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Iron Cages : Race and Culture in 19th-Century America [Paperback]

Ronald Takaki
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 9, 2000 019513737X 978-0195137378 Revised
Now in a new edition, Iron Cages provides a unique comparative analysis of white American attitudes toward Asians, blacks, Mexicans, and Native Americans in the 19th century. This pathbreaking work offers a cohesive study of the foundations of race and culture in America. In a new epilogue, Takaki argues that the social health of the United States rests largely on the ability of Americans of all races and cultures to build on an established and positive legacy of cross-cultural cooperation and understanding in the coming 21st century. Observing that by 2050 all Americans will be minorities, Takaki urges us to ask ourselves: Will America fulfill the promise of equality or will America retreat into its "iron cages" and resist diversity, allowing racial conflicts to divide and possibly even destroy America as a nation? Incisive and provocative, Iron Cages is an essential resource for students of ethnic history and important reading for anyone interested in the history of race relations in America.

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Editorial Reviews


"Suitable for surveys and advanced courses in Ethnic and social history, this book has important revelations for our 21st century students. It tells of paths taken and abandoned, lessons learned and ignored, and consequences. A thought provoker."--Stuart Knee, College of Charleston

About the Author

Ronald Takaki is at University of California, Berkeley.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Revised edition (March 9, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019513737X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195137378
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.3 x 12.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #434,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

My grandfather emigrated from Japan to work on the cane fields of Hawaii in 1886, and my mother was born on the Hawi Plantation. As a teenager growing up on Oahu, I was not academically inclined but was actually a surfer. During my senior year, I took a religion course taught by Dr. Shunji Nishi, a Japanese American with a Ph.D. I remember going home and asking my mother, who only had an eighth-grade education: "Mom, what's a Ph.D.?" She answered: "I don't know but he must be very smart." Dr. Nishi became a role model for me, and he arranged for me to attend the College of Wooster. There my fellow white students asked me questions like: "How long have you been in this county? Where did you learn to speak English?" They did not see me as a fellow American. I did not look white or European in ancestry. As a scholar, I have been seeking to write a more inclusive and hence more accurate history of Americans, Chicanos, Native Americans as well as certain European immigrant groups like the Irish and Jews. My scholarship seeks not to separate our diverse groups but to show how our experiences were different but they were not disparate. Multicultural history, as I write and present it, leads not to what Schlesinger calls the "disuniting of America" but rather to the re-uniting of America.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant study June 19, 2001
By "dena7"
Professor Takaki picks up where Max Weber left off, in that he illustrates how white men of means - those "culture makers" of early American society, effectively raised the American level of technical rationalization to not only oppress Africans, Asians, Mexicans, and Native Americas, but how that heightened level of rationalization ultimately subsumed those "culture makers" themselves. (He briefly illustrates how this animus was turned toward women in helping to define what white men were not.) He connects the ascendency of technical rationalization to the rationalization employed by a religious ethic that stresses religious salvation through work and the suppression of natural instincts. His study is not accusatory; it is illustrative.
By use of diaries and works culled from the deepest annals of history, Professor Takaki points out and points to the vulnerability, ambivalence, befuddlement and powerlessness felt and experienced by the founding fathers, who looked to build a moral nation - one not mirroring the licentiousness and dissipation of Great Britain. The very mores, however, advanced by the founding fathers, in twisted and convoluted turns, gave rise to the very "profligacy" and "luxury" that threatened the infant nation. It is from this point forward where the Professor effectively links the oppression of black slavery to other forms of white racial animus experienced by those groups not labeled, or hesitantly so, as white and particularly male.
Joel Kovel's White Racism: A Psychohistory is both a good and interesting follow-up read.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars racism January 21, 1999
By A Customer
Takaki explores race and it relation to the economic intent of the majority. He uses people such as Thomas Jefferson, Dr. Rush, Roosevelt, and others to illustrate differing ideas in dealing with the race problems. Excelent book for those who want to understand where racist ideals originated from and how these same ideals are still played out today.
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Ronald Takaki did a great job in this book. What first hit me was his analysis of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. I had learned about Moby Dick and had read about Moby Dick. I even read the novel. I had very much enjoyed other novels by Melville but was not all that keen on Moby Dick. But Takaki made a connection between Meville's Moby Dick and my education in philosophy, history and the social sciences. After that I suddenly "saw" why Moby Dick may be considered to be THE great American novel. It is a critique of many aspects of the worst parts of American ideology, including a kind of repression discussed by Norman O. Brown (1959) in Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History. But in addition to having insightful "psychoanalytic" accounts of the lives of a number of eminent American men who we have mostly forgotten about (e.g. Alfred Thayer Mahan) Takaki also does something I have rarely seen in books about ethnicity and race, He clearly links racism and xenophobia with the sociological study of the relationship between "history" and "biography" (C. Wright Mills' The Sociological Imagination). I believe that perhaps this book has fallen off the radar of "sociological theory" in sociology and "social theory" in cultural studies because Takaki became known primarily for his studies of ethnicity per se. But this may be his basic "theoretical" book. I found insights here that were inter-connected in ways I have never seen them linked together before. I first bought the book (used) because of the title. I am a big fan of Max Weber and have written about Weber's ideal type analysis of bureaucracy, etc. Read more ›
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