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War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race

4.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  546 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
In War against the Weak, award-winning investigative journalist Edwin Black traces some of the Nazis' most horrendous crimes back to Charles Davenport's early 20th-century pseudoscientific eugenics movement in the US. Based on selective breeding of human beings, eugenics began in laboratories on Long Island but ended in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Cruel and ra ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published October 24th 2004 by Thunder's Mouth Press/Avalon Publishing Group (NYC) (first published 2003)
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42nd out of 320 books — 337 voters
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2nd out of 34 books — 13 voters

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Community Reviews

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It is difficult to read this book and not be moved. It is difficult to read this book and not think. In fact, if you do not find yourself thinking about this book long after you have finished the last page, you probably do not think much at all. War Against the Weak is a book that forces you into mental action. The author, Edwin Black, does not present his chronicle of eugenics as a collection of seemingly isolated facts. Ideas are not birthed out of thin air. On the flip side, ideas do not sudd ...more
Jun 10, 2007 Sue rated it really liked it
This was the first book I read about the eugenics movement, and I was surprised that the first big eugenics laws were enacted here in the US. Germany learned from us and from England. There are two different kinds of eugenics - positive (breed the best people to improve the human race) and negative (sterilize the "unfit") - and doctors, politicians, and hospital administrators latched onto negative eugenics and forcibly sterilized thousands of mentally and physically disabled people in the US. W ...more
Erik Graff
Sep 13, 2013 Erik Graff rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: citizens & geneticists
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Black makes a strong, well documented case that early genetic theory jumped the gun, partial, inconclusive data being adduced in the service of political prejudice. He further substantiates his claim that this, the "science" then called "eugenics", primarily originated in the Anglo-American world and was most powerfully promulgated by American foundations and universities during the first decades of the 20th century, the dreams of domestic eugenicists finding expression in the laws of 29 states ...more
Marianne Belotseyenko
Jul 24, 2007 Marianne Belotseyenko rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faves
gives an in depth account of one of the US's darkest secrets. can get a little too full at times, as there is alot of information thrown in, and it can be watered down. for the most part, its historical documentation that makes connections to how remnants of eugenics are still visible today. (in particular, margeret sanger as a proponent of eugenics. and margeret sanger is.. one of the founders of planned parenthood. think about it...)
Apr 27, 2014 Navarra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If the topic of ‘eugenics’ or “a belief in the possibility of improving the biological characteristics of the human species by restricting or eliminating the reproductive capacity of certain individuals” is known in the mainstream today, it is usually with some reference to the Nazi policy of Jewish genocide during the 1930s and 40s. Edwin Black, journalist and non-fiction author, has not simply written a book about eugenics as most people know it, but has researched and written a book about eug ...more
Jan 20, 2014 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Black details the frightening and unfamiliar story of American (that's right, American) eugenics. Throughout the first SIX decades of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of US citizens were forcibly sterilized on the grounds that they were "unfit." (where unfit might mean: mentally slow, physically disabled, black, jewish, or more likely, just plain poor). These actions were sanctioned and carried out by America's intellectual, industrial, and government elites. Their goal was clear and unap ...more
Jan 15, 2012 Nicholas rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Ok, so...good with caveats.

The book is divided into three distinct Parts: The Birth of Eugenics, Eugenics and World War II, and the change from Eugenics to Genetics.

The first part is impeccably well constructed, with a clear relationship between the history and the influence that eugenics had on social policy. There's plenty of detail and documentation, and the author is clearly well versed in the minutiae of the subject. Eugenics as a "science" at the dawn of the twentieth century and it's role
Jun 03, 2013 Ann rated it really liked it
In this book, Black presents scrupulously documented history of the eugenics movement in America. I was amazed to find that this idea of restraining the procreation of "defective" people groups and promoting the procreation of "fit" groups of people was a popular line of thinking at the end of the 19th and into the turn of the century (20th century). The entrance of Darwinian thinking into this time period helped to add fuel to the fire of "the survival of the fittest" mentality that was the fo ...more
Dec 09, 2013 Caroline rated it really liked it
So much attention has been paid to the means and methods of the Nazi's appalling atrocities during World War II, to the institutional, bureaucratic and legislative infrastructure created to support those actions and the race hatred that impelled them - but little attention has been paid up to the supposed scientific foundations that underlay all of the Nazis' beliefs and justifications. Everyone knows of the Nazis' belief in racial superiority, in the desire for a 'master race', an Aryan race of ...more
The idea of the "Master Race" did not originate with Hitler and the Nazis. It began much earlier and was endorsed in many countries (including the U.S.!) beginning in the 1800's. Humans were measured and analyzed and many discussions were done about weeding out defective members of society ("culling the herd"). If farmers could improve their livestock by selective breeding, why couldn't the human race be enhanced with the same techniques? Certain groups (blacks, Jews, aboriginal tribes, homosexu ...more
Dec 08, 2010 Marley rated it it was amazing
Finally finished this after a hiatus. I was already familiar with American Eugenics and had read The Black Stork previously. I had no idea, however, how deep and quacky eugenics went. If only eugenics could be written off as junk science, but it became the ideology of Nazi Germany. The cooperation and collaboration between US and Nazi researchers, especially after the US side knew what was going on, is frightening. Unfortunately, Americans still love junk science today.

