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74 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2001
This is an excellent multi-cultural account of American history. Takaki focuses on the perspectives of many different cultural groups, providing several interesting, unique and sometimes sobering stories of America's history. After reading this book, you may find yourself feeling cheated by your grade school history lessons. This work is fair, honest, and *VERY* well documented, with endnote references on almost every page.
I don't believe Takaki has a score to settle with this book. Nor do I believe he is racist or *overly* slanted, but I can see how some might feel that way. His focus on nontraditional perspectives seems to me an effort to balance the scale a bit by emphasizing the viewpoints, stories and facts that have been under-emphasized in the past. Perspectives include those of the Irish, Japanese, blacks, Native Americans, and others as various times throughout American history. To me, Takaki does a very good job of putting the reader in the mindset of the people at a certain place and time.
Stories in this book are not sugar-coated, which may at times be unsettling, but the facts and research that back the stories up are indisputable. Takaki uses many direct quotes and indirect references to underscore his points. His accounts are credible, believable and educational. This book should be required reading in all high schools, but should not be considered a replacement for traditional American history texts. It is more a book about cultural perspectives in history than about historical facts. As an example, Takaki will devote many pages to very specific events in history to catch a specific cultural perspective, while completely glazing over many larger and arguably more historically significant timeframes.
The book is a good read, but because of several references, chapters should probably be read in order. For example, at the start of the book Takaki sets up the story of Shakespeare's Tempest as a point of comparison throughout. (It was tempting to me to skip around, since each perspective seems well encapsulated in a chapter.)
I hope you enjoy it!
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40 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 1999
I was introduced to Takaki as an undergrad in Louisiana, reintroduced as a gaduate in New York, and again as a Graduate Assistant in Ohio. I don't believe my instructors in three states could all be wrong. Takaki does what many American writers seem to be wary of doing: putting the emphasis where it belongs. The multicultural history of this country has been based on little more than exploitation. It doesn't necessarity matter who it was being done to, because it had similar results with nearly each minority group. One thing I have to teach my conservative, mid-Western students is to move beyond the "white guilt" many Americans seem to suffer from in order to see that the oppression minorities were victim to was a systematic process based on totalitarian ideals, and not some inherent white evil. I believe by presenting the information the way Takaki has, he allows readers to read a multifaceted version of American history (not the myopic, one dimensional history taught in American schools) that effectively places different groups within a specific time and place in history. If you are not afraid to read some truth about America (without the artificiality of "Pomp and Circumstance"), this is for you. This book does not make America out to be the melting pot it wishes it were. I will teach this book in my future classes.
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50 of 63 people found the following review helpful
Publishers Weekly called this, "a brilliant revisionist history of America that is likely to become a classic of multicultural studies." I would totally agree if they would have only added the word "biased" to their list of adjectives. This book has a strong anti-Anglo bias from cover to cover. As a history text it offers an extremely limited scope. It is an historical account of how the racist Anglos persecuted all non-Anglos through American history.
That doesn't mean it shouldn't be read. I never give out ***** without reason.
For non-Anglos this book should be read for the comfort it offers. At last someone has found the courage to tell the story of those who came from the margins of society. I am white. My heritage traces predominantly from Native American (Cherokee) and Irish indentured servitude stock. The book was informative concerning my heritage.
For Anglos this book should be read to help remove cultural blinders. Such a book can be threatening, but it has the potential to expand our universes way beyond the scope of monocultural prejudice. Books such as this help us to better understand where our brothers and sisters of other cultures are coming from.
FOR EVERYONE, this book should be read to understand the past, NOT keep alive prejudice for another generation. My prayer is that a day will come when we have the ability to scale the walls of blindness and forgive the offenses of the past. I would like to see a new world when we are neither ruled by bigotry or guilt.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2005
The author's writing is excellent, well researched and documented. It starts out with a "spring board" analogy from Shakespeare, showing how we can all be prone to prejudgement of someone whom we don't understand. From this we get the story of many of America's ethnic minorities, showing what a many portions of each ethnic group experienced.

