Manhattan Institute scholar Abigail Thernstrom offers the best book available on minority voting rights and racial gerrymandering. Her study begins in the Jim Crow South, where blacks were routinely denied the right to vote through a sinister combination of racist intimidation and the unfair application of literacy tests. Thernstrom describes not only the urgent need for the 1965 Voting Rights Act to correct this problem, but also how amendments in the 1970s and '80s perverted this law's original purpose and turned the Voting Rights Act into a tool for race-conscious patronage politics. Although the book does not take account of the Supreme Court's most recent decisions on this subject (for an update, see chapter 16 of Thernstrom's excellent America in Black and White
), it remains far and away the best on the topic.
The book is fascinating-powerfully argued, richly documented, fair and respectful to those who disagree. Not only is the scholarship excellent, but the public policy questions Thernstrom raises are important questions that deserve to be debated in public. (Aaron Wildavsky University of California at Berkeley and past president of the American Political Science Association
Thernstrom maneuvers successfully between the civil rights ideology and the requirements of democratic politics. She sustains a strong concern for the struggles of American blacks while conceding very little to the affirmative action or electoral quota position. Exactly right. This is a sad story, well told, well analyzed, with the right combination of strong criticism and moral sympathy (Michael Walzer The Institute for Advanced Study Princeton
This book is a perfect event. Nothing else in print provides the level of scholarship, balance, and perspective so conspicuous in this treatment. It avoids the disfigurement of advocacy scholarship. It is extremely clear-eyed and complete. Its overall development, its integration of case law of internal Washington administrative trends, of demographics, of Capitol politics, civil rights sociology, etc.--all are important pieces. This book cuts across disciplinary lines successfully, as previous writing has failed to do. It is necessarily the 'standard work' for anyone seriously interested in the politics, law, and modern history of the Voting Rights Act. (William Van Alstyne Perkins Professor of Law, School of Law, Duke University