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All God's Children

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From the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of China: Alive in the Bitter Sea comes the poignant story of how the tradition of white Southern violence and racism has long affected and still haunts one black family. Butterfield follows the Bosket family of Edgefield County, South Carolina, from the days of slavery to the present. Photos.


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From the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of China: Alive in the Bitter Sea comes the poignant story of how the tradition of white Southern violence and racism has long affected and still haunts one black family. Butterfield follows the Bosket family of Edgefield County, South Carolina, from the days of slavery to the present. Photos.

30 review for All God's Children

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    “[M]ore than a century after the end of the Civil War that freed Aaron Bosket, we are still paying the price for the legacy of slavery and racism. It shows in how we think about crime…[M]ost white Americans instinctively see violence as a black problem – it is they, the ones living in the inner city, the people on welfare, the faces in prison. This makes it easier to call for more police and prisons. But imagine if your child were suddenly transported to the inner city and you could do nothing t “[M]ore than a century after the end of the Civil War that freed Aaron Bosket, we are still paying the price for the legacy of slavery and racism. It shows in how we think about crime…[M]ost white Americans instinctively see violence as a black problem – it is they, the ones living in the inner city, the people on welfare, the faces in prison. This makes it easier to call for more police and prisons. But imagine if your child were suddenly transported to the inner city and you could do nothing to remove him from there. All you could do would be to come up with a policy recommendation. You might advocate more cops and jails. More likely, you would want a program that removed guns from the streets, created good jobs, built better housing…” - Fox Butterfield, All God’s Children The premise of Fox Butterfield’s All God’s Children is hugely, almost distractingly ambitious. Butterfield wants to do nothing short of discovering the origins of American violence. To do so, he embarks on a case study of a single family – the Boskets – and the criminality that ran through their generations like a hereditary disease. The fact that Butterfield cannot actually prove any overarching point by utilizing one case study, or that his conclusion itself (that a culture of violence sprang from pre-Revolutionary rural whites in the South, with their fiercely-defended notions of honor and pride) is beyond idiosyncratic, does not mean that this book is not worth your time. To the contrary, it is – on a pure, storytelling level – quite gripping, even hard to put down (while also, at times, hard to read). The central figure of All God’s Children is Willie Bosket. By the time Butterfield met Willie, trussed up like Hannibal Lecter in a New York state prison, he had spent most of his life in group homes, reformatories, or behind bars. At the time of this book’s 1995 publication, Willie had been dubbed a super-predator. He had been committing crimes, including acts of violence, since his age was in the single digits. When he was nine, Willie was removed from his home and sent to a reform school after throwing a typewriter out a window, in an attempt to hit a pregnant teacher. Things only got worse from there: By the age of fifteen, Willie claimed he had committed two thousand crimes, including two hundred armed robberies and twenty-five stabbings. Even allowing for youthful braggadocio, the figure was impressive. In the spring of his fifteenth season, Willie shot and killed two men on the subway in Manhattan…Afterward, Willie laughed about the killings. ‘I shot people, that’s all,’ he said. ‘I don’t feel nothing…’ Along with a Tolstoy-length rap sheet, Willie also had a genius-level IQ, and a powerful superficial charm. Channeled correctly, he might have traveled a very different road in life. As it turns out, however, Willie took the exact same road as his father, Butch Bosket. Butch was also a double-murderer with incredible intellectual capacity. Indeed, while serving time, he earned his college degree and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In the end, those abilities were not enough. Intrigued by this pairing, Butterfield set to work, tracing the Bosket family back to the days of slavery. After a prologue that introduces us to Willie, All God’s Children really begins in antebellum Edgefield, South Carolina. Known as “Bloody Edgefield,” this was a community where even minor insults were handled with reference to the code duello. By combing the historical record, Butterfield is able to trace the movements of Aaron Bosket, Willie’s great-great-grandfather, an Edgefield slave who was freed by war and left unsupported in a South that refused to be “reconstructed.” From Aaron, the story moves to great-grandfather Clifton “Pud” Bosket. Coming of age in a post-Reconstruction South, now organized under Jim Crow laws that prevented blacks from voting, Pud eventually turned to crime, a pathway followed by both Butch and Willie. While interesting in and of itself, this opening section, dealing with Aaron and Pud, is more a regional history of Edgefield than a focused narrative on the Boskets. This is probably inevitable, as official records for black Americans in the South during this era are hard to find. The pace of All God’s Children really picks up once Butterfield focuses on Butch and Willie. The research here is remarkable in its depth. Butterfield claims to have interviewed more than 200 people for this book, and it shows in the novelistic detail that he is able to bring to the table. There are sequences here – such as Butch’s escape from a hospital while in custody – that read as breathlessly as a thriller. All God’s Children is, in a way, a rather unusual biography. Instead of covering a world-historical figure, though, Butterfield gives two violent felons the kind of examination ordinarily reserved for kings and queens, generals and politicians. As with many biographers, Butterfield tends to assume the positions and viewpoints of his subjects. That is, there is a tendency to present the story as Butch or Willie might have told it. The results can occasionally be disconcerting, especially in the way that the victims of Butch’s and Willie’s crimes are minimized to the point of disappearing. This same inclination afflicted Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song. Unlike Mailer, however, Butterfield does not try to make Butch or Willie into folk heroes. All their crimes – most freely admitted – are in plain view. The major shortcoming of All God’s Children is that it does not prove Butterfield’s thesis. Many of the issues that create the context for violence – concentrated poverty, decreased economic mobility, systemic racism, failing schools – do not figure largely in this tale. More to the point, while Butterfield tries to connect white Southern dueling to modern street gangs, the connection fails, because Butch and Willie were not serious gang members. Indeed, Butterfield’s central conclusion began to fall apart the moment he picked Butch and Willie Bosket as his focal point. The reason is that Butch and Willie were not ordinary criminals. They were remorseless and relentless. Even given golden opportunities (Butch was actually paroled from a double-murder; Willie was sent to Wiltwyck School, at the time the best group home in the country), they lashed out with extraordinary lethality. Thus, for me, the issue of mental health looms overlarge in this work, however much Butterfield tries to minimize it. There is a frustrating inexactness to psychiatry, even today, where two equally qualified practitioners can give the same person two very different diagnoses. I’m a layman (albeit with legal experience defending indigent litigants appearing before a local mental health board), but it seemed a distinct possibility that schizophrenia ran through the Bosket line. Butterfield tries to explain away the voices and persecution complexes, but I am not wholly convinced. In any event, some level of psychosis was at play here, based on both Butch’s and Willie’s inability to control their irresistible urges. Whether or not Butterfield has “proven” his points, and whether or not the Boskets should be the standard bearers, are open questions. In the end, I’m not sure it matters. I was already reading this when George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis policeman on Memorial Day 2020. As I finished, the streets were flooded with protests that spanned the whole country, and even around the globe. All God’s Children does not directly address the issues animating these protests, including police brutality, black incarceration rates, and the policing of impoverished neighborhoods. Nevertheless, as a work of enormous effort and empathy, it still has important things to say about these times. The road ahead, after all, will require a great deal of both effort and empathy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    This is an extremely thorough book examining two generations of criminals – father and son – Butch and Willie Bosket. Neither had much that was commendable, but both were extremely brilliant. IQ tests demonstrated they were way above average and considering their lack of formal education this is remarkable. Both came from “broken homes” with absentee fathers (Willie’s father, Butch, was incarcerated for murder before he was born), both were raised in impoverished neighborhoods (Augusta, Georgia f This is an extremely thorough book examining two generations of criminals – father and son – Butch and Willie Bosket. Neither had much that was commendable, but both were extremely brilliant. IQ tests demonstrated they were way above average and considering their lack of formal education this is remarkable. Both came from “broken homes” with absentee fathers (Willie’s father, Butch, was incarcerated for murder before he was born), both were raised in impoverished neighborhoods (Augusta, Georgia for Butch and Harlem for Willie), and both had inattentive mother’s (more so Willie). Page 63 my book All this violence was not simply pathology. It grew out of the old white Southern code of honor, an extreme sensitivity to insult and the opinion of others. The author draws a cultural line from Edgefield, South Carolina (where the Bosket’s ancestors were from) to Harlem. The South, and even more so in Edgefield, had an honor code that lead to brutality. If a man’s honor was questioned and besmirched violence would often ensue. Reputations and a man’s honor were paramount. This honor code was passed to the newly freed slaves where the ancestors of the Bosket’s grew up. Given the poverty and the repressiveness of living under the white populations Jim Crow laws this honor code became worse and evolved – the word changed from “honor” to “respect”. Page 34 South Carolinians had been bold [in the taking of Fort Sumter, South Carolina], touchy, and violent and had moved without weighing the consequences. This was the nature of honor. Honor did not calculate risks; it was an ancient warriors code. Honor was reputation. But in time, this mentality would spread to others in South Carolina, to the Boskets, and in them it would not always be deemed glorious. Page 61 W.E.B. DuBois “Thus negroes came to look upon courts as instruments of injustice and oppression, and upon those convicted in them as martyrs and victims.” Respect was all a repressed poor black person had. And it was transferred to the inner city. Page 119 In these desperate conditions, Southern-born honor found a new spawning ground. Honor became even more dangerous when combined with poverty, racism, and big city slums. In a world with so little opportunity for young black men, respect was one thing they could aspire to. Page 85 But for Butch without a father or mother, the code was even more lethal. He had no human attachments to buffer the call of violence that lived in honor. With the proliferation of guns this code became more destructive. Both Butch and Willie acted violently and killed for no obvious reason. Willie was brought up in institutions. He was moved constantly from one to another. His reputation grew and the staff resented having him. He was a constant trouble-maker – swearing and punching the staff, throwing temper tantrums as in tossing chairs, setting fires, and escaping from these institutions. At the age of nine when appearing before a judge in a New York Family Court Willie called him a “lying white mother-…”, and promptly ran out of the courtroom and hopped on a subway train. Interestingly Willie formed a positive relationship with some of the staff in the institutions he was placed in, but these could not endure due to his behavior and being moved about so frequently. There are many testimonies and documents from counsellors and psychiatrists who saw Willie over the years (the author suggests thousand of pages!). Both Butch and Willie used violence to get what they wanted. They were prime manipulators – and they could spot the weak person and prey on him. Neither had a real close and sustaining relationship in their lives. And this would apply more so to their significant childhood years. The author examines many aspects of delinquency – historical, cultural, behavioral, environmental. It is a profound book. (view spoiler)[(Butch Bosket died during a shoot-out with police (actually committed suicide) and Willie Bosket is still incarcerated). (hide spoiler)]

