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…  See more details below

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.”

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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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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.”

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Meet the Author

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

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