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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Relevant and Passionate History, August 30, 2009
Paul A. Lombardo's history of Buck v. Bell, Three Generations, No Imbeciles, is a terrific telling of case of Carrie Buck, a young woman sterilized by Virginia in 1927 in order to prevent her from having more "socially inadequate" offspring.

In 1924, supporters of a statute known as the Virginia Sterilization Act challenged the very law they helped author in hopes of gaining legal cover for their eugenic efforts. They claimed that reproduction among the "feebleminded" was a proximate threat to the body social. According to the "expert" brought in by counsel to defend the Act, Buck was the daughter of a feebleminded woman, was feebleminded herself, and had demonstrated that she was a danger to the community by bearing an illegitimate feebleminded daughter.

The case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In its 8-1 affirmation, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously opined, "Three generations of imbeciles is enough."

Lombardo presents documentary proof that Carrie Buck and her daughter were perfectly normal, perhaps even a bit above average, and that the 1924 proceedings which led to the Supreme Court's review were a sham, with prosecution and defense attorneys colluding to produce the desired outcome. Adding insult, Buck's daughter, the birth of whom signaled to many that Carrie was genetically predisposed to promiscuity, was the product of an incestuous rape.

But Lombardo's story is about much more than a poor court decision.

Lombardo tells a crackling tale, and tells it so passionately and so well that one barely notices that this is not a popularization or polemic, but a thoroughly documented work of history. His first 4 chapters are intended to serve mostly as a set up his central story of the legal history of eugenic laws in the United States. But in these 57 or so short pages, Lombardo contextualizes the cultural, political and scientific landscape that conditioned the passing and implementation of these laws better than any history I have yet read.

The author demonstrates a clear mastery of his material in the way he is able to pull quotes from an incredibly wide range of published sources and personal correspondence to create a novelistic narrative that never strays into territory not mapped by solid primary sources.

Lombardo challenges us to see Buck v. Bell not as miscarriage of justice committed in service to a since discredited "science," but as a still relevant example of the dangers of rationalizing broad exceptions to personal liberty based on "emergency" conditions.

Carrie Buck's "socially inadequate" baby was seen as a part of an invisible and fast moving invasion. It, along with foreign germs, foreign ideas and foreigners were proximate threats to the body politic which demanded expert extra-legal action lest the battle be lost before the country's slow moving constitutional system got around to okaying any action.

Sound familiar?
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking, November 6, 2008
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Paul A. Lombardo's recently published book, "Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell" is a poignant retelling of the court decisions regarding the forced sterilization of a young woman named Carrie Buck. Although written objectively, Lombardo's heart comes through, making the book readable for even a law novice. The book was easily comprehensible. Credit Lombardo's masterful ability to reiterate facts at just the right moment with keeping the reader on track in understanding the key people, issues, and details.
The subject is heart breaking. Lombardo's persistence in getting this story out with painstaking attention to the groundwork is moving. By the time the first trial occurs in the book, the reader has ample information to know what all principals knew and to see clearly the miscarriage of justice.
No one can ask for more from a serious book than that it enlightens and makes one think. "Three Generations No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell" does both. I hope there will be other books from Paul A. Lombardo that perform the same services.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three Generations, No Imbeciles, March 14, 2009
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Professor Lombardo has done a great service in exposing one of the vilest decisions the Supreme Court has ever made. His is the third book I have read on Buck v. Bell (as well as many articles)and it is by far the best. He has thoroughly researched all aspects of the case and has provided a well written, easy to read history of the eugenics movement in America. At times the book reads like a novel rather than a historic account. Lomabardo develops personalities like a fiction writer yet maintains scholarly history accuracy. This book should be required reading in every high school in America.

Roger Paull, Glendale, AZ
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell (Paperback)
The full contents of this book should be required reading in every college and university in the United States. However, in my opinion, the most important piece of information in this book does not come until Pg. 239, when Paul Lombardo provides the reader with the revelation that the 1927 Buck v. Bell opinion was entered as evidence in the defense of Hitler's henchmen in order to prove that the U.S. Supreme Court had deemed eugenic sterilization legal. Eugenics was the core concept of Hitler's regime. Eugenic considerations were used to decide even which works of art were to be accepted by the Third Reich, which books, and just about every other aspect of Hitler's domestic policy. Thus, providing proof that eugenics was an accepted science by the U.S. government was a strong defense for the National Socialists on trial at Nuremberg.

In these last pages, Paul Lombardo also explains that one of the top German scientists that was primarily responsible for the Third Reich's various eugenic programs was captured by the U.S. Army and the released when he conveyed extensive knowledge of the eugenics movement inside of the U.S.. Ernst Rudin was that man, and he was no ordinary National Socialist. Rudin was one of the men that Joseph Mengele answered to in the National Socialist hierarchy. Rudin was let go because he would have exposed the large amount of collaboration that America's top scientists and their respective universities and institutions gave German eugenicists.