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lanier

    Not any surprise that violence in America is something whites built the country on, but also perfected to heights archaic and beyond cruel and unusual. I found this book when looking for that Street Kids' novel of the same name by Rene Denfield. This one by Butterfield is a great history lesson of Edgefield County, South Carolina where he follows the roots of another black family growing up through the institutions of violence stemming from pre-Civil War era to Willie Bosket's present multiple l Not any surprise that violence in America is something whites built the country on, but also perfected to heights archaic and beyond cruel and unusual. I found this book when looking for that Street Kids' novel of the same name by Rene Denfield. This one by Butterfield is a great history lesson of Edgefield County, South Carolina where he follows the roots of another black family growing up through the institutions of violence stemming from pre-Civil War era to Willie Bosket's present multiple life stints in jail. This name may sound familiar, as he was the teen that influenced the changing of laws allowing teens to be tried as adults, aka “The Willie Bosket Law”. Bosket, an intelligent and artistic young man, will never see the light of an un-barred day as he never really had a chance. His father, Butch, probably even more intelligent earned a Masters in jail and was on the cutting edge of the computer technological curve before the law caught up with him again. This book is equally an indictment of the child care systems, rehab centers and the dismemberment of the family as well as a slight insight to mental illnesses and the misdiagnosis of the same.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    I have been going through the papers pertaining to my career, and I ran across pieces of the story of Willie Bosket, told in All God's Children by Fox Butterfield. I googled it, and found that it is still in print. It is probably also available at most public libraries. It is a stunning story. It is about a teenage murderer. Fox Butterfield, then with the New York Times, was given access to him in solitary confinement, and through encounters with Willie, he set out to find out who Willie was and I have been going through the papers pertaining to my career, and I ran across pieces of the story of Willie Bosket, told in All God's Children by Fox Butterfield. I googled it, and found that it is still in print. It is probably also available at most public libraries. It is a stunning story. It is about a teenage murderer. Fox Butterfield, then with the New York Times, was given access to him in solitary confinement, and through encounters with Willie, he set out to find out who Willie was and where he had come from, for Willie himself did not know. He uncovers one of the most powerful strains of violence in American, originating in the southern part of South Carolina that gave rise to Strom Thurmond. It is one of the saddest, most haunting, most riveting stories I have ever read. I would recommend it with qualification.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Fishface

