5 stars fascinating and important, October 26, 2003
Reviewer: Charles Patterson (see more about me) from New York, NY USA
This book is a fascinating account of the eugenics movement that flourished in the United States during the first third of the twentieth century. With the help of an international team of researchers the author details the movement's history: creation of the Eugenics Record Office in Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island; the leadership of poultry researcher Charles Davenport; extensive Harriman, Rockefeller, and Carnegie funding; state laws legalizing compulsory sterilization; widespread acceptance by college presidents, clergymen, mental health workers, school principals, and leading progressive thinkers such as Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, and Woodrow Wilson; its validation by the United States Supreme Court in 1927 when it voted 8 to 1 to uphold the constitutionality of Virginia's eugenic sterilization law; and much, much more.

The book's most dramatic and controversial conclusion is that the American eugenics movement fueled the triumph of Nazism in Germany and thereby helped bring on the Holocaust. As Black writes in his Introduction, "the scientific rationales that drove killer doctors at Auschwitz were first concocted on Long Island at the Carnegie Institution's eugenic enterprise at Cold Spring Harbor." To his credit he provides a great deal of evidence to make his contention plausible, if not totally convincing.

The extremes to which the Nazis took their eugenics--euthansia killings of "unfit" Germans and the extermination of Jews, Gypsies, and others--gave eugenics a bad name from which it never recovered. This important book sheds much needed light on one of the darkest and most bizarre chapters of American history.

Charles Patterson, Ph.D., author of ETERNAL TREBLINKA: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:

5 out of 5 stars A Great Read!, October 24, 2003
Reviewer: shenandoah from Chicago, ILL.
It seems so amazing, but I could not put this book down. Everytime I wanted to put it away there was some compelling information that made me want to continue on. Anyone interested in American History needs to read this one and pass it on!!!!!!!!!

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:

4 out of 5 stars Well Documented Retelling Of The Story Of American Eugenics, October 16, 2003
Reviewer: Rick Giombetti (see more about me) from Seattle, WA.
War Against The Weak: Eugenics And America's Campaign To Create A Master Race by Edwin Black, author of IBM And The Holocaust, deals with a history many America's might know about in passing, but who don't know of the ugly details. Black's long history of the eugenics movement in the United States, and its ties to the eugenics movement in Germany, meticulously documents arguably the most racist period of this nation's history.

Black's narrative traces the development of the international eugenics movement from its origins in the study of genetics starting with the rediscovery of the pioneering work in genetics of Mendel in the late 19th century to its heyday in the United States with the founding of the private Eugenics Record Office (ERO) in 1910, and the forced sterilizations of tens of thousands of people deemed human waste by the movement, to the movement's demise in the smoldering ruins of the concentration camps of Nazi occupied Europe. The term "eugenics" was first coined by a British mathematician named Francis J. Galton, but it was in the United States that the notion of genetically engineering a master Nordic race became a well funded movement. The eugenics movement received the support of some of the nation's wealthiest families, including Carnegie, Harriman and Rockefeller. In this sense, the eugenics movement was the quintessential campaign against the poor and funded by the rich.

At the center of the eugenics story in the United States is the movement's two most ardent exponents, Charles Davenport and Harry Laughlin of the Eugenics Record Office. It was these two individuals who lead the movement and never wavered from their support for ending the blood lines of people they deemed "unfit." Even after the Carnegie Institution closed the ERO at the of 1939, partly out of embarrassment at being associated with the racism of the movement, and the horrors Nazi dominated Europe being publicized to the world, Davenport and Laughlin still defended their racist ideology as a legitimate science. They never severed their ties with the German eugenics movement as it took the movement to next level by carrying out an extermination campaign inspired by eugenics ideas.

The idea of the "unfit" is highly subjective notion, but it included the usual suspects deemed a burden on society: African-Americans, Asians, Mexicans and Native Americans. It even included people of European origin who had brown hair. Also on the eugenics hitlist for sterilization were the deaf, blind, epileptics and psychiatric patients. Anybody deemed an impossible burden on society was a target of this movement. The eugenics position held that charity for poor people was a waste of money. The problems of the dispossessd and poor weren't socially created but the inevitable result of bad genes. It was a position that also held that sterilization, immigration restrictions, marriage restrictions and even euthanasia were the only viable methods for dealing with class related social problems. A convenient psuedoscience arose to justify this racist ideology. A psuedoscience built on the foundation of the highly flawed gathering of family pedigrees by the ERO and racist psychological testing.

One of the most interesting stories of the American eugenics movement was its tenuous alliance with the ostensibly progressive cause of birth control, especially Planned Parenthood founder and birth control advocate Margaret Sanger. It was an alliance that did not stand the test of time because many in the movement did not want to be associated with birth control and its feminist message. Leading eugenicists were content to embrace the extreme racism of the eugenics ideology, but the idea of a woman controlling her reproductive biology was something they couldn't countenance. In the end, the majority of sterilizations were carried out against the usual suspects: Poor and defenseless women. This is why the birth control and eugenics movements could never reconcile their differences. Take Black's argument that Sanger was not a racist for what you will, but her ideas were truly reprehensible. Ideas that Planned Parenthood have long since disowned.

Eugenics became a swear word after World War II and the policies the movement advocated came to be viewed as crimes against humanity. Eugenics eventually came to be known as "human genetics" and "genetics counseling ." Eugenics also lives on by way of the finished products of racist psychological testing, namely, the IQ test and the SAT. Today, the biggest threat genetics poses to people's liberty is in the area of insurance discrimination. Every now and then it might make a brief comeback, like with Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray's 1994 book The Bell Curve, which purported to prove that black people are of inferior intelligence, but never with same impact on public policy it once had.

Meticulously researched and foot noted, but somewhat tedious at a length of 440 pages, Black leaves virtually no stone unturned in retelling the tale of this nation's eugenics movement. The individual who reads Black's book will forever look at the claims of the science of human genetics with a heightened skepticism and a desire to discern what public policy implications such knowledge might entail. (...)

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17 of 24 people found the following review helpful:

5 out of 5 stars Shocking!!!, August 25, 2003
Reviewer: A reader from Philadelphia, PA
Mr. Black has done it again by exposing the complicity of America's "ruling elite" in establishing an intellectual, scientific foundation for sterilization and, ultimately, genocide of those deemed "inferior." War Against the Weak details how a cabal of well-known industrialists, scientists, technocrats, politicians, and dilettantes together contributed in the advancement of a pseudoscience from an idea into frightful practice. A must read for anyone concerned about the erosion of our civil liberties.

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