The book was actually eas
Jan 20, 2009 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exhaustively researched. 'Eugenics' is a junk science that flowered around the turn of the century in America. Eugenicists sought racial purity, to get rid of 'defectives' like the developmentally disabled, diseased, elderly, and of course every race except Nordics. Eugenics caught on and went to further extremes in Germany by the '30s. In America thousands of blacks, poor, epileptics, natives, etc were sterilized (rendered unable to reproduce); several states also outlawed marriage between rac ...more
Feb 05, 2016 Dr.J.G. rated it liked it
Eugenics that culminated in horrors in German concentration camps began in Long Island laboratories, measuring heads and corroborating body characteristics to superior intelligence. If they had ever found superior intelligence in races other than pale technicoloured ones, they would have abandoned it and buried it under a heap of abuse masquerading as criticism and concern for humanity, but they did not think of measuring intelligent people of sepia or monochromatic races - even though Hardy had ...more
Feb 04, 2013 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The bulk of the book, which established the connnections between US eugenics programs and the Nazis' acts of genocide were great. The atrocities committed on both sides of the Atlantic are stunning. The last chapter, which focused on how genetics could be used in the future, felt more like a fearful flight of fancy than fact.
Molly Mccombs
Mar 29, 2016 Molly Mccombs rated it really liked it
I am a fervent believer in knowing History (YEP—Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.—George Santayana). This book unfortunately remains timely; despite the failure of eugenics to give racism and classism a scientific gloss, we're still plagued by a lack of compassion. I like to delude myself into believing that if people understood the big picture (i.e., the history of eugenics), such things as immigrant bashing and blaming the poor for their plight would end. Then I re ...more
Mar 19, 2014 Denise rated it liked it
While I knew that the Nazis' attempt to cleanse Europe of the "lower races" was based on theories developed from Mendel's studies in heredity and Darwin's observations of evolutionary changes in groups, like most people I was unaware that the "science" of eugenics was largely developed in America with the support and financing of progressive people and institutions of the highest influence: Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, the Supreme Court, the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations, the Amer ...more
Dec 26, 2010 Ilya rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A history of the eugenic movement in the United States in the first half of the last century, which served as a model to its counterpart in Germany but was surpassed by it. American eugenicists merely succeeded at sterilizing tens of thousands of the "feebleminded", most of whom weren't; the daughter of Carrie Buck, the woman whose sterilization was upheld by SCOTUS because "three generations of imbeciles are enough", once made the honor roll in her elementary school. The Germans sterilized hund ...more
Apr 05, 2012 Relstuart rated it really liked it
A difficult book to read. Not because it is poorly written. But because it is so disappointing to read about the American history of oppressing the weak.

The pseudo-science of eugenics is the application of evolutionistic natural selection to humankind. If humans are descended from animals and still evolving then some portion of humankind could conceivably be further ahead than others. And if this is true, should not the human race be bettered by encouraging the propagation of this portion of ou
ebnewberry Newberry
I learned a lot about the eugenics movement and the American influence in the field that ultimately led to the holocaust. It was very dense, but not difficult to read. I agree with some of the other reviews of this book that the author repeats entire passages throughout the book. I noticed that some paragraphs were word for word repetitions. I also get annoyed when authors write things like ...a man was in prison for starting a rebellion. He had ideas about a making Germany great again...etc. Th ...more
Dec 29, 2014 S rated it it was amazing
A fun thing to do while reading this book: As each chapter discusses new pieces of legislature that were used to imprison and sterilize people against their will, put a post it note at the top of the page if the condition or "reason" would apply to someone in your direct family tree (parents, grand parents, great grand parents, etc).