    This is one fantastic piece of journalism. The author traces an American family back to before the Civil War, when they were still slaves in Edgefield County, NC and soaking like teabags in the brutal "culture of honor" passed down from their owners' Scotch-Irish forebears. He traces the way successive generations identified more and more with that brutality until it seemed like the only way to get ahead in life, with disastrous results for everyone involved. The author tries to give us hope, sh This is one fantastic piece of journalism. The author traces an American family back to before the Civil War, when they were still slaves in Edgefield County, NC and soaking like teabags in the brutal "culture of honor" passed down from their owners' Scotch-Irish forebears. He traces the way successive generations identified more and more with that brutality until it seemed like the only way to get ahead in life, with disastrous results for everyone involved. The author tries to give us hope, showing how some manage to walk away from the whole mess and create positive lives for themselves, but it's hard to get away from the fact that people often choose wrong in deciding on their next move.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    The book traces five generations of the Bosket family, from slavery in South Carolina through Willie Bosket's incarceration in New York in the 1980s, where he was hailed (?) as the most dangerous criminal ever housed in the NYS penal system. The book demonstrates the legacies of a violence-based culture of honor in South Carolina and of the series of institutions Americans have designed to house and/or reform individuals who are somehow problematic. Willie Bosket has often argued that he is a pr The book traces five generations of the Bosket family, from slavery in South Carolina through Willie Bosket's incarceration in New York in the 1980s, where he was hailed (?) as the most dangerous criminal ever housed in the NYS penal system. The book demonstrates the legacies of a violence-based culture of honor in South Carolina and of the series of institutions Americans have designed to house and/or reform individuals who are somehow problematic. Willie Bosket has often argued that he is a product of those institutions and that his case demonstrates how badly flawed that institutional system is. After reading the book, it's very hard to disagree with that assessment. The author, Fox Butterfield, is a professional journalist, but as I read this book, I didn't feel the need to hold that against him. He did a significant amount of historical research in both primary and secondary sources, and he uses excellent secondary sources in a responsible manner. His writing style is engaging, and I had a hard time putting the book down. There are myriad things I could say about my reactions to the book's content. (It would be an excellent book to discuss in a group, whether that was a book club or a class.) Here, I think I'll limit myself to saying that I wish there was a companion book that more fully explored the lives and choices of the women in the Bosket men's lives. I could not quite wrap my head around why many of the women in the book made the choices they did (including why they got involved with Bosket men in the first place), and I'd like to know more. The book did succeed in providing explanations for male actions, and so I'd like to see a parallel study. In the future, I'm teaching an introductory level course on race and racism in US history (the whole 200+ years), and I think it's likely this book will be on the reading list.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lloyd Kerns

    Read this forever ago and will never forget it. It sparked my interest in criminology.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    This is a fascinating examination of the way that American culture and our social policies create a hideous underclass where children are lost at a very young age without much hope for redemption. It focuses on Willie Bosket, NY state's "most violent inmate" who received a sentence of life in prison following a string of juvenile crimes and then the violent murders of two people on the NYC subway. It was his misdeeds and unsuccessful attempts of the system to reform him (he had been in and out o This is a fascinating examination of the way that American culture and our social policies create a hideous underclass where children are lost at a very young age without much hope for redemption. It focuses on Willie Bosket, NY state's "most violent inmate" who received a sentence of life in prison following a string of juvenile crimes and then the violent murders of two people on the NYC subway. It was his misdeeds and unsuccessful attempts of the system to reform him (he had been in and out of institutions from the age of 9) that inspired NYS laws allowing children to be treated legally as adults in criminal court. Through some incredibly creative and thrillingly thorough research, Fox Butterfield traces Willie's family back to the deep south where they had been slaves. The pattern of violence and it's connection to the culture of the South that he uncovers is intensely fascinating. He makes a very compelling case for the values of the antebellum South, as they translate to a modern urban environment, where drugs and guns are readily available, and hope is fleeting, as a root cause in our culture's creation of violent sociopathic children like Willie. It was truly chilling and fascinating reading. On a personal note, as I was reading I learned that Willie's trial was taking place in my hometown while I was in elementary school and that two of my neighbors played important roles in the trial that condemned him to prison for life. I have no memories of this trial but it was interesting to contrast my own experiences with the ones that doomed a very young, and by all accounts incredibly gifted boy, who is not that much older than myself, to a life of crime and incarceration.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Elyssa