I was assigned this book for a diverstiy class that I had to take in college. Too often authors will try and make whites out to be the devil. Takaki doesn't. If one understands this books to be an incomplete history (the history of minorities), then they can understand that it compliments dead-white dude's history well. Students of history need to make sure they are versed in both.

The books only limit is that he cannot show the diversity within certain ethnic groups. For example, not all members of a certain ethnic group bore the same experiences. Although limited in that sense, it would take volumes of books to tell the story of each ethnic group in each region. So I don't hold that against him. Plus -- I would like it if he would focus a little more on the friendships that occur between ethnic groups. Those examples which make us proud of our past and give us hope for the future.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2010
A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America
Review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

This is an absolutely fascinating, well-written, extremely well-documented book that is revised from the 1993 edition. If you are interested in multi-culturalism, you must read Takaki's book. When I say "well-documented," there are 71 pages of notes in this 529-page book. The index itself is 10 pages long. Takaki covers the cultural perspectives of the Irish, Japanese, blacks, Native Americans, and others as various times throughout American history, and what is great about the book is that he puts you, the reader, right into the mindset of the people he is discussing so you come away with some of the insights, feelings, and reactions of various people. This is a credible, believable, and educational work that makes an important and significant contribution to multicultural literature. The book is not a complete history, but what Takaki does is focus in-depth on a variety of events and issues that reveal the cultural perspective he is discussing. There are some people who may be offended by what Takaki writes, especially when he details some of the horrendous crimes the majority whites committed against minority races -- especially people who have read and believed what is written in many mainline required textbooks. Nicole, from Oxford, Ohio, explained this in her review of the book: "One thing I have to teach my conservative, mid-Western students is to move beyond the `white guilt' many Americans seem to suffer from in order to see that the oppression minorities were victim to was a systematic process based on totalitarian ideals, and not some inherent white evil. I believe by presenting the information the way Takaki has, he allows readers to read a multifaceted version of American history (not the myopic, one dimensional history taught in American schools) that effectively places different groups within a specific time and place in history. If you are not afraid to read some truth about America (without the artificiality of `Pomp and Circumstance'), this is for you." If you like American history, you will love this book.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2003
A Different Mirror is just that...a way for the majority culture to see itself. Without placing blame or guilt, Takaki discusses the principal ethnic groups whose roles in history have deeply affected the American experience. This is not to deny the validity of the experiences of other ethnic groups-- each has its unique story to tell. But the invasion of Native America, the enslavement of Africans, the betrayal of Mexicans, and the prejudicial treatment of the other groups mentioned are embedded in our national psyche and have to be exorcised before America as a society can begin to heal and to deal honestly with all of its separate ethnic parts. The "racialization of savagery" and demonizing of ethnic groups are valuable insights about intercultural interaction. A Different Mirror is a required text in my cultural diversity classes, though many students are uncomfortable with some of it, particularly the Mexican American chapters. Making members of the majority culture uncomfortable is part of what makes A Different Mirror effective. We need to be honest about our past so that we can ensure that our future as a multiethnic society makes it possible for all groups to be acknowledged and to contribute to the whole of who America is.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2001
Normally this isn't the sort of book that I would pick up , however I was assigned it for an environmental history class and had to in order to write several reflection papers on it. When I was done reading it, I must admit that I experienced a huge sense of White Man's Guilt, but at the same time I was elated that someone had bothered to collect such gruesome, no-holds-barred accounts of our country's beginnings. Too often we like to gloss over the darker parts in order to hold up a shining vision of what we have now. There are times when the stories are a bit excessive, and times where the information he gives is obviously just to disgust and turn the stomachs of those reading the book. I am sick and tired of being ashamed of my ancestors and their actions, but I also want to know what it was they did so that I will not repeat there mistakes. This book was the gateway to that knowledge. I'm forced to agree that Takaki does seem to subscribe to the idea that the white man is the devil. At the same time, however, he does an excellent job of discussing the background of those people he talks about, the historical events of the time, and the cultural influences that affect their mindset and behavior towards other cultures. He doesn't simply leave it hanging that the Native Americans were slaughtered , he goes in to detail why, what concepts were behind it, and the general psychology of the time that would allow those people to act in such a fashion. If one can get past Takaki's constant re-assertion that the original settlers were murderers and thieves, you find a fascinating study in sociology and man's relationship to the land as well as himself and other cultures. I fould it worthwhile to read for that information alone.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 30, 2007
If one were to write a history of any nation exclusively from the perspective of minority groups would it be a fair, complete and accurate portrait of that nation's story, character and culture? Probably not, but nonetheless you would have a penetrating look inside the world view of those who may get overlooked in the panoramic style of many history books. This is what you walk away with from Ronald Takaki's wonderful book `A Different Mirror'.

