Eugenics: Further Reading

Eugenics, praised as a “modern” human genetics movement, played an important role in the pre-World War II history of the United States. As an American, I learned the horrors of Hitler trying to create the perfect human race. What I didn't learn, was that America, supported the idea of "bettering" the human race through forced sterilizations that focused on the poor, mentally-ill, and minorities.

Here's a few selections for further reading on the subject of eugenics:


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

War Against the Weak is the gripping chronicle documenting how American corporate philanthropies launched a national campaign of ethnic cleansing in the United States, helped found and fund the Nazi eugenics of Hitler and Mengele—and then created the modern movement of “human genetics.” Some 60,000 Americans were sterilized under laws in 27 states.

In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity by Daniel Kevles

Daniel Kevles traces the study and practice of eugenics—the science of “improving” the human species by exploiting theories of heredity—from its inception in the late nineteenth century to its most recent manifestation within the field of genetic engineering. It is rich in narrative, anecdote, attention to human detail, and stories of competition among scientists who have dominated the field.

Margaret Sanger's Eugenic Legacy: The Control of Female Fertility by Angela Franks

Margaret Sanger, the American birth-control and population-control advocate who founded Planned Parenthood, stands like a giant among her contemporaries. With her dominating yet winning personality, she helped generate shifts of opinion on issues that were not even publicly discussed prior to her activism, while her leadership was arguably the single most important factor in achieving social and legislative victories that set the parameters for today’s political discussion of family-planning funding, population-control aid, and even sex education. This work addresses Sanger’s ideas concerning birth control, eugenics, population control, and sterilization against the backdrop of the larger eugenic context.

To stir the boiling pot of controversy even further (see Margaret Sanger above), I am including an interesting book on the history of contraception:

Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America by Andrea Tone

In Devices and Desires, Andrea Tone breaks new ground by showing what it was really like to buy, produce, and use contraceptives during a century of profound social and technological change. A down-and-out sausage-casing worker by day who turned surplus animal intestines into a million-dollar condom enterprise at night; inventors who fashioned cervical caps out of watch springs; and a mother of six who kissed photographs of the inventor of the Pill—these are just a few of the individuals who make up this riveting story.

Now if you have too many books to read, you may prefer to watch one of my favorite movies on perfecting humans through genetics:

Gattaca (1997) starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman

Confidently conceived and brilliantly executed, Gattaca had a somewhat low profile release in 1997, but audiences and critics hailed the film's originality. It’s since been recognized as one of the most intelligent science fiction films of the 1990s. Writer-director Andrew Niccol, the talented New Zealander who also wrote the acclaimed Jim Carrey vehicle The Truman Show, depicts a near-future society in which one’s personal and professional destiny is determined by one’s genes. In this society, “Valids” (genetically engineered) qualify for positions at prestigious corporations, such as Gattaca, which grooms its most qualified employees for space exploration. “In-Valids” (naturally born), such as the film’s protagonist, Vincent (Ethan Hawke), are deemed genetically flawed and subsequently fated to low-level occupations in a genetically caste society. With the help of a disabled “Valid” (Jude Law), Vincent subverts his society’s social and biological barriers to pursue his dream of space travel; any random mistake—and an ongoing murder investigation at Gattaca—could reveal his plot. Part thriller, part futuristic drama and cautionary tale, Gattaca establishes its social structure so convincingly that the entire scenario is chillingly believable. With Uma Thurman as the woman who loves Vincent and identifies with his struggle, Gattaca is both stylish and smart, while Jude Law’s performance lends the film a note of tragic and heartfelt humanity. —Jeff Shannon, Amazon review

Stuff That Makes you go Huh?

Uh oh, you are really rushed for time and can't fit in a book or a movie…I hope you have time to read a blog post from Stuff Mom Never Told You titled Better Babies Contests: Eugenics Goes to the Fair

Movie Night

September 12, 2008
Julia's House
Feature: The Other Boylen Girl

Thanks to Julia for organizing another great movie night featuring our March book club discussion on "The Other Boylen Girl."

Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the deck will begin at 7:00 p.m.
The movie will begin promptly at 8:00 p.m