    This book was INCREDIBLE! Willie Bosket was one of the most violent offenders in NYC, starting at a very young age. The author, Fox Butterfield, researched the Bosket family back to when they were slaves in South Carolina and masterfully illustrates the progression of violence within this family. Butterfield provide in-depth portrayals of each family member as well as a comprehensive historical overview through each generation. This book reminded me of two other favorites: Random Family and Amer This book was INCREDIBLE! Willie Bosket was one of the most violent offenders in NYC, starting at a very young age. The author, Fox Butterfield, researched the Bosket family back to when they were slaves in South Carolina and masterfully illustrates the progression of violence within this family. Butterfield provide in-depth portrayals of each family member as well as a comprehensive historical overview through each generation. This book reminded me of two other favorites: Random Family and American Dream, mostly due to the detailed research and engaging prose.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Tremendous profile of our legal system, social confines, and failing support systems through the life and destruction of one man. Powerful,dramatic, infuriating, heartfelt, and sadly, true.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Deeply reported, phenomenally told, this is a monumental work that examines the root causes of intergenerational violence. Published in the mid-1990s, as a wave of three strikes laws were enacted across the country and prison populations began to skyrocket, Butterfield systematically breaks down what actually causes crime, and uses the Bosket family to illustrate his point. The result is a heartbreaking work that lays bare what really causes crime: poverty, a lack of social services, and the mas Deeply reported, phenomenally told, this is a monumental work that examines the root causes of intergenerational violence. Published in the mid-1990s, as a wave of three strikes laws were enacted across the country and prison populations began to skyrocket, Butterfield systematically breaks down what actually causes crime, and uses the Bosket family to illustrate his point. The result is a heartbreaking work that lays bare what really causes crime: poverty, a lack of social services, and the mass incarceration of people of color in America. Our reactionary and punitive criminal justice system doesn't deter crime, Butterfield shows. It creates a pressure cooker system that exacerbates it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    Quite frankly, this is one of the best books I’ve read in my life.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Wanda Keith

    This story takes you through five generations of the Bosket family and their trajectory of crime. The story starts out with the reader being introduced to Willie Bosket who is doing several life sentences for murder and other crimes. Fox Butterfield then traces the roots of Willie's ancestry back to the days of slavery. There is little doubt that much of what happened to turn Willie into the person he became was founded in his beginnings. From his earliest ancestors there was a criminal componen This story takes you through five generations of the Bosket family and their trajectory of crime. The story starts out with the reader being introduced to Willie Bosket who is doing several life sentences for murder and other crimes. Fox Butterfield then traces the roots of Willie's ancestry back to the days of slavery. There is little doubt that much of what happened to turn Willie into the person he became was founded in his beginnings. From his earliest ancestors there was a criminal component which festered and grew with each generation. Each of Willie's ancestors was told they were destined for exactly what they became. Willie's grandfather, James, was a convict who told his son, Butch, that he would end up in jail. Willie's father, Butch, was in jail before Willie was born but his mother told Willie that he was just like his father and Willie strove to be just like the father that he had never met but so admired. At age 5 Willie was committing crimes and by age 15 he murdered two men on the subway which brought about the law in this nation that allowed teenagers to be tried as adults. Butch murdered two men in Wisconsin that was said to be the most heinous murders in that area until Jeffrey Dahmer's murders were discovered. Butterfield wrote another book, 'In My Father's House' which was about a white family and their own trajectory of crime. The story of the Bogles is similar to that of the Boskets in many ways. Though slavery was not involved, there was extreme poverty. There was also the family tradition of handing down from father to son the fact that he would end up in prison because that was their destiny. There is little doubt that the problems in our justice system are mainly ones of culture and economics. There are few resources for families born into poverty to turn to when they are in trouble. There seems to be no one to help the parents, who are in such turmoil themselves, learn to be better parents. Butch's mother was a prostitute and Willie's could not look at him without seeing his father so she shut him out. Butterfield stated that three children could receive Harvard educations for what it cost to keep one juvenile in the New York Division of Youth for one year. This is not an easy book to read and I found myself amazed at the numerous crimes listed for Willie when he was such a young child. When the author met Willie to ask if he could write his story he agreed because he stated that he would like to know himself how a monster like him was created by the system. Many colleges are requiring their students to read this book for such courses as criminology, psychology, sociology, etc and I agree this is an excellent book to learn from. One of the saddest parts to me was that there were so many opportunities for Butch and Willie to escape this life of crime. They were both highly intelligent with good looks and charm to spare. It was a heartbreaking book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brook

    This book did a good job of tracing the lineage of one of New York's "worst inmates in state history" back to the antebellum South, and back forwards to the modern day (the subject of the story is still alive and incarcerated). This ain't "The Hurricane." Without giving too much away about the story, we follow one family's lineage (really the male side) from an early conflict with the law and an attempted lynching through to NY State's current penal system. Some topics that I knew little about a This book did a good job of tracing the lineage of one of New York's "worst inmates in state history" back to the antebellum South, and back forwards to the modern day (the subject of the story is still alive and incarcerated). This ain't "The Hurricane." Without giving too much away about the story, we follow one family's lineage (really the male side) from an early conflict with the law and an attempted lynching through to NY State's current penal system. Some topics that I knew little about and learned much about were the history of South Carolina and feuds, and the ultraviolent culture down there, both white and black, that evolved out of the European ideals of "honor" and respect, and eventually just morphed into hypersensitivity and a penchant for violence that rivaled the West. Indeed, the book quotes another historian who notes that much of the violent element in the "Wild West" was actually these post-Civil War southerners moving west with their dueling pistols and thirst for "retribution of wrongs." From this culture, the author hypothesizes that southern black culture, at once a part of southern culture but separate from white culture, adopted these norms. And, indeed, the gatherings of the now "free" sharecroppers were often marred with violence in this area, as were white gatherings. We follow the path of generations of men from this family through the familiar route of rural south - new urban south - new north - new york. Along the way, we see men who father children that they do not care for (until it is too late), and the both biological and environmental nature of sociopathy. I recommend this book to readers of nonfiction, true crime, social studies, and prison-culture texts.

