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.