The disturbing, forgotten history of America’s experiment with eugenics.
The shocking story of the American eugenics movement has been told before, but Nourse's first book focuses on the Supreme Court case that dealt the movement its death blow: the 1942 decision in Skinner v. Oklahoma. Nourse conveys the popular acceptance of the idea of "race betterment" in the 1920s and '30s: in the permanent Eugenics Pavilion at the Kansas Free Fair, for instance, flashing lights toted up the cost to society of the criminal and the "feebleminded." Against this background, Nourse, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, conveys the magnitude of the constitutional challenge facing Jack Skinner, an Oklahoma convict ordered sterilized pursuant to a eugenic statute aimed at "habitual criminals." Nourse is equally effective depicting the legal strategies and the impact of the Depression and the growing awareness of Nazi atrocities on the High Court. A bit more challenging is Nourse's analysis of Skinner's theoretical underpinnings. She argues convincingly that today, when genes are viewed as the "cause for everything from criminality to spirituality," America's flirtation with eugenics is a cautionary tale worth remembering. 11 photos. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.