  15. 4 out of 5

    StephVT

    All God's Children was a text assigned to me in a university course called "The History of Violence in the United States." While I was completely enthralled by the lectures, at the time I only skimmed sections of the book. Now, nearly 10 years later, I finally read the book in its entirety. It's an excellent read. The book details the history of America's sub-culture of violence by tracing the lineage of a particularly violent young man named Willie Bosket, who, as a juvenile, murdered two peopl All God's Children was a text assigned to me in a university course called "The History of Violence in the United States." While I was completely enthralled by the lectures, at the time I only skimmed sections of the book. Now, nearly 10 years later, I finally read the book in its entirety. It's an excellent read. The book details the history of America's sub-culture of violence by tracing the lineage of a particularly violent young man named Willie Bosket, who, as a juvenile, murdered two people in cold blood on a New York City subway. His youthful crime spree was the impetus for the first law that allowed a juvenile to be tried as an adult in the United States. As it turns out, Willie was only the latest highly intelligent male member of his family to become a brutally violent career criminal. His father, grandfather, and great-grand father before him were all violent criminals and murderers. The story was very compelling, yet frustrating and left me feeling hopeless. As the chapters unfold the lives of each male Bosket, the reader is left to ride an emotional rollercoaster. I found myself getting angry because every time a Bosket seemed to be on the precipice of breaking the cycle, they would commit another brutal, senseless act of violence. The author did more than just tell the story - he identified the societal and systemic institutional shortcomings that he believed contributed to Willie's virtually predestined, self-fulfilling prophecy of criminality. He even provided an epilogue discussing possible solutions. Still though, when I put the book down, I felt like the events in the book were entirely inevitable. If you like books that challenge your world view - this one is a must read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Willie Bosket was one of the most violent offenders in NYC, starting at a very young age. The author, Fox Butterfield, researched the Bosket family back to when they were slaves in South Carolina and describes the progression of violence within this family. He raises the question whether or not chronic criminal activity is hereditary or socially learned, presenting arguments portraying in Bosket's life support for both theories. It is also an indictment of our country's child care systems, rehab Willie Bosket was one of the most violent offenders in NYC, starting at a very young age. The author, Fox Butterfield, researched the Bosket family back to when they were slaves in South Carolina and describes the progression of violence within this family. He raises the question whether or not chronic criminal activity is hereditary or socially learned, presenting arguments portraying in Bosket's life support for both theories. It is also an indictment of our country's child care systems, rehab centers, and prisons. It's a very interesting book, to me, as I knew Willie Bosket (I'm not in the book). Mr. Butterfield portrayed him accurately. I came to know him for a time which began after the timeline of the book ended. I worked for a time for an entity which ultimately probably was as little true help to him as any of the others Mr. Butterfield rightly called to question in his book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gaylesaks

    I think I'm too stunned into sadness to articulate how devastating this book is. Who is to blame for turning a 9-yr old into the most violent criminal in New York State history? His parents, his lineage, the endless number of institutions who couldn't contain him? The reader knows from the beginning for that Willie Bosket there will never be hope. The story of his father, Butch, is equally as tragic. I work with both juvenile offenders and adult offenders and I have observed the endless cycle of h I think I'm too stunned into sadness to articulate how devastating this book is. Who is to blame for turning a 9-yr old into the most violent criminal in New York State history? His parents, his lineage, the endless number of institutions who couldn't contain him? The reader knows from the beginning for that Willie Bosket there will never be hope. The story of his father, Butch, is equally as tragic. I work with both juvenile offenders and adult offenders and I have observed the endless cycle of hopelessness and of multiple family members incarcerated at the same time. Learned behaviors? Idolizing the badass men and uncles who came before them? HIDEOUS parents who laugh off the violence in front of them and wash their hands clean of them--making them disposable. This book is a must for anyone interested or anyone who doesn't even know they are interested, in an incredibly flawed multi-service system. I will never forget this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Klevine

