The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America

Daniel Okrent. Scribner, $30 (528p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9803-5
As journalist and popular historian Okrent (Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center) shows in this engrossing book, the American eugenics movement demonized not only people of non-European descent but also the inhabitants of southern and eastern Europe. Influenced by the Victorian English social scientist Francis Galton and his concept of the “inheritability of talent” within both families and cultures, many of the leading intellectuals of the late 19th- and early 20th-century U.S. considered Italian immigrants to be “gross little aliens” and Eastern European Jews “furtive, reeking, snarling Yacoob[s] and Ysaac[s]” who, unlike previous generations of immigrants from northern and western Europe, were, not just “beaten men” but members of “beaten races.” Thus, eugenics supporters concluded, their descendants would not be worthy to live in the U.S., and their presence could only undermine the nation’s culture and even its security. At the height of eugenics’ appeal in the isolationist 1920s, its supporters convinced Congress to place strict limits on immigration that “kept 18 million Europeans from American shores,” including many who would die in the course of WWII. Although Okrent ends on a positive note, with Lyndon Johnson signing into law a nationality-blind immigration measure, this fascinating study vividly illuminates the many injustices that the pseudoscience of eugenics inflicted on so many would-be Americans. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, Darhansoff & Verrill. (May)
Reviewed on : 03/06/2019
Release date: 05/07/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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