Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant

Jonathan Peter Spiro, Author University of Vermont Press $39.95 (487p) ISBN 978-1-58465-715-6
Spiro's unfortunately-titled new book is a comprehensive examination of a powerful but nearly forgotten American figure, Madison Grant. A chief proponent of conservation, Grant spearheaded the creation of several national parks but also, as one of the most fervent proponents of science-based racism, introduced the world to the concept of the ""master race."" Grant's theories had an immeasurable effect on the turn-of-the-century world; a patrician academic who never held elected office, Grant nevertheless became a close confidante to several presidents, helping shape national policy on issues including conservation to immigration. Spiro also explores the complex history of the international eugenics movement and how it influenced organizations from the Nazi party to Planned Parenthood. Spiro's text is organized by theme, sacrificing clear chronology for a better grasp of Grant's pervasive influence-a worthwhile trade that keeps the narrative comprehensive and enlightening, peeling back layers of history to expose America's casual racism and the disturbing ways American law set the precedent for Nazi atrocities. A superb re-introduction to one of America's most complex modern figures, Spiro's account can only be faulted for a tendency to dig too deeply, occasionally stalling in minutiae.
Reviewed on: 12/01/2008
Release date: 12/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
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