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

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

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by Jonathan Spiro
     
 

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Scholars have labeled Madison Grant everything from the “nation’s most influential racist” to the “greatest conservationist that ever lived.” His life illuminates early twentieth-century America as it was heading toward the American Century, and his legacy is still very much with us today, from the speeches of immigrant-bashing

Overview

Scholars have labeled Madison Grant everything from the “nation’s most influential racist” to the “greatest conservationist that ever lived.” His life illuminates early twentieth-century America as it was heading toward the American Century, and his legacy is still very much with us today, from the speeches of immigrant-bashing politicians to the international efforts to arrest climate change. This insightful biography shows how Grant worked side-by-side with figures such as Theodore Roosevelt to found the Bronx Zoo, preserve the California redwoods, and save the American bison from extinction. But Grant was also the leader of the eugenics movement in the United States. He popularized the infamous notions that the blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordics were the “master race” and that the state should eliminate members of inferior races who were of no value to the community. Grant’s behind-the-scenes machina tions convinced Congress to enact the immigration restriction legis lation of the 1920s, and his influence led many states to ban interracial marriage and sterilize thousands of “unworthy” citizens. Although most of the relevant archival materials on Madison Grant have mysteriously disappeared over the decades, Jonathan Spiro has devoted many years to reconstructing the hitherto concealed events of Grant’s life. His astonishing feat of detective work re veals how the founder of the Bronx Zoo wound up writing the book that Adolf Hitler declared was his “bible.”

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“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 reintroduction to one of America's most complex modern figures.”—Publishers Weekly

“In this exhaustively researched biography, Spiro masterfully details Grant’s ideas and accomplishments with wit and style. . . .Grant has long deserved better than he has gotten from historians and at long last Jonathan Spiro has given Madison Grant exactly what he deserved.”—Journal of the History of Biology

“In spotlighting the connection between wildlife management and eugenics, Spiro has put his finger on something important. The obsession with improving breeding stock linked Grant with Hitler on the right and with other more respectable eugenicists on the left, including Margaret Sanger (who promoted birth control) and Theodore Roosevelt (who hated it).”—The New Republic

“Accessible and engaging . . . Spiro’s biography recaptures an important strain of early twentieth-century American thought and reflects the complexity of its connections to other major ideas of the period.”—Pacific Historical Review

Publishers Weekly
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.
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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781584658108
Publisher:
University of Vermont Press
Publication date:
12/15/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
508
File size:
3 MB

What People are saying about this

Gray Brechin
“Jonathan Spiro has accomplished a near-miraculous feat of scholarship, reconstructing from apparently purged primary sources the life and impact of a titan of American conservation whose enduring best-seller — The Passing of the Great Race — Adolph Hitler called his “Bible.” Madison Grant’s prolific career bridged the development of wildlife and ecosystem management with that of scientific racism and eugenics early in the twentieth century. The horrific consequences of the latter unfortunately annulled the memory of what good Grant did. Spiro not only elucidates that link, but the largely ignored continuities between the anti-democratic Anglo-American aristocracy and the German extermination program, the toll of which became apparent only after Grant’s own passing.”
Matthew Pratt Guterl
“Jonathan Spiro's portrait of Madison Grant is far more than a biography. Indeed, it is a fresh portrait of two parallel and intertwined movements: racial eugenics and natural conservation. As importantly, it is also an astonishing act of recovery, a deeply researched illumination of one of the twentieth century's most enduringly significant and deeply troubling intellectuals.”

Meet the Author

JONATHAN SPIRO is a professor of history at Castleton State College in Vermont.

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Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Henry_Berry More than 1 year ago
Madison Grant threw his energies equally into conservation and eugenics. He wrote the book on eugenics The Passing of the Great Race seeing the blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordic race as the top, more desirable race. He was a cofounder of the Eugenics Committee of the U.S.A. and American Eugenics Society. Grant's racial positions extended to sterilization of those he regarded as inferior races. And he worked on racial policies and practices with Southern segregationists.

