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From a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist, a pathbreaking examination of our huge incarceration problem through the lens of the family—specifically one Oregon family with a generations-long legacy of lawlessness.  

As few as 5 percent of American families account for half of all crime, and only 10 percent account for two-thirds. But the full significance of such astonishing statistics is revealed only by looking into the human faces behind them. Meet, therefore, the Bogles. For them crime is an heirloom from deep in the past, a malignant tradition passed from parents to children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. Over more than a century, at least sixty of their kin have been incarcerated or placed on criminal probation. 

With keen sympathy and a deep knowledge of criminology, Fox Butterfield, author of the classic work on American violence, All God’s Children, introduces us to this family, its winding history, its singular characters, and of course its felonies, misdemeanors, and malefactions. In one instance mother, father, and their eight children get into the family truck and—in the spirit of loving camaraderie with which another family might go out for ice cream—head off to burglarize a fish hatchery. What, Butterfield asks, can the criminal justice system do under such circumstances? The answers to such a question require us to reconsider our preconceptions about justice. They also challenge our deepest stereotypes, for the Bogles, a white family, force us to disentangle race from our ideas about crime. 


Here we meet individuals who are by turns deplorable, tragic, and even inspiring in their efforts to repudiate an outlaw’s inheritance. We see the harsh world in which they live and which has, in no small measure, created and perpetuated the family “curse.” We come to understand, too, how insights about families like the Bogles are beginning to motivate new efforts at reform. In My Father’s House is both the indelible tale of one family’s transgressions and tribulations, and a blueprint for an entirely new understanding of crime in America. 

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