Clearly my preference is to tell the reader why the book is so critically important at the beginning, in order to set up why the history of this crucial 1927 Supreme Court case is so important. Regardless of my personal preference, Paul Lombardo's book is incredibly important, not just for the above stated reasons but also because of the history of that pivotal 1927 case which Paul Lombardo exposes.

Most importantly, the events documented in this book are still relevant today. Just this week we learned that several doctors in Los Angeles, California sterilized over 150 women against their will citing eugenic considerations as their justifications for doing so. Clearly, this is a history is a history that still needs to be told.

The reality is that eugenics was a British and American export to Germany, and not the other way around. Hitler's henchmen were helped by American Progressives whom were enamored with the prospect of controlling the "quality" of the population by giving government with the power a horse breeder has over his livestock. If you need more evidence consult Stefan Kuhl's The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism. I used Professor Lombardo's book as part of the research for my own book on the history of the international eugenics movement, and found myself quoting him often. I still find myself consulting this book as I work on my second work on the subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great history of a brutal episode in American history, December 15, 2013
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This review is from: Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell (Paperback)
This is tightly written, well-documented book that lays out the personal and social background behind, and the aftermath following, the Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell.

In the early 20th Century, eugenics was a hot social issue. Institutes and organizations were being established to promote the notion that progress in national health lay in purifying the human gene pool of traits such as epilepsy, imbecility and moral vices. Social studies research at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries had focused on dysfunctional families like the Jukes and Kallikaks, whose pedigrees were traced and documented to show that laziness and criminality was an inherited trait.

The author of this book makes the interesting point that an impetus for the eugenics movement was the rediscovery of Mendel's genetics research in 1900, after it had been forgotten since 1865. Between the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species in 1859 and 1900 (and for some time thereafter as the implications of genetics was incorporated into the scientific worldview) the means by which characteristics were developed such that they could be inherited had been uncertain. Darwin was not adverse to some combination of inheritance and a Lamarkianism, which posited that environment could shape individuals, who would then pass their developed characteristics on to their descendants. This same uncertainty beset proponents of eugenics, who often believed that immoral behavior could be passed on genetically to subsequent generations, but that education was not as likely to lead to genetic improvement.

Along with an uncertain idea of inheritance - amounting to a folk wisdom - the period had a definite but uncertain view about what constituted "imbecility." Several terms were tried out before "social inadequate" came to be the norm. Today, we see "socially inadequate" as class-based and open to abuse, but at the time it seemed self-evident.

Today, we see the scientific and philosophical problems, but at the time, eugenics was cutting edge science. It was a time of social improvement with people to unheard of social controls, including vaccinations and hygenic "no spitting" ordinances, for the common good. For that time, the endorsement of science and progress, and a kind of bloody-mindedness that we find brutal today, led people to think of forced sterilization of the "socially inadequate" as a positive good for society and the individual sterilized. By the 1920s, 28 states, some of them the most "progressive" in the nation had passed forced sterilization laws. California and New York were "early adopters" of forced sterilization, and California was the most enthusiastic in sterilizing the "socially inadequate," sterilizing 20,000 before these laws were taken off the books in 1979.

In Virginia, Dr. Albert Priddy, the superintendent of the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded, approached eugenics and forced sterilization with an almost messianic zeal. Priddy believed that he was quite capable of determining which "socially inadequate" women should lose the ability to reproduce in the interest of human progress. But he had almost been tripped up in forcibly sterilizing one young woman without legal authority, and he wanted a test case.

Enter Carrie Buck. Vivian was committed to the Virginia Colony after she had turned up pregnant at age 18. Immorality was classically associated with "social inadequacy" and the breading of future generations of welfare recipients. Carrie also had a mother she barely knew, Emma Buck, who was also an inmate at the Colony. In addition, Carrie's child was diagnosed at age 6 months as suffering from "imbecility." This gave Priddy "three generations of imbeciles," a classic instance of the hereditary nature of imbecility.

Carrie gave Priddy his test case. Priddy had a longstanding relationship with attorney Aubrey Strode, who was the attorney for the Colony and had written Virginia's law on forced sterilization. Carrie was appointed an attorney, Irving Whitehead, friend of Priddy, who would report to the Colony's board on the progress in the case. With what appears to be a "show trial" where Carrie's lawyer was more interested in documenting that due process had been afforded than defending Carrie, the decision was made to sterilize Carrie.

This led to a trip to the United States Supreme Court, where legal giant Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote what he undoubtedly thought was a landmark decision in favor of science and progress, but which has either been ignored by progressives and those who adore Holmes, or brought up briefly as a case where Holmes just went wrong. In a short decision, citing only one case - upholding a fine for refusing a vaccination - Holmes thundered that since the best of society could be called upon to lay their lives down for society, then those "who sap the strength of the state" could be called on for a "lesser sacrifice." "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Beyond the brutality of the opinion, the fact seems to be that it was factually wrong. Carrie's child was determined to be quite intelligent, and Carrie herself, and her mother, were not imbeciles in the sense of not being able to care for themselves. Rather, the "evidence" against Carrie was jury-rigged to set up the test case. The most egregious example of the rigging of the evidence was the failure to present to the judge Carrie's version of her pregnancy, which amounted to the fact that she had been raped by the nephew of her foster-parents.

