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 by Harry Bruinius X
Better for All the World by Harry Bruinius
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

A Simple and Painless Procedure

On a cloudy afternoon on October 19, 1927, as a chilly autumn wind swept down off the Blue Ridge Mountains, rattling the windows of the infirmary at the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded, Dr. John H. Bell jotted a few notes about an operation he had performed earlier that day. He was the superintendent of this sprawling institution, a campus of regimented brick dormitories and rolling farmland set amid the bluffs overlooking Lynchburg, and one of the country's finest. The morning's procedure was simple, and dozens of such operations had taken place here over the years. But for this patient he wrote with particular care, since it was a case that might draw a bit of attention.

"Patient sterilized this morning under authority of Act of Assembly in 1926, providing for the sterilization of mental defectives, and as ordered by the Board of Directors of this institution," he wrote. "She went to the operating room at 9:30 and returned to her bed at 10:30, recovered promptly from the anaesthesia with no untoward after effects anticipated. One inch was removed from each Fallopian tube, the tubes ligated and the ends cauterized by carbolic acid followed by alcohol, and the edges of the broad ligaments brought together with continuous suture. Abdominal wound was united with layer sutures and the approximation of the closure was good."

The patient lying before him on the operating table that morning was Carrie Buck, a plump, twenty-one-year-old woman who had been under his care at the Colony for over three years. He knew her well. On the day she was admitted, he had been the first to examine her, and he took special note of her dark eyes and slight features, her low, narrow forehead and high cheekbones. He would see her in the Colony's cafeteria, where she was assigned to work, and his words to her were usually cordial and kind. Yet during most of this time, Dr. Bell and Carrie Buck had been, in name at least, legal adversaries.

So, as he finished his surgical report, he decided to add another formal comment: "This is the first case operated on under the sterilization law, and the case was carried through the courts of the State and the United States Supreme Court to test the constitutionality of the Virginia act, and an appeal before the Supreme Court for a rehearing recently having been denied."

It was a momentous day. It had taken over three years to test and litigate Carrie's case, but less than an hour to cut and ligate her Fallopian tubes. But for Dr. Bell, this operation was far more than a legal victory. As a "test case," it had been a carefully orchestrated lawsuit meant not only to sterilize Carrie against her will, but also to protect a bold but controversial social policy he believed would improve the welfare of the nation. Today was the beginning. It was cold, but outside the window, beyond the white, two-tiered veranda on the front façade of the infirmary, Dr. Bell could look out over the Colony and consider the long battle he and other reformers had been fighting for decades.

Beyond the veranda, the parallel rows of austere brick dormitories made this state-run institution look something like a military camp, its geometric precision imposing order on a vast Virginia wilderness, even as magnolias and elms gave the Colony the gentle, pastoral feel of a Southern plantation, peaceful and decorous, like Jefferson's Monticello just hours to the north. Dr. Bell, too, had devoted his life, both as a physician and a scientist, to building a more perfect land. Sterilizing Carrie just may have been one of the most important things he had ever done, and as he considered her surgery he may have even dared to think, as a colleague would later tell him, that "a hundred years from now you will still have a place in this history of which your descendents may well be proud."

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!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: And The Ocean Was Our Sky
    And The Ocean Was Our Sky
    by Patrick Ness
    Patrick Ness has developed a reputation for experimental literature executed well, and his latest, ...
  • Book Jacket: Let It Bang
    Let It Bang
    by RJ Young
    Every interracial love story is an exercise in complications. R.J. Young and Lizzie Stafford's ...
  • Book Jacket: A Spark of Light
    A Spark of Light
    by Jodi Picoult
    The central premise of A Spark of Light involves a gunman holding hostages within the confines of a ...
  • Book Jacket: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
    An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
    by Hank Green
    As one half of the extremely popular YouTube duo "Vlogbrothers" (the other half being his brother ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Unsheltered
by Barbara Kingsolver

A timely novel that explores the human capacity for resiliency and compassion.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Ladder to the Sky
    by John Boyne

    A seductive, unputdownable psychodrama following one brilliant, ruthless man.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Paris Echo
    by Sebastian Faulks

    A story of resistance, complicity, and an unlikely, transformative friendship.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Severance

Severance by Ling Ma

An offbeat, wryly funny, apocalyptic satire that is featured on more than twenty 2018 "Must Read" lists!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Ain't O U T F L S

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & 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.