Fox Butterfield’s new book, In My Father’s House: A New View of How Crime Runs in a Family, is a book about family values. Of a particular sort. Butterfield, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist...traces a single extended family and its long trail of crime across geography and time, 60 (yes, 60) moonshiners and burglars, murderers and kidnappers, con men and drug dealers, car thieves and bombers. Grandparents, parents, children, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, in-laws and cousins, criminals all. What we might see as a bad apple might instead be proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree ... a...multiperson topic-specific biography — the characters and context are strongly drawn and the whole creates the feel of drama even though we pretty well know where the story is going — but it’s also an intriguing and sometimes disturbing deep dive into some powerful social dilemmas, like the role of parenting (or, more accurately, the lack of parenting, the absence of supervision and discipline) and the collateral damage to other family members in wake of mass incarceration.
... fascinating and exceptional ... Butterfield’s book seamlessly blends these academic matters with the human subjects at the core of his book, building a personal and well-researched case for criminal justice reform ... Butterfield often goes beyond the Bogles’ stories themselves, which illustrate powerfully enough the intergenerational transmission of criminal tendencies, to critique the essential failures of the criminal justice system’s institutions to comprehend the complexities that create criminals ... ultimately a nuanced condemnation of America’s current criminal justice system, one that does not attempt to absolve the Bogles and other criminals of accountability, but that contextualizes criminal accountability within institutional failures and family history—the latter constituting a long line of mugshots.
Butterfield, a Pulitzer Prize winner, uses one family, the Bogles, to explore American criminality ... His numerous interviews over a decade with members of the family put an all-too-human face on criminological studies that conclude that 'as little as 5 percent of families account for half of all crime, and that 10 percent of families account for two-thirds of all crime' in the U.S. The influences of genetics and family have not been central for most recent criminologists, and Butterfield seeks to reintroduce them, purposely choosing a Caucasian family to 'remov[e] race as a factor in the discussion.' ... Butterfield convincingly argues that mass incarceration becomes a vicious cycle in this insightful and moving group biography.
Based on an extraordinary research effort that combined years of building trust with outlaws as well as searching law enforcement records, longtime New York Times reporter and bureau chief Butterfield, located at least 60 members of the extended Bogle family who have been arrested and sentenced beginning in the early 1920s ... While fascinated with the Bogles, Butterfield never loses sight of a significant question: Why is the intergenerational transmission of violence so powerful in countless specific families? Though the Bogles don’t necessarily present a simple answer to the author’s inquiry, he learned that numerous Bogle fathers and mothers encouraged their children to choose a life of crime, usually at the expense of education ... The occasional shoehorning of academic theories into the Bogle narrative barely mars an outstanding book of sociology and criminology.