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Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis [Paperback]

Robert Proctor
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 14, 1990 0674745787 978-0674745780

Scholars exploring the history of science under the Nazis have generally concentrated on the Nazi destruction of science or the corruption of intellectual and liberal values. Racial Hygiene focuses on how scientists themselves participated in the construction of Nazi racial policy. Robert Proctor demonstrates that the common picture of a passive scientific community coerced into cooperation with the Nazis fails to grasp the reality of what actually happened--namely, that many of the political initiatives of the Nazis arose from within the scientific community, and that medical scientists actively designed and administered key elements of National Socialist policy.

The book presents the most comprehensive account to date of German medical involvement in the sterilization and castration laws, the laws banning marriage between Jews and non-Jews, and the massive program to destroy "lives not worth living:' The study traces attempts on the part of doctors to conceive of the "Jewish problem" as a "medical problem," and how medical journals openly discussed the need to find a "final solution" to Germany's Jewish and gypsy "problems."

Proctor makes us aware that such thinking was not unique to Germany. The social Darwinism of the late nineteenth century in America and Europe gave rise to theories of racial hygiene that were embraced by enthusiasts of various nationalities in the hope of breeding a better, healthier, stronger race of people. Proctor also presents an account of the "organic" health movement that flourished under the Nazis, including campaigns to reduce smoking and drinking, and efforts to require bakeries to produce whole-grain bread. A separate chapter is devoted to the emergence of a resistance movement among doctors in the Association of Socialist Physicians. The book is based on a close analysis of contemporary documents, including German state archives and more than two hundred medical journals published during the period.

Proctor has set out not merely to tell a story but also to urge reflection on what might be called the "political philosophy of science"--how movements that shape the policies of nations can also shape the structure and priorities of science. The broad implications of this book make it of consequence not only to historians, physicians, and people concerned with the history and philosophy of science, but also to those interested in science policy and medical ethics.

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Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis + The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life + Plagues and Peoples
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Despite a significant body of writing on medical science and dogma under National Socialism (e.g., Alan Beyerchen's Scientists Under Hitler , LJ 10/1/77, and Robert Jay Lifton's The Nazi Doctors , LJ 9/15/86), this book provides depth and perspective on a historical period that still must be studied. Proctor (New School for Social Research) gives a rich explanation of the interaction of culture, politics, and science that engages and alerts the reader. Though Proctor is too good a historian to indulge in moralistic judgments, his careful research seduces the reader into doing so. If one accepted Aryan supremacy, Proctor shows how decisions, such as the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935, became eminently rational. Proctor reveals a superb knowledge of the proliferation of medical literature under National Socialism. A work of stature and significance belonging in all academic libraries.Frances Groen, McGill Univ. Medical Lib., Montreal
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Proctor's carefully argued book not only forces us to reassess the dynamics of Nazism but also challenges pervasive notions about the political neutrality and objective value of science and the moral innocence of scientists...[A] provocative study. (Mary Nolan New York Times Book Review)

A chilling indictment of the pre-war German scientific community which legitimized Nazi racial theories. (Jewish Chronicle)

It is a deeply disturbing book, concerned as it is with how fine scientific minds, many of which were at least formally committed to the practice of healing, not only "sold themselves to the devil" but, through their own theoretical musings and prejudice-tinctured social concerns, anticipated his arrival. It is an at times passionate exegesis on how "value-free" science is a disingenuous contradiction in terms and, more important, on how people who believe in so chimerical an enterprise could and can contribute to social pathology...The lessons for our own age are baldly obvious. (Robert A. Pois Science)

A valuable, disturbing treatise on the darkest chapter of modern medicine. (Kirkus Reviews)

The best that has been written...A well-crafted, seminal work. (Burton C. Einspruch, M.D., Journal of the American Medical Association)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 414 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 14, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674745787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674745780
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 4.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Racial Hygiene April 4, 2002
Directing his book to the academic world, Proctor presented the medical and biomedical communities as the propelling forces behind Hitler's holocaust. After explaining the historical origins and context of Nazism, Proctor provided an illuminating examination of the obscure, complex role of Nazi medical science and "applied biology" in the development of Nazi public health policy and the implementation of Nazi atrocities. Proctor disclosed how the medical profession, motivated by politics and a lust for power and prestige, used science to produce knowledge to be used to the detriment and even the destruction of others. Proctor's comprehensive assessment also revealed international influences (normally erased from American history books!) and scientific "evidence" which contributed to the scientific and political views that helped shape Nazi medical culture, and political and racial policies of the Third Reich. Proctor detailed Nazi programs involving racial purification, sterilization, women's rights, euthanasia, and scientific experimentation as examples of how politics shaped the practice of science. Proctor also detailed the resistance to the onslaught of Nazism by the Association of Socialist Physicians, the most organized form of medical opposition and how German medicine might have evolved had history taken a different path. Proctor concluded with an epilogue on postwar legacies and detailed the events that occurred to those involved in the implementation of the Nazi public policies including the transition of prewar "racial hygiene" into postwar "human genetics". ("amedard" aka "djondjon")
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book Eyeopening! July 9, 2001
I read this book after Peter Sichrovsky's 'Schuldig Geboren' (Born Guilty) about the offspring of noted Nazis. The connection? A whole lot of the latter were descended from Nazi doctors. Many of them were themselves in or studying medicine, and the claim was made repeatedly of the huge following of the whole medical profession for Naziism. And why not?, the Nazi doctrine itself can be rendered by the phrase 'racial hygiene'! Imagine having a whole political movement willing to empower physicians, give them their heart's delight for social prestige and influence (in funded public health measures) and eliminate a huge fraction of their competitors/rivals (Jewish doctors) to boot? But did you know that the inspiration for a lot of Hitler's measures (from anti-alcohol measures to restricted immigration, to sterilization of 'undesirables') came from the USA? Frightening how close our two systems could be.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cautionary Tale February 25, 2005
By V. Phin
The book is one of the best-- and not only because it is meticulously researched and written, but because it does not stint at showing that the most respected and supposedly wisest of men can, in their own folly, commit unspeakable crimes. And that science can justify these crimes. It is one of the most powerful arguments against the idea that mankind has progressed that I've read of late.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unusually impressive book July 29, 2013
By Frank D
In a genre polarized with hysteria, Proctor's pursuit of objectivity in a subject as tricky as this is like a breath of fresh air.

Much of the strength of this book lies in Proctor's able fluency in German - allowing him to quote directly (and accurately) from the considerable corpus of German medical literature of the era - thus sparing the reader the usual pattern of recycled opinions posited as primary evidence. The many tables, charts and diagrams from the era are especially illuminating.

With admirable detachment (and with one imagines the attendant risks of political-incorrectness), this book adroitly transforms what might at first take seem a very dry subject into an extremely enlightening insight into the scientific and quasi-scientific roots of Nazi health-philosophy. One is continuously impressed at the depth of Proctor's research and skillful presentation.

Unquestionably the most factual and complete book on a subject whose relevance will increase with time.
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