Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck Audiobook, by Adam Cohen Play Audiobook Sample

Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck Audiobook

Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck Audiobook, by Adam Cohen Play Audiobook Sample
FlexPass™ Price: $18.95
$9.95 for new members!(Includes UNLIMITED podcast listening) Add to Cart learn more
Regular Price: $22.50 Add to Cart
Read By: Dan Woren Publisher: Penguin Audio Listen Time: at 1.0x Speed 8.83 hours at 1.5x Speed 6.63 hours at 2.0x Speed Release Date: March 2016 Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download ISBN: 9780399565939

Quick Stats About this Audiobook

Total Audiobook Chapters:


Longest Chapter Length:

08:58 minutes

Shortest Chapter Length:

17 seconds

Average Chapter Length:

06:23 minutes

Audiobooks by this Author:


Other Audiobooks Written by Adam Cohen: > View All...

Publisher Description

Longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction

One of America’s great miscarriages of justice, the Supreme Court’s infamous 1927 Buck v. Bell ruling made government sterilization of “undesirable” citizens the law of the land


In 1927, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling so disturbing, ignorant, and cruel that it stands as one of the great injustices in American history. In Imbeciles, bestselling author Adam Cohen exposes the court’s decision to allow the sterilization of a young woman it wrongly thought to be “feebleminded” and to champion the mass eugenic sterilization of undesirable citizens for the greater good of the country. The 8–1 ruling was signed by some of the most revered figures in American law—including Chief Justice William Howard Taft, a former U.S. president; and Louis Brandeis, a progressive icon. Oliver Wendell Holmes, considered by many the greatest Supreme Court justice in history, wrote the majority opinion, including the court’s famous declaration “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

is the shocking story of Buck v. Bell, a legal case that challenges our faith in American justice. A gripping courtroom drama, it pits a helpless young woman against powerful scientists, lawyers, and judges who believed that eugenic measures were necessary to save the nation from being “swamped with incompetence.”  At the center was Carrie Buck, who was born into a poor family in Charlottesville, Virginia, and taken in by a foster family, until she became pregnant out of wedlock. She was then declared “feebleminded” and shipped off to the Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded.

Buck v. Bell
unfolded against the backdrop of a nation in the thrall of eugenics, which many Americans thought would uplift the human race. Congress embraced this fervor, enacting the first laws designed to prevent immigration by Italians, Jews, and other groups charged with being genetically inferior. 

Cohen shows how Buck arrived at the colony at just the wrong time, when influential scientists and politicians were looking for a “test case” to determine whether Virginia’s new eugenic sterilization law could withstand a legal challenge. A cabal of powerful men lined up against her, and no one stood up for her—not even her lawyer, who, it is now clear, was in collusion with the men who wanted her sterilized.

In the end, Buck’s case was heard by the Supreme Court, the institution established by the founders to ensure that justice would prevail. The court could have seen through the false claim that Buck was a threat to the gene pool, or it could have found that forced sterilization was a violation of her rights. Instead, Holmes, a scion of several prominent Boston Brahmin families, who was raised to believe in the superiority of his own bloodlines, wrote a vicious, haunting decision upholding Buck’s sterilization and imploring the nation to sterilize many more.

Holmes got his wish, and before the madness ended some sixty to seventy thousand Americans were sterilized. Cohen overturns cherished myths and demolishes lauded figures in relentless pursuit of the truth. With the intellectual force of a legal brief and the passion of a front-page exposé, Imbeciles is an ardent indictment of our champions of justice and our optimistic faith in progress, as well as a triumph of American legal and social history.

From the Hardcover edition.

Download and start listening now!

“Dan Woren’s deep but gentle voice guides listeners through the complicated and baffling events…Woren’s emphasis and timing aid listeners in understanding difficult passages. He emotionally charges the quotes when necessary, while at other times, holding back to focus largely on the story. In exploring this historical tragedy, the author sometimes exhibits a tone of disbelief, which Woren projects clearly.”

— AudioFile 


  • “The book provides a stark portrait of the resilient eugenics movement—and a welcome warning about its sinister appeal.”

    — Jeffrey Toobin, New York Times bestselling author
  • “Provides a superb history of eugenics in America, from its beginnings as an offshoot of social Darwinism—human survival of the fittest—to its rise as a popular movement.”

    — New York Times Book Review (cover review)
  • "Imbeciles leaves you wondering whether it can happen here—again.”

    — Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • “Cohen mostly lets the facts speak for themselves…[The book’s] considerable power lies in Cohen’s closer examination of the principal actors.”

    — Boston Globe
  • “Cohen’s narrative of the legal case that enshrined these practices is a page turner, and the story it tells is deeply, almost physically, infuriating.”

    — New Republic
  • “Imbeciles is lively, accessible and, inevitably, often heart-wrenching.”

    — Nature
  • “Combines an investigative journalist’s instinct for the misuse of power, a lawyer’s analytic abilities, and a historian’s eye for detail to tell this compelling and emotional story.”

    — Los Angeles Review of Books
  • “Searing…In this important book, Cohen not only illuminates a shameful moment in American history…he also tracks the landmark case’s repercussions up to the present.”

    — Booklist (starred review)
  • “A shocking tale about science and law gone horribly wrong, an almost forgotten case that deserves to be ranked with Dred Scott, Plessy, and Korematsu as among the Supreme Court’s worst decisions.”

    — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
  • “Illustrates society’s treatment of the poor, of minorities and immigrants, and other populations considered ‘undesirable’…This thought-provoking work exposes a dark chapter of American legal history.”

    — Library Journal


  • A New York Times Editor’s Choice
  • A Kirkus Reviews Pick of Best Nonfiction of 2016

Imbeciles Listener Reviews

Be the first to write a review about this audiobook!

About Adam Cohen

Adam Cohen, former Time senior writer and former member of the New York Times editorial board, is an author of several books, including Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck; Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America; and American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley, His Battle for Chicago and the Nation. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he was president of volume 100 of the Harvard Law Review. He teaches at Yale Law School.

About Dan Woren

Dan Woren is an American voice actor and Earphones Award–winning narrator. He has worked extensively in animation, video games, and feature films. He is best known for his many roles in anime productions such as Bleach and as the voice of Sub-Zero in the video game Mortal Kombat.