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Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population

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Overview

Listen to a short interview with Matthew Connelly
Host: Chris Gondek | Producer: Heron & Crane

Fatal Misconception is the disturbing story of our quest to remake humanity by policing national borders and breeding better people. As the population of the world doubled once, and then again, well-meaning people concluded that only population control could preserve the "quality of life." This movement eventually spanned the globe and carried out a series of astonishing experiments, from banning Asian immigration to paying poor people to be sterilized.

Supported by affluent countries, foundations, and non-governmental organizations, the population control movement experimented with ways to limit population growth. But it had to contend with the Catholic Church's ban on contraception and nationalist leaders who warned of "race suicide." The ensuing struggle caused untold suffering for those caught in the middle--particularly women and children. It culminated in the horrors of sterilization camps in India and the one-child policy in China.

Matthew Connelly offers the first global history of a movement that changed how people regard their children and ultimately the face of humankind. It was the most ambitious social engineering project of the twentieth century, one that continues to alarm the global community. Though promoted as a way to lift people out of poverty--perhaps even to save the earth--family planning became a means to plan other people‘s families.

With its transnational scope and exhaustive research into such archives as Planned Parenthood and the newly opened Vatican Secret Archives, Connelly's withering critique uncovers the cost inflicted by a humanitarian movement gone terribly awry and urges renewed commitment to the reproductive rights of all people.

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Editorial Reviews

Christian Science Monitor

[A] disturbing and compelling global history of population control programs...Drawing from records in more than 50 archives in seven countries, including those from Planned Parenthood and the more recently opened Vatican Secret Archives, Connelly provides extensive examples of movements to adjust populations...The world population growth is slowing and the age of population control appears to be over for the moment, but Connelly writes that his book is not just about history: It is a cautionary tale about the future.
— Lori Valigra

New Statesman

[A] voluminous history of global population policy.
— Elizabeth Pisani

Nature

Highlight[s] the importance of knowing who speaks for whom...Fatal Misconception describes a historic clash of opposed interest groups wrestling to impose their own population policies on the developing world.
— Michael Sargent

Spiked Review of Books

Connelly's book is an excellent work of reference on the history of the population-control movement...It gives important insights into the emergence and the workings of the population-control lobby.
— Frank Furedi

The Independent

The shocking theme of Connelly's book is how Western governments—and most especially successive U.S. administrations—supported a policy which would have appalled them if it had been imposed on their own families.
— Dominic Lawson

Sunday Times

A devastating account of the population-control movement; he demonstrates, detail by shocking detail, how a movement that believed it was acting from the highest humanitarian ideals became responsible for callous abuses of human rights on a global scale, ruining millions of lives in a grotesque eugenic experiment.
— Dominic Lawson

Times Higher Education Supplement

Connelly decisively confronts the historical baggage of reproductive rights by detailing the confluence of social Darwinists, Malthusians, racist eugenicists, public health advocates and feminists who coalesced around the century-long effort to control world population.
— James J. Hughes

The Economist
Mr. Connelly's story is a global one, partly because so many of the groups seeking to influence the reproduction of others were transnational, but also because often it was those in one country who wished those in another to have fewer children...Mr. Connelly's most devastating critique of population control is not that it destroyed lives, or was based on imperialist or eugenic ideas, but that it did not work.
The New York Review of Books

Though painful to read, [Fatal Misconception] contain[s] many valuable lessons for anyone who cares about making development programs work, both technically and politically.
— Helen Epstein

Catholic Herald

This book provides the best historical record yet of how our culture was shaped by the acceptance of birth control.
— Patrick Carroll

Financial Times

The subject of population control—perhaps the most ambitious social engineering project of the 20th century—has been somewhat neglected by historians...Fatal Misconception is a welcome contribution to the field, original and thought-provoking.
— Clive Cookson