It was a sad day in American judicial history.

Paul Lombardo's book is well-worth reading for a glimpse into an episode that we lovers of progress and science want to forget. It is a useful warning to those who hold up "science" or "progress" as an argument stopper.

For me, there were several things that I found particularly surprising or interesting.

As a lawyer, I was surprised to realize that Skinner v. Oklahoma did not overrule Buck v. Bell. Skinner struck down an Oklahoma law that sterilized criminals on the grounds that (a) reproduction was a "fundamental right" (starting the fundamental right strand of Constitutional law analysis) and (b) the law was inexact in not requiring the sterilization of white collar crimes. Justice Douglas - the author of Skinner and a progressive enamored of science - did not question the assumptions of eugenics, he just didn't see the sense of it in the Oklahoma law. (p. 248.)

As an amateur historian, I was surprised to learn that America's infatuation with eugenics was not cured by learning about the horrors of Nazi eugenics. There were individuals who did view forced sterilization as "smacking of totalitarianism," including Catholic priest J.E. Coogan. (p. 241.) However, as late as 1962, 80% of physicians favored sterilizing the retarded when there was a chance of their mental dysfunction being inherited. (p. 243.)

Finally, as a Catholic, I found the emergence of a Catholic opposition to forced sterilization laws interesting. After being shoddily represented by her own attorney, it was a Catholic group - the Knights of Columbus, actually - that paid for a brief to argue for re-hearing before the Supreme Court, and had it presented by Irving Whitehead without naming them because of anti-Catholic prejudice.(p. 179.) According to Lombardo, the brief was the finest effort in Carrie Buck's defense. (p. 181.)

Likewise, the only Supreme Court Justice who dissented was a Catholic, Justice Butler, described as the "papal representative to the Supreme Court." (p. 171.) Justice Holmes believed that Butler's "fear of the church" was the reason for the dissent, but Lombardo offers another explanation, which frankly did not convince me. (p. 171.)

At the time of Buck v. Bell (1924), there was no declared or uniform position on forced sterilization and negative eugenics. There were some Catholics who argued for the progressive line of forced sterilization, but Lombardo recounts enough facts, such as the petition for rehearing and a Catholic's opposition that defeated a forced sterilization law in one state, to suggest that the center of gravity in the Catholic world was against forced sterilization. In 1930, Pope Pius XI would declare the Catholic Church firmly against forced sterilizations in the encyclical Casti Connubii, (p. 224.) From that time on it seems that Catholic opposition to forced sterilization and forced eugenic measures solidified.

It is not such a long time from 1930 to 1975. One wonders how the experience of fighting forced sterilizations played into the emergence of Catholic opposition to abortions and Roe v. Wade. By the time of Roe, Catholics would have had several decades worth of experience in dealing with issues relating to procreation.

Carrie Buck died in 1982. Lombardo met her at a "District Home," where she was residing and found that while she had no anger, she certainly felt that she had been treated unfairly. Anyone reading this book would be hard pressed to deny that.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very fine piece of writing and research, January 8, 2014
L. Cary (Little Elm, Texas United States) - See all my reviews
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Very fine book. Clearly written. Exceptionally well-documented. Appropriate photos blended in with text. An all-around informational read about a piece of neglected American history. Exceptional author.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Terrifying, but interesting, April 2, 2013
Well-written book about a tough subject. Heartbreaking at times. It's scary to think how this happened in the US, and not even that long ago.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell, November 2, 2012
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I teach a college level course on the law and have used this book as part of my course. In a time of so much concern over the right or obligation of government to be involved in birth control, few have ever heard of Eugenics and Buck v. Bell. This case was a remarkable example of American Injustice! This poor, feeble minded woman was sterilized after being denied her rights to Due Process under the 5th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution. The decision to do this was based on "Junk Science" of the period, "Eugenics" which later would serve as the basis for Nazis exterminating and sterilizing their "Undesirables". Let this serve as a warning to what can be done to us in the name of the current Junk Science over Global Warning! The book also shows how Supreme Court Justices evolve. The leader in the Court on this injustice was Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes who is considered a hero of the Left. Yet another hero of the Left, Chief Justice Warren too had a past that diminished his Liberalism as seen in Miranda and Brown v. Bd of Ed. People forget that Warren was the Attorney General of California and responsible for the incarceration of 110,000 Japanese Americans.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Draw Your Own Conclusions, November 12, 2010
This review is from: Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell (Paperback)
While this book was fascinating, I recommend reading it in tandem withBreeding Contempt: The History of Coerced Sterilization in the United States for a wider perspective of the subject. I found this work was impressively written, but became frustrated near the end by the propensity of author's personal bias in favor of several sterilized individuals to eclipse other relevant factors from the discussion.
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Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and  <I>Buck v. Bell</I>
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