    The tragic story of a father and son, both who became murderers, one who found prison a place to learn, but who could not live what he learned from books in the real world. His son found prison a place to rebel and is known as New York State's worse prisoner. What is interesting to contemplate is why each man's experience lead them to take different paths in prison. A must read for anyone interested in better understanding the impact of history, prejudice, oppression, community, and trauma. The The tragic story of a father and son, both who became murderers, one who found prison a place to learn, but who could not live what he learned from books in the real world. His son found prison a place to rebel and is known as New York State's worse prisoner. What is interesting to contemplate is why each man's experience lead them to take different paths in prison. A must read for anyone interested in better understanding the impact of history, prejudice, oppression, community, and trauma. The Bosket family men were shaped by all these forces. The book also details the failures of the child welfare, juvenile justice, and mental health systems.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nick Montgomery

    Recommended to me by a social worker who I deeply respect. This book really appealed to my interests in history, true crime, race relations, and sociology; a marriage of the four, in truth. A family lineage is traced from the rural south to the urban north, culminating in the life of Willie Bosket, a reprehensible yet somehow sympathetic character, a product of the dangerous chemistry of honor, poverty, and disintegration of the nuclear family. Though people try to help him along the way, Bosket Recommended to me by a social worker who I deeply respect. This book really appealed to my interests in history, true crime, race relations, and sociology; a marriage of the four, in truth. A family lineage is traced from the rural south to the urban north, culminating in the life of Willie Bosket, a reprehensible yet somehow sympathetic character, a product of the dangerous chemistry of honor, poverty, and disintegration of the nuclear family. Though people try to help him along the way, Bosket falls into the all too familiar pattern of heartless violence, with catastrophic results for anyone who crosses his path.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Tomchak

    It only took me two days to read this harrowing account of life in and out of prison. As with many prison accounts, the fortunes of the violent members of the family that Butterfield examines are heartbreakingly variable. Butterfield's originality is to relate the fortunes of poor black prisoners to their background in slavery and the fortunes of slave owners and their descendents (like Strom Thurmond). Even earning a B.A. and a Phi Beta Kappa Key in prison does not save Butch, Willie's father, It only took me two days to read this harrowing account of life in and out of prison. As with many prison accounts, the fortunes of the violent members of the family that Butterfield examines are heartbreakingly variable. Butterfield's originality is to relate the fortunes of poor black prisoners to their background in slavery and the fortunes of slave owners and their descendents (like Strom Thurmond). Even earning a B.A. and a Phi Beta Kappa Key in prison does not save Butch, Willie's father, from dying under gunfire. Things haven't changed the that much since the book was written in 1995.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Michael

    This is another must-read for anyone wishing to better understand our social work, welfare, and criminal systems, and the way their current workings and past histories strongly contribute to their many failings. Essentially, the fact that they are designed and run by people mostly ignorant of or unable to appreciate the thinking of those who were raised in different environments, cultures, and class systems, ensures that they will fail more people then they help.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nijole

    a really hard book to read, but worth it, i think, to be reminded of the ways that kids/people who are hard to understand (aren't just plain dumb or plain smart, aren't just plain nice or plain mean, aren't just abandoned or loved) slip through the cracks. an extreme case (maybe?), but one that may apply more than we know. a really hard book to read, but worth it, i think, to be reminded of the ways that kids/people who are hard to understand (aren't just plain dumb or plain smart, aren't just plain nice or plain mean, aren't just abandoned or loved) slip through the cracks. an extreme case (maybe?), but one that may apply more than we know.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Shachter

    One of the most chilling stories if familial generational patterns of violence I have ever read

  24. 5 out of 5

    kelly

    This book is fascinating. It's a shame that the 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's incarceration in 1978 as one of the youngest murderers in New York City's history. At 15 years old, Willie killed two subway riders in cold blood and shot another This book is fascinating. It's a shame that the 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's incarceration in 1978 as one of the youngest murderers in New York City's history. At 15 years old, Willie 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, pre-Civil War South. He also discusses the reform schools and prison institutions that house individuals for committing violent acts. Willie believes he is merely the product of state 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.