Claremont Review of Books

[This] brilliant new history of the population control movement is useful not simply on its theme but for the light it sheds on the political corruption that inevitably accompanies these world-saving enthusiasms...As Connelly lays out in painstaking detail, population control programs, aimed chiefly at developing nations, proliferated despite clear human rights abuses and, more importantly, new data and information that called into question many of the fundamental assumptions of the crisis mongers.
— Steven F. Hayward

Jay Winter
This is history written from the heart. The story it tells is of misplaced benevolence at best and biological totalitarianism at worst. Deeply researched and elegantly written, it is a disturbing, angry, combative, and important book, one which raises issues we ignore at our peril.
William Easterly
Matthew Connelly bravely and eloquently explores the dark underside of world population policies. It is a clarion call to respect individuals' freedom to make their own reproductive choices.
Akira Iriye
One of the most gifted historians of his generation has given us an exciting and thought-provoking new way to understand the making of the ever-globalizing world of today.
Mahmood Mamdani
Connelly raises the most profound political, social, and moral questions. His history reveals that the difference between population control and birth control is indeed that between coercion and choice.
Emily Rosenberg
This is a superb global history. By focusing on NGOs and transnational networks, the United Nations and nation states, Connelly has given us an important new way of seeing world politics.
Christian Science Monitor - Lori Valigra
[A] disturbing and compelling global history of population control programs...Drawing from records in more than 50 archives in seven countries, including those from Planned Parenthood and the more recently opened Vatican Secret Archives, Connelly provides extensive examples of movements to adjust populations...The world population growth is slowing and the age of population control appears to be over for the moment, but Connelly writes that his book is not just about history: It is a cautionary tale about the future.
New Statesman - Elizabeth Pisani
[A] voluminous history of global population policy.
Nature - Michael Sargent
Highlight[s] the importance of knowing who speaks for whom...Fatal Misconception describes a historic clash of opposed interest groups wrestling to impose their own population policies on the developing world.
Spiked Review of Books - Frank Furedi
Connelly's book is an excellent work of reference on the history of the population-control movement...It gives important insights into the emergence and the workings of the population-control lobby.
The Independent - Dominic Lawson
A devastating account of the population-control movement; he demonstrates, detail by shocking detail, how a movement that believed it was acting from the highest humanitarian ideals became responsible for callous abuses of human rights on a global scale, ruining millions of lives in a grotesque eugenic experiment.
Times Higher Education Supplement - James J. Hughes
Connelly decisively confronts the historical baggage of reproductive rights by detailing the confluence of social Darwinists, Malthusians, racist eugenicists, public health advocates and feminists who coalesced around the century-long effort to control world population.
The New York Review of Books - Helen Epstein
Though painful to read, [Fatal Misconception] contain[s] many valuable lessons for anyone who cares about making development programs work, both technically and politically.
Catholic Herald - Patrick Carroll
This book provides the best historical record yet of how our culture was shaped by the acceptance of birth control.
Financial Times - Clive Cookson
The subject of population control--perhaps the most ambitious social engineering project of the 20th century--has been somewhat neglected by historians...Fatal Misconception is a welcome contribution to the field, original and thought-provoking.
Claremont Review of Books - Steven F. Hayward
[This] brilliant new history of the population control movement is useful not simply on its theme but for the light it sheds on the political corruption that inevitably accompanies these world-saving enthusiasms...As Connelly lays out in painstaking detail, population control programs, aimed chiefly at developing nations, proliferated despite clear human rights abuses and, more importantly, new data and information that called into question many of the fundamental assumptions of the crisis mongers.
Nature
Highlight[s] the importance of knowing who speaks for whom...Fatal Misconception describes a historic clash of opposed interest groups wrestling to impose their own population policies on the developing world.
— Michael Sargent
Sunday Times
A devastating account of the population-control movement; he demonstrates, detail by shocking detail, how a movement that believed it was acting from the highest humanitarian ideals became responsible for callous abuses of human rights on a global scale, ruining millions of lives in a grotesque eugenic experiment.
— Dominic Lawson
The Independent
The shocking theme of Connelly's book is how Western governments--and most especially successive U.S. administrations--supported a policy which would have appalled them if it had been imposed on their own families.
