In My Father’s House: A New View of How Crime Runs in the Family
(Knopf, $27) Every town seems to have a family like the Bogles—and maybe that should tell us something, said Alice Lloyd in The Weekly Standard. In Fox Butterfield’s perversely pleasurable new book about the sources of criminal behavior, a Texas-born con artist named Elvie Bogle and her sons and grandsons provide “almost abusively vivid” evidence that certain families breed lawbreakers. Butterfield eventually identified 60 convicts in the Bogle family tree, and he gained the confidence of enough of them to be able to share their favorite tales about swindles, robberies, car thefts, and kidnappings— even a heist of salmon from a fish hatchery. The Bogles aren’t simply colorful outliers, though. Butterfield cites studies indicating that 5 percent of all families account for perhaps half of all crimes, and 10 percent for two-thirds. This is a book, then, about family values “of a particular sort,” said Mickey Edwards in the Los Angeles Times. Elvie and her husband married in 1921 and joined a traveling carnival while working scams and raising five boys who all earned criminal records. “Rooster,” Elvie’s favorite son, was a wild man. He had 10 children by two women, sometimes forcing his boys to watch him have sex with both simultaneously. One son was coached to perform a break-in at 4, another taught how to fence stolen bikes at 6. That son later told Butterfield that among the Bogles, turning criminal was “an honorable thing.” Butterfield acknowledges a history of mental illness in the family, and that inheritable traits, such as poor impulse control, could be factors. “But families pass on more than genes: They also pass on expectations.” For most Bogles, committing crimes was the way to make Mom and Dad proud.
But identifying a cycle of criminality is one thing; “the questions get thicker when it comes to how to stop it,” said Eric Spitznagel in the New York Post. Should criminals have their children taken away, as has been done in Italy? Or what about simply providing incentives to released prisoners to encourage them to move away from home and attempt fresh starts elsewhere? Though Butterfield doesn’t have all the answers, “he has found a seam in an uncrackable problem,” said Philip Martin in the Little Rock, Ark., Democrat-Gazette. And he ends with “a note of uplift”: the story of a granddaughter of Rooster’s who, thanks in part to parents who shielded her from contact with her extended family, became not long ago the first Bogle to earn a college degree.