From Publishers Weekly
What interests Norrell (Reaping the Whirlwind: The Civil Rights Movement in Tuskegee) first and foremost is not the history of race or racism in America, but the ways that race functions as a sociologically significant variable alongside "class...and political power in the social order." And so, although this book is about race in 20th-century America, it views race on the whole as a secondary phenomenon: a highly symbolic and visual category that is affected by-more often than it affects-other, more fundamental ones such as wages, living space and status. On the one hand, this sociological focus allows Norrell to find meaning in tragedies such as Bloody Sunday or the race riots of the '60s and '70s. He views them within the context of larger trajectories in American political and social development (such as the shift of authority from states to the federal government, the growth of the neoconservative movement and the changing shape of American industry), not simply as the unfortunate by-products of isolated racial conflicts. On the other hand, his sociological emphasis downplays individual contributions to events and makes moral judgment ancillary to the book's purpose. Readers with strong ideological commitments on the issues he tackles may have a hard time considering race in America from Norrell's more detached viewpoint. Be that as it may, and aside from the cursory treatment some central figures receive (Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey are mentioned only in passing), this work provides a thorough, if at times dry, overview of the complexities of America's racial, social and political topography.
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This scholarly yet vital book will add value to any public library's holdings in the area of race relations in the U.S. Professor Norrell sets as his task a wide but trenchant--and certainly fresh--accounting of whites' interaction with blacks, and vice versa. His study of the basic ideologies that have given form and substance to American race relations rests on the premise that security and status are what Americans most strive for in life and, further, that "whites' pursuit of superior status over blacks provides the most basic explanation for the relentless discrimination and exploitation of African Americans in the United States." As a comprehensive history and analysis of the civil rights movement should do, Norrell's broadens the usual time dimensions, extending itself back to the Civil War and reaching to the end of the twentieth century. The greatest strength of this very solid book is the author's new appraisals of such important figures in race relations as Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King. Brad HooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved