Monday, April 29, 2013


The Child Buyer, John Hersey, Alfred A Knopf, 1960, 258pp

This was an odd book. John Hersey has a theme in most of his novels: the juxtaposition of individuals with societal/government actions. In this case, a Mr Wissey Jones arrives in a small American town with the intention to literally buy a child. Barry Rudd is that child, 10 years old, from a somewhat poor and uneducated family but showing signs of genius. Mr Jones is a consummate salesman with that ability to ferret out the true objections, fears, and wants of people in order to get said people to agree with what he wants them to do.

Mr Wissey Jones, it turns out, works for a secret United States government department. I have no idea if the story is based in fact and I don't really want to know. The government is looking for young geniuses in order to train them for specific uses related to defending democracy. Jones is authorized to pay significant reimbursement to any family who will turn over a child to him.

What a creepy idea! Especially in a "democracy." Unfortunately Hersey frames the story within a series of hearings by a state senate committee appointed to investigate the case of Mr Jones and Barry. The book is written as the transcript of those hearings. Inventive though this approach may be, it made for some strange reading.

I give Hersey credit for creating a pretty good satire attacking the wacky ideas on education which grew out of the communist scare and the space race as well as the involvement of psychology in American education. I wonder how many people read this book when it was published in 1960.

(The Child Buyer is out of print. It is best found through used book sellers. It was not even in any of my libraries.)

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