  25. 4 out of 5

    His Wife7474

    So much information. Much of it was like reading units of a history book. The author does an AMAZING job of outlining the events that lead (at least to his belief) to Willie Bosket becoming the dangerous man that he is. The author took us back to Bosket's great-great-grandparents into 1995 when the book was published. This is NOT a quick read. It is very dense. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time fact-checking and researching much of what Butterfield wrote. It really opened my eyes to the racia So much information. Much of it was like reading units of a history book. The author does an AMAZING job of outlining the events that lead (at least to his belief) to Willie Bosket becoming the dangerous man that he is. The author took us back to Bosket's great-great-grandparents into 1995 when the book was published. This is NOT a quick read. It is very dense. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time fact-checking and researching much of what Butterfield wrote. It really opened my eyes to the racial dynamics in the south during slavery. It goes without saying that those times were absolutely brutal, and Butterfield doesn't even try to sugarcoat it. I took away two stars because though the book was information-rich, it still seemed rushed. Had this book been twice as long, it might have been more enjoyable. It was heavier on the history than it was on Willie Bosket's life. Still, it was a good read. Enjoy!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Honestly, I think Butterfield had good intentions when he started this book - to try and unpack the history of violence in the United States (specifically, the South), the dynamics of race, and criminal law. In his zeal to explain violence and how systemic racism makes life harder for African Americans, he loses sight of the fact that the subjects of his book, the Boskets, are criminals - yes, they had terrible childhoods, but legitimately, once Butterfield details how Willie Bosket Sr., raped a Honestly, I think Butterfield had good intentions when he started this book - to try and unpack the history of violence in the United States (specifically, the South), the dynamics of race, and criminal law. In his zeal to explain violence and how systemic racism makes life harder for African Americans, he loses sight of the fact that the subjects of his book, the Boskets, are criminals - yes, they had terrible childhoods, but legitimately, once Butterfield details how Willie Bosket Sr., raped a 6 year old girl, and STILL tries to have his reader be sympathetic towards him, I had to resist the urge to throw the book across the room. Butterfield's reliance on race and poverty excusing criminal behavior, though well intentioned, is completely lost, and is somewhat contemptible and even patronizing, in the face of the subjects of this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marilyn Sue Michel

    Sad story about cycles of sexual violence in the Bosket family, combined with the view that robbery and murder are somehow justified, along with an obsession for "respect," leading to extreme violence in the early life of Willie James Bosket, Jr. Willie is now at the Five Points Correctional Facility, still in solitary confinement although he has committed no violations since 1994. Although not clearly stated, the unfortunate cycle of sexual abuse victims not dealing with their experiences, then Sad story about cycles of sexual violence in the Bosket family, combined with the view that robbery and murder are somehow justified, along with an obsession for "respect," leading to extreme violence in the early life of Willie James Bosket, Jr. Willie is now at the Five Points Correctional Facility, still in solitary confinement although he has committed no violations since 1994. Although not clearly stated, the unfortunate cycle of sexual abuse victims not dealing with their experiences, then getting together and subjecting their children to great danger, seems to have happened several times in this family. Further evidence that ignoring such problems is not a good approach.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sheri

    Excellent research. This author spent hundreds of hours talking to Willie Bosket. He is the most violent incarcerated man in our lifetime. This book will make you sad and should make you mad. The overload that state child care workers in this country have on their plate is beyond belief. Children slip through the cracks, getting minimal to no physical, mental or emotional support. Poor blacks are at the bottom of the totem pole. Just a very sad indictment in yhe richest country in the world.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Williad

    I can't remember how I got to know about this book (more likely mentioned in another book I was reading at the time), but I am glad and not so glad now that I have finished it. Glad in a sense that a 'possible ' cause for most black violence/crime in America, is given. Not so glad that it takes a book like this to show that family, and circumstances, can shape foundations of the future for children. We should all know this, and act accordingly to the best of our abilities. I can't remember how I got to know about this book (more likely mentioned in another book I was reading at the time), but I am glad and not so glad now that I have finished it. Glad in a sense that a 'possible ' cause for most black violence/crime in America, is given. Not so glad that it takes a book like this to show that family, and circumstances, can shape foundations of the future for children. We should all know this, and act accordingly to the best of our abilities.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Eve

    The author made Willie out to be sympathetic when all I could think of is he was a psychopath that would have murdered more people had he not been locked up most of his life. Willie claimed the juvenile justice system made him into a monster, but he was born a monster. He never had sympathy or remorse for his victims. He was born bad. The only person I felt sorry for in this story was Willie's mother, Laura. I read this book as part of my doctorate program for my juvenile justice class. The author made Willie out to be sympathetic when all I could think of is he was a psychopath that would have murdered more people had he not been locked up most of his life. Willie claimed the juvenile justice system made him into a monster, but he was born a monster. He never had sympathy or remorse for his victims. He was born bad. The only person I felt sorry for in this story was Willie's mother, Laura. I read this book as part of my doctorate program for my juvenile justice class.

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