Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck

Penguin. Mar. 2016. 416p. notes. index. ISBN 9781594204180. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781101980835. LAW
The Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell (1927) made forced sterilization legal in the United States and resulted in the sterilization of 70,000 Americans. Cohen (former senior writer, Time Magazine; Nothing To Fear) examines the eugenics movement that led to the court case and that was used as a model for eugenics in Nazi Germany. In the book's introduction, the author describes 1920s America as "caught in a mania to use newly discovered scientific laws of heredity to perfect humanity." The story of Carrie Buck, who became pregnant after being raped by an acquaintance and was then wrongly institutionalized by the state of Virginia as feebleminded, illustrates society's treatment of the poor, of minorities and immigrants, and other populations considered "undesirable." Throughout the book, the author says that the legal system failed to act in Buck's best interests and consistently ignored her human rights.
VERDICT This thought-provoking work exposes a dark chapter of American legal history but is not for the casual reader. Law students, those studying the health professions, and students of social history should read. Recommended for academic, health sciences, and law libraries. [See Prepub Alert, 9/28/15.]
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