Start reading The History of White People on the free Kindle Reading App or on your Kindle in under a minute. Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here.

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

Add Audible Narration
The History of White People Narrated by Allyson Johnson $24.95 $4.99
Enter a promotion code
or gift card

Try it free

Sample the beginning of this book for free

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

Sorry, this item is not available in
Image not available for
Image not available

The History of White People [Kindle Edition]

Nell Irvin Painter
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)

Digital List Price: $18.95 What's this?
Print List Price: $18.95
Kindle Price: $10.99
You Save: $7.96 (42%)

Free Kindle Reading App Anybody can read Kindle books—even without a Kindle device—with the FREE Kindle app for smartphones, tablets and computers.

To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.

Audible Narration

Switch back and forth between reading the Kindle book and listening to the Audible narration with Whispersync for Voice. Add narration for a reduced price of $4.99 when you buy the Kindle book.


Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle Edition $10.99  
Hardcover $18.85  
Paperback $16.08  
Audible Audio Edition, Unabridged $0.00 Free with Audible trial
The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs
The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
It’s never been a better time to be a girl geek. Learn more | See related books

Book Description

A New York Times bestseller: “This terrific new book . . . [explores] the ‘notion of whiteness,’ an idea as dangerous as it is seductive.”—Boston Globe

Telling perhaps the most important forgotten story in American history, eminent historian Nell Irvin Painter guides us through more than two thousand years of Western civilization, illuminating not only the invention of race but also the frequent praise of “whiteness” for economic, scientific, and political ends. A story filled with towering historical figures, The History of White People closes a huge gap in literature that has long focused on the non-white and forcefully reminds us that the concept of “race” is an all-too-human invention whose meaning, importance, and reality have changed as it has been driven by a long and rich history of events.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Who are white people and where did they come from? Elementary questions with elusive, contradictory, and complicated answers set historian Painter's inquiry into motion. From notions of whiteness in Greek literature to the changing nature of white identity in direct response to Malcolm X and his black power successors, Painter's wide-ranging response is a who's who of racial thinkers and a synoptic guide to their work. Her commodious history of an idea accommodates Caesar; Saint Patrick, history's most famous British slave of the early medieval period; Madame de Staël; and Emerson, the philosopher king of American white race theory. Painter (Sojourner Truth) reviews the diverse cast in their intellectual milieus, linking them to one another across time and language barriers. Conceptions of beauty (ideals of white beauty [became] firmly embedded in the science of race), social science research, and persistent North/South stereotypes prove relevant to defining whiteness. What we can see, the author observes, depends heavily on what our culture has trained us to look for. For the variable, changing, and often capricious definition of whiteness, Painter offers a kaleidoscopic lens. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Painter is the author of Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (1996) and several other scholarly works on the history of slavery and race relations in America, most recently Creating Black Americans (2006). Her latest selection examines the history of “whiteness” as a racial category and rhetorical weapon: who is considered to be “white,” who is not, what such distinctions mean, and how notions of whiteness have morphed over time in response to shifting demographics, aesthetic tastes, and political exigencies. After a brief look at how the ancients conceptualized the differences between European peoples, Painter focuses primarily on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There, the artistic idealization of beautiful white slaves from the Caucasus combined with German Romantic racial theories and lots of spurious science to construct an ideology of white superiority which, picked up by Ralph Waldo Emerson and other race-obsessed American intellectuals, quickly became an essential component of the nation’s uniquely racialized discourse about who could be considered an American. Presenting vivid psychological portraits of Emerson and dozens of other figures variously famous and obscure, and carefully mapping the links between them, Painter’s narrative succeeds as an engaging and sophisticated intellectual history, as well as an eloquent reminder of the fluidity (and perhaps futility) of racial categories. --Brendan Driscoll

Product Details

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Share your thoughts with other customers
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
272 of 315 people found the following review helpful
At first blush readers may be a bit off-put at a black woman writing a history of white people and the usual questions are likely to arise. But as a historian it is Nell Irvin Painter's job to transcend identities such as race and gender and to remain objective about her subject matter. There are many compelling arguments about the relative pros and cons of writing about a part of your identity or about an identity other than your own. Those arguments aside, Painter sets an ambitious goal of writing a history on the construct of the white race; the who, what, where, when, why and how of its origins, its evolution and change over time, and its greater societal significance and meaning to our present day and age. Rather than an angry diatribe against racism Painter seeks to provide a narrative of the evolution of white identity.

Painter begins in antiquity, a time in which race was not important so much as place; where you were from, a time of social hierarchy and class more so than racial consciousness. The disturbing truth is that class served more to define one's status and place than ethnicity or race for many centuries. Slavery, the great sin of any age, was racially colorblind in antiquity, and even in colonial America it was initially colorblind if indentured servitude is included. Painter guides readers through the evolution and construct of whiteness leading up to the harsh realities of the 19th Century, a time where whiteness took on further nuances, differences, and distinctions owing to increased immigration. It was a time when the Irish, Italians, Jews, and "others" were denigrated for their otherness; for not fitting the Anglo-Saxon ideal of whiteness.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
52 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good History of "Race" Theory January 8, 2011
By Xander
Apparently, some who have read this book misunderstand what the author's aim was. The goal of the book was to document the historical foundations of the term "race" and Anglo-Saxon racial theory, which began in Europe and gained supporters across the Pond here in the United States. She also made very clear at the beginning that the term "race" began in the 1800s and that scholars now recognize that people are ethnicities, not races.

I was very impressed by her thorough research into the lives of the people who created the theory of race. Yes, she does make a point to highlight that the main actors were Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic Nordics. So what? Yes, she's a black woman and yes she has a leftist viewpoint. But she would be less than competent as a historian if she had not pointed this out.

My only objection is that sometimes she gets bogged down in too much minutiae on the lives of the scholars she's describing. On the other hand, she also delves into the personal and collegial relationships of these race theorists to each other and that's interesting.

Very good book and well worth reading.
Was this review helpful to you?
156 of 195 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perspective March 25, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is very interesting to me that the fact that the author is Black gives readers pause or prompts a question as to "why" she is writing about white people. Haven't white people (educators or otherwise) been writing about people of color throughout our history. No one ever seems to question their ability to articulate their research or the validity of their perspective.
Was this review helpful to you?
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So many shades of white November 11, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating book, scholarly and erudite, well researched and well documented by a respected historian. I was expecting something a great deal more angry and focused on white oppression of African Americans. That is apparently what a number of reviewers saw, so I was pleasantly surprised as well as instructed. I always wondered why white people are called `Caucasian'. Anyone who has had a few history courses will have known something about the craniometry craze in the late nineteenth century, but Dr. Painter draws it all together by showing who the influential scientists were and how they became spread the idea of seeing everything in racial terms through an imagined glorious, pure Saxon past. It was startling to see how deeply Ralph Waldo Emerson was involved. A description of the stunning amount of scholarship devoted to dividing up Europeans into races and ranking them according to `Saxon' cultural ideals of beauty while largely ignoring the rest of humanity occupies the first twenty-six chapters; relations with blacks do not come up until the last two short chapters (of 28). Measuring skulls and blathering on and on about some imagined Saxon golden age now seems daft and laughable, but it should be a continuing lesson to science. Many of these people saw that their data had problems but ignored the contradictions, and ignored even common sense. When they were taken up by the Nazi party and implemented into government policy, they were a contributing factor to the holocaust the Germans visited on Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, anyone perceived to be deficient breeding stock.

I was in university before black studies and had not even heard of white studies until I read this book.
Read more ›
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
35 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Look for some surprises here. May 10, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In current debates about immigration, not only in the USA but around the world, the dynamics of preference are rarely without an element of ethnic, racial or other cultural judgement in play. It is one of those areas of human interaction where perhaps, even knowing history well, we seem condemned to repeat it. In this masterful presentation, Nell Irvin Painter takes us through the history of the social construction we call "white people" or "whiteness." It is a frightening passage over stormy seas where the bark of human nature has yet to reach safe haven. Concepts of race may be long debunked from a scientific perspective, but their historical and continuing impact on human thinking and social structures is very real. Their story has rarely been examined so thoroughly from the perspective of dominant culture as it is in this volume.

A History of White People provides a coherent chronology of the creation, propagation and defense of "whiteness." At the same time it clears up common misconceptions about the targets of racism. For example, despite the fact that that the term "race" is likely to generate an image of the oppression of people of color resulting from the African slave trade and colonialism, this is in reality only one manifestation of racial patterning in a very long story of how difference has been identified and exploited. Whiteness is about superiority and belonging, the creation and defense of privilege, and above all, the shaping of an ideology that has penetrated social structures, politics, economics, colonialism and warfare.

While beginning her overview in classical times, Painter soon moves into the heart of the story, the development of the concepts of race and beauty in European thinking since the Renaissance.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, essential reading if you want to understand the human...
A graduate level course physical anthropology. Cultural anthropology, which is what most people are taught, is more the study of what people wished had happened. Read more
Published 9 days ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
I enjoyed this read immensely. The history and research offered here was great.
Please consider reading this detailed work. Great read.
Published 22 days ago by AB
4.0 out of 5 stars Brisk, accessible and well-researched
Irvin-Painter's wide-angle lens, deep research and elegant though unpretentious prose illuminates a strain of American racial thought as potent as it is widely unknown.
Published 25 days ago by Alex M. Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Good investment!
Read this book several times and purchased it for a cousin. Good investment!
Published 2 months ago by Raymond W. Cunningham
5.0 out of 5 stars The History Of White people.
Great book, very thought provoking. It makes me realize that sometimes we accept social constructs as if there a reality. We never question them.
Published 2 months ago by bashiir Abdulmumin
5.0 out of 5 stars READ IT PEOPLE!
A must read for everyone especially those who are confused about race relations
Published 2 months ago by cameraman
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a must read if you believe that there is such a thing as a...
This book is a must read if you are interested in 'race' and how it functions in world society in general. Read more
Published 2 months ago by A. Lewis II
1.0 out of 5 stars Vile racism
This book is just a disgusting, hate-filled racist tirade against white people. All right thinking people should shun the works of such odious bigots.
Published 5 months ago by Tommy Tank
5.0 out of 5 stars Great historical detail, falls short in analysis
I gave this book 5 stars for its wealth of anti-racist information, though I have some reservations about Painter's analysis. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Molly
5.0 out of 5 stars must read
Excellent history of he evolution of race as a concept and whiteness. Strongly recommend. Warning: Will make racist heads explode.
Published 5 months ago by Ajagbe Adewole
Search Customer Reviews

More About the Author

Nell Irvin Painter is the award-winning author of many books, including Sojourner Truth, Southern History Across the Color Line, Creating Black Americans, The History of White People, and Standing at Armageddon. She is currently the Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, at Princeton University and lives in Newark, New Jersey.

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?


There are no discussions about this product yet.
Be the first to discuss this product with the community.
Start a new discussion
First post:
Prompts for sign-in

Look for Similar Items by Category