Excerpt from Better for All the World by Harry Bruinius, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Better for All the World

The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America's Quest for Racial Purity

by Harry Bruinius

Better for All the World
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2006, 416 pages
    Apr 2007, 416 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

These fears were not simply his own. Many of the world's leaders, Dr. Bell knew, felt the same. Former president Theodore Roosevelt had called this trend "race suicide," and had felt that America's greatness was being threatened not only by rampant poverty but also its cozy affluence. He had once proclaimed, "Some day we will realize that the prime duty, the inescapable duty, of the good citizen of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type." The inventor Alexander Graham Bell, the social crusader Margaret Sanger, and the administrators of the Harriman, Carnegie, and Rockefeller philanthropic foundations were each calling for state-sanctioned programs of better breeding. The editorial pages of newspapers such as the New York Times, scholars at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, as well as professional associations of doctors and social workers were each urging the nation's legislatures to quell the tide of "hereditary defectives."

In addition, many British leaders supported compulsory sterilization to purify their nation's genetic pool. When Winston Churchill was home secretary, he had once written to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith urging support for a sterilization bill before Parliament. "The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes, coupled as it is with a steady restriction among all the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate," he explained. "I feel that the source from which all the streams of madness is fed should be cut off and sealed up before the year has passed. . . . [A] simple surgical operation would allow these individuals to live in the world without causing much inconvenience to others."

Now, after nearly twenty years of effort, the case of Carrie Buck provided the most resounding legal affirmation of this theory of genetic engineering. In the Supreme Court case that bore Bell's name, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., feared the United States would be "swamped with incompetence" if women like Carrie continued to have children. "It is better for all the world," he wrote in the majority decision of Buck v. Bell, "if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Yes, our descendants may well be proud. Actually, this idea wasn't new at all, Dr. Bell would muse. "Racial improvement" was a practice as old as the first great civilizations of the world. Didn't remarkably heroic races cast their defective infants in the River Tiber or leave them upon the mountainside to starve? "The idea of elimination, by one way or another, of those who were expected to be disqualified for a certain standard of physical and mental perfection, has come down to us through a great space of time," he would later maintain. "And it persists as strongly in the minds of people today as it did in the minds of the ancient Spartans and Romans. . . . Such efforts to preserve a healthy race, cruel as they may seem, were after all but the pursuit of natural laws: the buds unfit to mature, fall; and the weaklings of the flock must perish."

Excerpted from Better for All the World by Harry Bruinius Copyright © 2006 by Harry Bruinius. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hag-Seed
    by Margaret Atwood
    There's a scene in The Tempest that many critics have concluded is indicative of Shakespeare&#...
  • Book Jacket: Crossing the Horizon
    Crossing the Horizon
    by Laurie Notaro
    In Crossing the Horizon, Laurie Notaro takes us back to a time when flying was a rare and risky ...
  • Book Jacket
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Les Parisiennes
    by Anne Sebba

    How the women of Paris lived, loved, and died under Nazi occupation.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.