Review: All God’s Children

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Review for "All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence" by Fox Butterfield (2008 reissue, originally published in 1995)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book is fascinating. It’s a shame that the original hardcover edition is out of print and quite hard to find at any library in my city. In the end, I had to order it through interlibrary loan.

Anyway, “All God’s Children” traces five generations of the Bosket family, from their days as slaves in rural South Carolina all the way to Willie Bosket’s incarceration in 1978 as one of the youngest murderers in New York City’s history. At 15 years old, Willie, recently free from a reform school, killed two subway riders in cold blood and shot another. Under the laws of the time, the maximum he could get was 5 years. The public outcry was so great against this that the Juvenile Offender Act was passed later that year, making it possible that children as young as 13 could be tried as adults.

Fox Butterfield uses Bosket’s family history as a way to discuss the history of violence in America. Willie’s great grandfather was a violent man, his grandfather, as well as his father. Details of all of their lives and crimes are given here. He avoids the typical fluff arguments about the causes of violence (poverty, television, etc) and instead characterizes it as something deeply embedded into the fabric of American life, a product of the White slave-holding class, the pre-Civil War South. He also discusses the violence of reform schools and prison institutions whose function is to “correct” violent individuals. Willie believes he is merely the product of these institutions in its grossest form. I can’t disagree.

The amount of research in this book is exhaustive. I commend the author for writing this book. I just wish that it was more available in 2018.

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2 thoughts on “Review: All God’s Children”

  1. I’ve never heard of this or that subway event! This kind of study into the background behind the conditions sounds fascinating. Especially because poverty is such a common argument for violence, so I’d be really interested in seeing another side of it. Have you read Just Mercy? (I feel like I’ve seen it on one of your lists before but can’t remember.) I recently read it and was so affected by the stories of some of the juvenile offenders that were imprisoned for life based on that law or related ones enacting harsher penalties for crimes committed in youth. Anyway, this sounds like a really interesting read, too bad it’s difficult to come by…will be on the lookout for it.

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    1. Yes! I had been searching for this book for a while, because, as you mentioned, I had read some NF books about juvenile offenders. The name Willie Bosket kept surfacing, which led me to this book. This is a very very interesting book indeed. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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