Use a different color of post-it notes every time a well known institution or name brand is mentioned in connection with sterilization and eugenic measures, like IBM
Jul 14, 2014 Steve rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a very long book with lots of research. This book coincides with my education in multicultural education and how the U.S. is continuing in it's bias towards certain races and people. A real eye-opener. I wish the books content was trimmed down. I understand what the author is doing, but to the recreational reader, some of the facts included I felt weren't necessary in the understanding of the overall picture.
Feb 02, 2009 Jason rated it liked it
Very detailed overview of the history of the Eugenics movement from the Mid 1800s to the present day renamed Genetics and Genomics sciences.

While much of this information has already been available in other books, Black puts it into clear linear fashion to show the development from British Colonial Racists, to American Racists, back to Europe thanks to the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations, to the German Nazis who as Hess said, "National Socialism is nothing but applied biology."

Edwin Black
Dec 22, 2008 Doug rated it really liked it
Black deserves much credit for helping to shatter the myth that Nazism happened because Hitler was a madman. In War Against the Weak, just like in "IBM and the Holocaust," Black answers the "how could the Holocaust happen?" question with an uncomfortable answer: with the material backing of America's wealthy and powerful.

Just as IBM custom-designed punch cards so the Nazi's could more efficiently track and kill Jews and other victims, the Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations poured money into E
Feb 18, 2016 Nils rated it really liked it
A polemical account of the eugenics movement that charges it as the pseudoscientific justification for genocide and specifically the Holocaust, laying the blame at the feet of Americans Charles Davenport and Harry Hamilton Laughlin, and their financial backers at Carnegie and Rockefeller, who exported their ideas and methods globally in the interwar years and who never repudiated the ideas.
Jul 03, 2015 Cbpax rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Non-Fiction - The story of how Eugenics has turned into Human Genetic research (and you might not
want to read but it is important that we be aware of this). The roots of Eugenics begin in the United States and have not yet ended although the "research" was stunted by Nazi Germany's concentration camps. A long book and a well documented book that I will keep on my book shelf.
Don Dennis
May 15, 2014 Don Dennis rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Don by: Keplers Bookshop
So far, I can simply say that this is one of the most important books I've read in the past 30 years. An extraordinary 'episode' in American history.

May 2014 and I've been 'sidelined' by reading Black's earlier book "IBM and the Holocaust". I felt I should read it first, as the material he uncovered in research led to the writing of War Against the Weak.

I am a slow reader, as my days are so busy, can only manage a few pages at most per day. But can already see how Black improved as a writer by t
Eric McLean
Mar 29, 2012 Eric McLean rated it really liked it
To be honest, I read about half of the book thoroughly and then skipped around a bit in the last half. I really enjoyed this book, but with school coming up soon I couldn't take the time to seriously delve into the last half of the book with primarily deals with the rise of Hitler and "Eugenicide", something that most of us are familiar with.

I found this book to be absolutely fascinating and eye-opening. The author is clearly on top of his research and goes into massive amounts of detail (too m
Dec 09, 2014 Maxine rated it liked it
Shelves: racial-issues
Three and a half stars. Unfortunately, the book was actually quite dull in stretches, hard to believe given the explosive subject matter. The academic history of eugenics seemed dry as it was presented, mostly due to the distance the author maintained from much of the human drama involved. Many of the chapters repeated information from previous sections, and one particular quote was repeated verbatim three times in twenty pages. Despite the drawbacks of presentation, the information conveyed was ...more
May 24, 2014 Biographyguy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that once you have read it, you cannot unread it. This book was my first in the field of bioethics and frankly, what I read frightens me. There are so many things that I could write about, but in the end I just urge you to read this book and come to understand the history of the eugenics movement, from Charles Davenport to Adolf Hitler. Then comes the essential part for any citizen of the world going forward, reading about the field of genetics and what is in the works ...more
Pat Carson
Mar 20, 2016 Pat Carson rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-non-fiction
The history of the pseudo-science of eugenics is covered in detail. The American support for this movement also translated into support for eugenics research overseas, including Nazi Germany. A tough read.
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Is an American syndicated columnist and journalist. He specializes in human rights, the historical interplay between economics and politics in the Middle East, petroleum policy, the abuses practiced by corporations, and the financial underpinnings of Nazi Germany.
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