Grant stood out in the field of conservation too. He was identified with Theodore Roosevelt in helping to create the country's magnificent national parks. He was a leader in zoological organizations; and he founded the Bronx Zoo. For his decisive role in preventing the complete destruction of California's giant sequoia trees, he had one species named after him.

Spiro does not try to reconcile nor rationalize these two salient interests and activities of Grant. He does not even see them as contradictory. Grant was not conflicted over his beliefs, passions, and activities. For Grant was a robust, socially active, well-to-do, well-connected individual of the latter 1800s and early 1900s in the Teddy Roosevelt mold naturally taking a lead in fields he felt strongly about and felt were beneficial for society. Like Roosevelt, he hunted big game while at the same time working toward a major zoo where animals could be preserved and appreciated by the public. The basis of his racial views was a strong America.

With the Holocaust and the coming of a racially diverse America over the decades following World War II, Grant's abhorrent racial views (pointed to by some defendants in the Nuremberg trials in support of their involvement in genocide) eclipsed his incomparable conservationist contributions so that he became identified with the former. Any interest in him thus sunk to zero.

Writing this voluminous biography on Grant going into different dimensions and influences while presenting him as a whole and understandable, though not necessarily sympathetic figure was particularly challenging for Spiro. Grant's relatives destroyed his papers when he died in 1937. Archival material in storage was ruined by a flood or carelessly thrown out. Spiro has overcome this "dearth" in the typical source material however by exhaustive reading of newspaper accounts of Grant's activities, letters of colleagues of his, and references to him in memoirs written by his contemporaries. Despite the obstacles, Spiro has written a balanced biography that portrays Grant as a prominent man of his time; which book also sheds light on controversies continuing to this day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great nonfiction about a few very rich, powerful, well educated wanna-be blond haired, blue-eyed Nordics though most with actually brown-black mustaches (such as Madison Grant) that try to defend their "Nordic" race from "race-suicide" through utilizing successful means of their environmental conservation amidst environmental dessimation in the USA from around 1910 until after WW2. This clique reinforced their prejudices and fed off each other with their hatred of all non-Nordics to the extent they supported Marcus Garvey. Yet, they also founded many of the leading conservation areas--such as the Bronx Zoo, California Redwoods, and much more. The book is interesting because it shows the steps of how it took less than ten years to come up with a disgusting human eugenics plan in the USA to get rid of what they deemed undesirables (who they considered feebleminded, alcoholics, etc.) and that the Third Reich in Europe based its principles on Grant's prejudicial rhetoric that appeared in his books. This tragic era of eugenics in USA lasted until 1970s, according to the book. What was also interesting was the lack of ethical leadership in the USA to defend all of the people in the USA. It is not a book that makes one angry, but more aware of the denial of scholarship of other peoples by whoever may be in power and wishes to oppress. It also focuses on the lack of environmental conservation of the white immigrants in the USA during that time, and that only people such as Madison Grant seemed to care, or had the financial power to do something. I am almost done with reading it and I will read it twice. Though, I will be reading a happier book after this one. (This book caused me to remember a science show on the main TV stations here in the USA within the past two years that discussed who in antiquity had the -1 (minus 1) in their numbering systems--I recall seeing that they said the Italians/Romans did not have it, yet in Roman numerals IV is four ((five minus one)), and not to mention the number line on top and bottom of the numbers. Then, in this book, mentioned is that the Grantians state Michaelangelo was a Nordic, and they probably would have said Romans were Nordic if they came up with minus one, etc.). If this is how cliques go about trying to get their own homeland, then maybe that should be looked at too. What was most strange was the eugenics plan did not weed out those that damaged the environment probably because many of those (such as big game hunters, and factory owners) were Grant's friends also. This leaves unanswered questions about USA's growing pains and extreme prejudices.