Customer Reviews: All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence
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on September 6, 1999
I have had this book for over a year and never read it. Now that I have started I can't put it down. I am not a social scientist or an expert on crime, I am a southerner by birth with an interest and education in literature. I bought this book after I saw it reviewed on some morning show because I am from Aiken County, South Carolina (the next county over from Edgefield) I grew up in North Augusta (formerly Hamberg) and have always been baffled by the tendency to violence that prevealed my home county. I also went to school with many Basketts (new spelling I believe). So I bought this book because of a personal interest; it was obvioulsy close to home. I begin to read it with that "oh i know where that is" sort of interest. The skill with which this book was written has been a very pleasant surprise. The emotions it has evoked in me even more of a surprise. The insights it has given me I will always be thankful to Butterfield for. I have come away from this book saddened, enlightened, inspired, and most importantly a much better person. Everyone with a desire to understand our society and the people that make it up should read this book. Everyone with a desire to develop tolerance should read this book. Everyone who supports capital punishment should read this book. The author has put his finger on and lifted up for all to see, the common criminal of our time. It is a picture we as a society need to see.
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on October 18, 1999
Fox Butterfield did an excellent job of detailing the horrific impact that past cultural, racial, and economic deprivation and oppression has had upon the lives of Americans both black and white. The Bosket Family is a sociologists dream because they fit the mold of the theory of "the trickle down effects of hatred and violence. The author details to the reader the hard truth that America has not just become a violent country it has always been a violent country and this is a truth that we as readers and citizens must come to accept and learn from. Butterfields depiction of the terrible cycle of violence within this writing is prolific, it is well documented and well researched. Five stars is must. This should be required reading for every criminal justice student in this country. Great Book!! Loved the historical background information.
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on March 20, 2000
Excellent depiction of what the juvenile justice system in this country can do to a child. The historical perspective of violence has many interesting ramifications. One can argue that we can go back even further, to a time when England conquered the Scots and the Irish. Fox Butterfield has a very clear writing style, and he is non-judgmental in his prose. I recommend this book to any student, or anyone involved professionally with violence-prevention or criminology.
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on June 6, 2013
Willie Bosket (born 1962) was murderously violent -- so murderous as a child that he was largely responsible for the state of new York's decision to allow children (in exceptional cases) to be tried as adults. Other states soon followed suit.
The book argues that Bosket's attitudes and his murders can be explained in large measure by the history of violence -- specifically the concern for honor/respect -- in the South in general and in rural South Carolina in particular. Thus it is that Butterfield spends a good deal of time on the history of Bosket's family and of the region in which they labored as slaves.
Then Butterfield goes on to write a remarkably detailed account of Willie's father, and Willie himself. We read, for example, that the father, after many lesser crimes, killed two men in a fit of rage. He was convicted and imprisoned. Then he worked so hard over two decades in the classes the prison offered that he earned first his GED and then a college degree from the University of Kansas; he did so well that he was the first (and perhaps still the only) inmate to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. With all of his professors and others lobbying for him, he was paroled. He immediately found a well paying job as a computer programmer and began upon graduate work. But within THREE MONTHS he was arrested for raping his girlfriend's 6-year-old child. Shortly thereafter he died in an escape attempt -- killing both himself and the girlfriend -- his rape victim's mother, remember -- who was helping him escape.
The account of Willie's life is even more jaw dropping. One of the other reviewers talks, predictably, about how "the system failed Willie." But this is nonsense. The system failed to control Willie and failed to protect the HUNDREDS (Willie himself claims "thousands") of innocent people Willie robbed, mugged, cut, beat up -- and the three he is known to have killed.
And this is the problem with Butterfield's book. The history he provides -- of the South, of South Carolina, of Harlem, of Willie and his forbears -- is very good indeed. But Willie and his father are so very unusual and so obviously mentally deranged (the many psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers who dealt with them offered a variety of diagnoses: schizophrenia, paranoia, depression, etc.) that it makes very little sense to say that they were as they were because of notions of honor that came to the South in the 18th century with the Scotch-Irish.
But this is a fine book. It will ASTONISH you to read of how often Willie was brought into court as a juvenile only to walk away -- some times run away from the very court hearing -- with no consequences at all, how often juvenile facilities sent him home BECAUSE THEY COULD NOT CONTROL HIM. If you want to read an account of how NYC's juvenile-justice system failed the innocent, this is your book.
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on July 1, 2014
This book is one of the top ten books I have ever read. It has had a profound effect on me and my understanding of racial issues. The first fifty pages or so are not fast to read, but contain important background information for the rest of the book. I would say this book should be required reading for everyone. It has changed my perspective on some racial issues and given me a clearer understanding than I had. What more could you ask from a book?
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on July 21, 2000
During the time when i read this book I was not just learning about a stranger but and actually part of me. I found out after the completion of the book that this was a story about my family's history. I founded the book to interesting and helpful. I read the book last year when I was seventeen. After reading it I passed it all to my peers hoping that they could learn something about themselves as well. I feel that this is a great book not for just African- American teens but all growing up and struggling in the inner-city. Also, this book should be as a tool to use in a social sciences classes. Because it helps people understand the differences between different ethnic groups. It answers alot of the questions that people have today. There is always a debate about slavery and the effects it caused. People argued that its in the past and it time to move on, but fail to realize that it still affects those same people who have yet to even come close to understanding who they are and where their from. All Gods Children is one part of the bridge that is being built to understand our surroundings and I'll recommend this book to any person that is willing to grow.
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on February 6, 2000
I borrowed this book from the library several years ago and remain so moved by it that I just ordered a copy for myself. As soon as it arrives I am going to read it again and then I will encourage every adult I know to read it. The book is poignant, illuminating, and heartwrenching. The writer's style as I recall was superb as he wrote it objectively and in a manner that allows readers to come to their own conclusions. I have never written a review of a book, and doubt I will again, but I was affected so much by this book I feel I need to let everyone know what an excellent book it is.
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on September 4, 2004
This is really two books in one, though they are tied together seamlessly. On the one hand, the book is a fascinating and detailed true crime study of Willie Bosket, New York State's most notorious criminal and considered to be their most violent and dangerous prison inmate. On the other hand it's a study of the origins of violence in America.

