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The Ethics of Adoption in America

The Ethics of Adoption in America

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In “American Baby,” the veteran journalist Gabrielle Glaser tells the story of one mother and child, and also zooms out from there to consider the ethics of adoption in this country. Our reviewer, Lisa Belkin, calls the book “the most comprehensive and damning” account of the “growing realization that old-style adoption was not always what it seemed.” Glaser visits the podcast this week to talk about it.

“The secrecy began in the 1920s and ’30s,” Glaser says, “mostly due to a social worker who worked out of Memphis who was a baby thief. She swooped through the South, snatching the babies of poor women and selling them to celebrities and wealthy people in California and New York. It’s complicated, but through that began a culture of secrecy and laws that were enacted from state to state — 48 states, every state but Alaska and Kansas — that sealed the original birth certificate of a child and issued an amended birth certificate in its place listing the child as the birth child of his adopted mother and father.”


Kenneth R. Rosen visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “Troubled: The Failed Promise of America’s Behavioral Treatment Programs.” The book is an examination of the “tough-love industry” of wilderness camps and residential therapeutic programs for young people. Rosen himself, as a troubled teen, spent time at a few of these places, and his book strongly criticizes their methods.

“Therapy is important,” Rosen says, “but the way these children are introduced into therapy is concerning, and that is by being taken in the middle of the night by two ‘transporters,’ they’re called, escorts, who come and just whisk these kids off to programs in the middle of the night while they’re sleeping, against their will. I think introducing anyone to therapy in that way is not beneficial.”

Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and Tina Jordan talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

  • “Summer Cooking” by Elizabeth David

  • “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

  • “The Soul of a New Machine” by Tracy Kidder

  • “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson

We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to

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