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

October 31, 2020
Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant

Scholars have labeled Madison Grant everything from the"nation's most influential racist" to the "greatest conservationistthat ever lived." His life illuminates early twentieth-centuryAmerica as it was heading toward the American Century, and hislegacy is still very much with us today, from the speeches ofimmigrant-bashing politicians to the international efforts toarrest climate change. This insightful biography shows how Grantworked side-by-side with figures such as Theodore Roosevelt tofound the Bronx Zoo, preserve the California redwoods, and save theAmerican bison from extinction. But Grant was also the leader ofthe eugenics movement in the United States. He popularized theinfamous notions that the blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordics were the"master race" and that the state should eliminate members ofinferior races who were of no value to the community. Grant'sbehind-the-scenes machina tions convinced Congress to enact theimmigration restriction legis lation of the 1920s, and hisinfluence led many states to ban interracial marriage and sterilizethousands of "unworthy" citizens. Although most of the relevantarchival materials on Madison Grant have mysteriously disappearedover the decades, Jonathan Spiro has devoted many years toreconstructing the hitherto concealed events of Grant's life. Hisastonishing feat of detective work re veals how the founder of theBronx Zoo wound up writing the book that Adolf Hitler declared washis "bible."