... fascinating and timely ...biting asides make The Guarded Gate’s darker moments easier to swallow, but Okrent never soft-pedals the horrific consequences of American racism that the book conveys (or its parallels to rhetoric and policy increasingly ascendant in our own time) ... Okrent also makes a convincing case that the quota system applied by the 1924 law, which dramatically reduced the numbers of immigrants admitted from some ethnicities but left others virtually untouched, was even worse than shutting down immigration altogether ... Okrent shows tremendous insight but also tremendous restraint, letting the alarming rise of racist eugenics unfold in its own time, and painstakingly documenting its increasing influence on American attitudes and immigration policy until its impact on the world at large—as well as its ugly reflection in the current historical moment—becomes painfully clear.
...a vivid new book ... Okrent’s is largely an intellectual history—if we can use that term to describe the shoddy thinking of his subjects—of nativist ideology and ideologues from the mid-19th century to the first comprehensive immigration restriction law of 1924 ... Okrent’s discussion misses a major aspect of eugenics: anxiety about falling fertility among educated women ... chilling is Okrent’s documentation of American influence on Nazi 'race hygiene.' As early as 1932 Walter Schultze of the Nazi euthanasia program called on German geneticists to 'heed the example' of the United States ... bigotry was by no means buried by World War II. Its targets are fungible but it typically blames disadvantaged groups for problems more often created by privileged groups. It is a stream that has sometimes been forced underground, and some argue that polite, whispered racism is as bad as the loud kind. Okrent’s history belies that argument: Quiet bigotry should be condemned, but when it is shouted and legitimated by people with power and influence, it can become deadly.
Okrent makes clear that [the] restrictions of European Jews and other refugees from fascism during the 1930s was not the only evil wrought by these thinkers. The Nazi ideology that caused them to flee was heavily influenced by American scientific racism. A sobering, valuable contribution to discussions about immigration.
Okrent brings his considerable research and narrative talents to a neglected, disturbing aspect of America’s past ... detailed, compulsively readable ... a must-read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the history of immigration in the United States—and how the past might be relevant to policy makers and citizens today.
When Congress sharply restricted immigration in 1924, it acted on the basis of ideas about race and heredity known to be false. The story of this triumph of ignorance has been told before, but never more vividly than by Daniel Okrent in a book that appears in another era when well-financed engines of deceit affect immigration policy ... a rigorously historical work ... Okrent enlivens his narrative with vivid portraits of Aldrich, Lodge and other prominent figures active in the campaign to avoid the 'race suicide' said to follow from allowing the northwestern European population of the United States to be overwhelmed by ostensibly inferior groups ... Jews and Italians had become 'white,' and eventually — as Okrent takes almost perverse pleasure in pointing out — many of the restrictionists’ children married sons and daughters of immigrants of the very demographic groups their parents most despised.
Mr. Okrent argues that racial theory was the decisive 'weapon in the immigration wars.' Yet by his own telling, it seems to have been a weapon that fired mostly blanks. Mr. Okrent offers little evidence that these ideas changed many minds or drove immigration policy in a direction it was not already headed; indeed, the racial theorists mostly repeated the same old widely held prejudices in new pseudoscientific garb ... Mr. Okrent’s determination to be exhaustive in presenting his findings leads to repetitiveness and a certain amount of disorganization, not leavened by some wooden metaphors ... But this is an unsparing look at the history of some very ugly ideas, not without echoes today. Mr. Okrent never asks a crucial question—why many of these ideas arose in America but never really took root in America.
... is reminiscent of Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010) in its elegant, if sometimes dense, prose and its focus on the unlikely alliances that converged to effect political change. But with its gallery of scientifically dubious, mean-spirited, and flat-out racist characters (so many they become difficult to distinguish), the current book is a much grimmer enterprise.
Cast[s] light on a dark era in American sociopolitical history... a thorough, fair-minded examination of a distasteful phenomenon that came and thankfully went from the national stage. Okrent’s work can serve as a sober, salient warning of the apparent ease with which such notions as eugenics can arise, take hold and spread even among people of ostensible good will.
... carefully researched, spiritedly written, and protractedly subtitled ... Okrent argues that it was only when eugenics met xenophobia that all hell broke loose, but eugenics, as practiced by Galton and his epigones, was never distinct from racial and ethnic stratification ... Okrent painstakingly shows the asininity of eugenicists’ pseudoscientific, hopelessly subjective, and frankly bigoted theories ... Okrent’s research into the convergence of nativism and eugenicism in America during these years is deep and comprehensive, but he pushes to the peripheries aspects some might think are central ... It’s also surprising that Okrent, the author of an equally fine history of Prohibition, ignores altogether the role of anti-immigration sentiment in passing the Volstead Act, which was partly a way to criminalize the customs of Europeans who came from drinking cultures ... a book about fake science, but fake history played a crucial part in the story too ... [Okrent] also leaves unspoken the obvious connections between the history he’s relating and the American political situation today, doubtless because they are so flagrant, but this leaves open the possibility of reading his account as an earlier echo, rather than origin story ... sharply reminds us that nativism has never been limited to its most savage enforcers, like the Klan or neo-Nazis.
... frighteningly timely ... One of the narrative’s great strengths is the author’s inclusion of dozens of minibiographies illuminating the backgrounds of the racist politicians and the promoters of phony eugenics 'research.' Okrent keeps his personal commentary about these individuals to a minimum while presenting their biographies and the findings of their eugenics studies. Through the skilled, subtle use of language, however, Okrent makes clear that most of these immigration restrictionists were privileged bigots deserving of little respect. Sadly, there are few heroes in the book, though it’s certainly no fault of the author ... A relentlessly depressing but revelatory and necessary historical account.
... engrossing ... Although Okrent ends on a positive note, with Lyndon Johnson signing into law a nationality-blind immigration measure, this fascinating study vividly illuminates the many injustices that the pseudoscience of eugenics inflicted on so many would-be Americans.