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The House I Live In: Race in the American Century Hardcover – February 1, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195073452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195073454
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.4 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,500,053 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Marion H. Smith on February 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The House I Live In is a history of race relations in "the American Century." I found Dr. Norrell's book to be fascinating, well written and surprisingly objective. Dr. Norrell gets very deeply into this problem that has baffled politicians and academics in a way that is interesting to read; and, at the same time, he offers observations that seem genuine, in contrast to most writers, who seem to have a pre-determined objective.

If you have an interest in history or just want to read an interesting book, I recommend this book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Guy W. Hubbs on February 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When I learned that Robert J. Norrell had published a new history of race in the twentieth century, I eagerly ordered a copy. I was not disappointed, for it's a terrific book.

Certainly I expected a good read. After all, Norrell's earlier history of Tuskegee, "Reaping the Whirlwind," won the Robert Kennedy Prize in part because of its elegant writing. So, too, "The House I Live In" has plenty of nicely turned phrases and a finely tuned sense of narrative. This is especially evident in the first two thirds of the book, a gripping tale of the familiar events and personalities that led up to the triumph of the Civil Rights movement in 1965. Norrell occasionally departs from the traditional interpretation: Booker T. Washington is treated with sympathy, for example, while the Cold War is credited with delaying integration. This part of "The House I Live In" is a drama of high-minded heroes, despicable villains, bloodied martyrs, and exciting events. If Norrell had chosen to end the book here, then it would have gone down as one of the best syntheses of the struggle for racial justice.

But the book takes an abrupt turn in Part Three, "The Meaning of Equality, 1965-2000." Norrell continues his narrative, but the underlying theme of conflicting values now takes center stage. Norrell believes that values are of critical importance and that when they conflict, America has divided and suffered. He rightly notes that the tragedies of the late twentieth century arose when one ideal was purchased by destroying another: when quotas promising to provide one race more opportunities excluded qualified applicants of another race, or when busing aiming to give some a better education destroyed others' sense of community.

Part Three will bring out the detractors.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Court on July 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
To tell the story of race in America as it unfolds over a span of one-hundred years is a daunting enough task for anyone. Yet Robert J. Norrell does so compellingly. This is a thoughtful, disturbingly honest, insightful and comprehensive book.

A convergence of influences created the conditions that finally enabled the struggle for civil rights to succeed to the extent that it has. Expanded my understanding considerably while also giving me a visceral sense of the struggle.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on March 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a dispassionate look at race relations in the United States from the end of the Civil War through the eyes of a professional historian. It has certainly not been a pretty picture all the time. But on the hole these hundred and fifty years offer a fairly positive message.

We are a long way from the institutionalized segregated legal system and the Klan of the end of the 1800's. The struggle for racial equality has been long and not always smooth, but the trend line is upward through all of this time. The conclusion reached, I think correctly, is that race relations in this country look more promising than every before.

There were two points that I think were not stressed enough in this book.

First is the fact that the civil rights movement of the late 60's accomplished such a large number of things, and did so without anywhere the violence that could have happened. It's one of the better things the United States Government has done, ever.

Second, the author doesn't mention the role of the Army in race relations. From just after the Civil War when employment was so low among blacks, the Buffalo Soldiers offered jobs, even a career. During the Korean war Truman issued an executive order abolishing segregation in the Army. No fancy laws, no court battles, the Army was not the American society, all it took was one executive order. The end result of this, of course, was Colin Powell.

Good History of Our Time.
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