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The Book Forum |

Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought

Vincent J. Gagliardi, MD
JAMA. 1964;187(2):157. doi:10.1001/jama.1964.03060150081039.
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Eugenics, the science of improving the human race by better breeding, has influenced American social and political thought since the late 1800's. In an absorbing and factual book the author details its history—from post-Darwinian philosophy that the unfit must be weeded from the human race, to the full development and subsequent decline of eugenics in this country. Whereas the movement might have been a legitimate inquiry into the relative importance of heredity and environment, it became instead a pseudoscience which (1) blindly linked heredity to poverty, crime, feeblemindedness, and insanity, and (2) was a rallying point for racist and anti-immigration propaganda.

The author did much of his research at the Eugenics Record Office in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. Founded in 1910, this agency generated voluminous studies on such phenomena as the Jukes family—1,258 members, over half of whom were paupers, criminals, or feebleminded persons. Sociologists, physicians, and politicians used these


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