Amazingly, the author was able to trace Willie Bosket's ancestry back to his slave ancestors, and in so doing trace the escalating evolution of violence and criminality in each succeeding generation of the Bosket family. The book begins in pre-Revolutionary times with a study of white violence in the region of North Carolina where Willie's ancestors were enslaved. The author persuasively argues that the primary origin of black violence is the tradition of white violence that was transferred to them from their former slave owners.

For those who want to delve even deeper into the origins of this same tradition of violence as it existed with the Scotch-Irish in England and imported by immigrants to America's Southern Highlands in the 17th Century, see "Albion's Seed."

If you saw Zell Miller's keynote address to the Republican Convention, and/or his subsequent interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, you saw a perfect example of this tradition of Southern Highlander violence.

This book is a definite page-turner!
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on June 24, 2014
This book was purchased for a social deviance class that I took last semester. It was a very good book that has an incredible history of America's most hardened criminal in the Bosket family. It's a very good read and you cannot put the book down.
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on January 31, 2008
On a cold wintry day in March 1978, Willie Bosket, a 15-year-old boy with an extensive juvenile record, shot and killed a middle-aged hospital worker in a New York City subway robbery. Eight days later, Willie robbed and killed another man under similar circumstances. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested, confessed, and was found guilty of these two homicides. He was given the maximum sentence for a juvenile of five years for the two murders. He felt not a whit of remorse for his actions, and was quoted as such in the papers.

A few days later, New York Governor Hugh Carey, reading about the trial in the New York newspapers, became so incensed that he immediately called a special session of the state legislature in Albany. He proposed and was successful in passing a new law in record time, the Juvenile Offender Act of 1978. This law allowed kids as young as 13 to be tried in adult criminal courts for murder and receive the same penalties as adults. This law was a sharp reversal of 150 years of American tradition. New York became the first of many states to make this watershed change in juvenile justice policy. Willie Bosket had made history.

If All God's Children were merely a harrowing recitation of the criminal life of Willie Bosket, it would be a fascinating chronicle of the "most dangerous prisoner in the history of the state of New York." But it is much more than that. It is also a multi-generational tale of the Bosket family dating back to 1834 in South Carolina. It in particular traces the interweaving stories of Willie Bosket and that of his father, Butch Bosket, with all that they held in common-genius-level IQs, a history of explosive anger, psychopathic tendencies and a conviction for two homicide.

In telling this saga of the Bosket family, Butterfield has successfully woven together a sociological treatise on violence in America, a cautionary tale of the pernicious effects of slavery, and a genealogical study of a truly tragic family.

Armchair Interviews says: A stunning read.
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