— Dominic Lawson
New Statesman
[A] voluminous history of global population policy.
— Elizabeth Pisani
Financial Times
The subject of population control--perhaps the most ambitious social engineering project of the 20th century--has been somewhat neglected by historians...Fatal Misconception is a welcome contribution to the field, original and thought-provoking.
— Clive Cookson
Christian Science Monitor
[A] disturbing and compelling global history of population control programs...Drawing from records in more than 50 archives in seven countries, including those from Planned Parenthood and the more recently opened Vatican Secret Archives, Connelly provides extensive examples of movements to adjust populations...The world population growth is slowing and the age of population control appears to be over for the moment, but Connelly writes that his book is not just about history: It is a cautionary tale about the future.
— Lori Valigra
Times Higher Education Supplement
Connelly decisively confronts the historical baggage of reproductive rights by detailing the confluence of social Darwinists, Malthusians, racist eugenicists, public health advocates and feminists who coalesced around the century-long effort to control world population.
— James J. Hughes
Catholic Herald
This book provides the best historical record yet of how our culture was shaped by the acceptance of birth control.
— Patrick Carroll
The New York Review of Books
Though painful to read, [Fatal Misconception] contain[s] many valuable lessons for anyone who cares about making development programs work, both technically and politically.
— Helen Epstein
Claremont Review of Books
[This] brilliant new history of the population control movement is useful not simply on its theme but for the light it sheds on the political corruption that inevitably accompanies these world-saving enthusiasms...As Connelly lays out in painstaking detail, population control programs, aimed chiefly at developing nations, proliferated despite clear human rights abuses and, more importantly, new data and information that called into question many of the fundamental assumptions of the crisis mongers.
— Steven F. Hayward
Spiked Review of Books
Connelly's book is an excellent work of reference on the history of the population-control movement...It gives important insights into the emergence and the workings of the population-control lobby.
— Frank Furedi
Nicholas D. Kristof
Fatal Misconception is to population policy what William Easterly's White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (2006) was to foreign aid: a useful, important but ultimately unbalanced corrective to smug self-satisfaction among humanitarians.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Passionate and troubling, this study by Columbia University historian Connelly (A Diplomatic Revolution) tells the story of the 20th-century international movement to control population, which he sees as an oppressive movement that failed to deliver the promised economic and environmental results. According to Connelly, some proponents of the movement thought it was the key to women's health and well-being; others saw it as a way to eliminate the poor population; still others believed it would protect the environment. But Connelly also shows how larger economic and social contexts shaped the movement. For example, during the 1930s international Depression, ordinary people increasingly felt that couples planning families should focus on financial considerations; at the same time, as the state offered increased economic aid, it became acceptable to believe the state should also have a role in regulating reproduction. Far from disinterested, Connelly challenges many of the population control movement's claims: to those who argue that the slowed population growth in Asia has helped save the planet, Connelly notes tartly that "if Asians have 2.1 children, but also air conditioning and automobiles, they will have a much greater impact on the global ecosystem than a billion more subsistence farmers." Ambitious, exhaustively researched and clearly written, this is a highly important book. 22 b&w illus. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674034600
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 454,049
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Connelly is Professor of History, Columbia University.
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Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Abbreviations

  • Introduction: How Biology Became History

  1. Populations Out of Control
  2. To Inherit the Earth
  3. Populations at War
  4. Birth of the Third World
  5. The Population Establishment
  6. Controlling Nations
  7. Beyond Family Planning
  8. A System without a Brain
  9. Reproducing Rights, Reproducing Health

  • Conclusion: The Threat of the Future

  • Notes
  • Archives and Interviews
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 11, 2011

    story of overpopulation

    I was writing a report on overpopulation and came across this book. Although it wasn't very useful for it, I was intrigued by how the author set up the timeline of our population growth. It can actually make a very good past-time story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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