The book is somewhat dated considering many newly published American history books include the tales of blacks, women, Indians, Jews and even gays but `A Different Mirror' remains valuable because Takaki provides nuggets of information about the contributions of particular groups that aren't well know but are important and deserve acknowledgement.

A downside to this book, and it's serious, is that with the use of Shakespearean and other literary references, Takaki weaves a common thread of victimhood among all groups, suggesting that American society is nothing close to what it claims to be in the preamble of the Constitution. No society is perfect and though groups in America may have been exploited, America does not hold a monopoly on exploitation. Yet millions of minorities continue to rush into this nation for its distinct qualities that are rare and non-existent in other parts of the world. It would have enhanced Takaki's goal, which was to tell the stories of minority groups, if he didn't overlook the positive factors that compelled many to select this country.

If you want an introduction into American history this shouldn't be the only book you read, but `A Different Mirror' is enjoyable and highly recommended for anyone who wants to get a fuller picture of the American story.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2009
Being someone who is of mixed-racial heritage I found this book to be what I felt was missing from American history classes throughout my public school education. Looking around in any typical American classroom will show you a number of faces from around the world whose experiences are not reflected in the history they are taught.

Ronald Takaki takes an in depth look at the minority experience throughout American history starting with the arrival of European settles and how Native Americans were alienated in their own land down through the immigrant experiences of Afghans escaping the terrors of the war in their home country. Since this book does cover such a wide range of minority experiences, it covers each ethnic group briefly by showing what drove the immigrants to come to America, how they were treated by mainstream society, and how they endured or fought until they were able to gain rights as full citizens. Some of the stories you'll read in this book are heartbreaking as you read about how immigrants fought to protect American freedoms at the same time these freedoms were denied them. Personally, I was moved by the stories of Japanese-Americans who bravely fought in Italy and France during World War II to fight against the despotic and racist Nazi regime at the same time that the American government was keeping their families in internment camps in the desert. Of course Japanese-Americans were not the only minorities to shed their blood for freedom. Members of all races came together to defeat the Nazis. How could America continue to be a racist country when one of the very reasons that America was at war was to protect the freedom of all men. It is no wonder that the chains of racism began to break down after the war. Of course this has been a slow process and there is still much work to be done.

I recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn about a different perspective on American history. I especially recommend this to members of minority groups or to people of mixed racial heritage. Of course as Takaki points out in this book, in the near future everyone is going to be in a minority. What better way to celebrate American diversity than to read this book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2009
I read this book when it first came out and used it as a required reading for a number of undergraduate and graduate courses that I taught ever since. This is a U.S. history book like no other. Dr. Takaki introduced us to the narratives that have been silenced and ignored, all the while providing the historical contexts through which they were shaped, and in turn, helped shaping. Most importantly, this book helps us understand how we, as a country, came to see the issue of race and ethnicity in our particular way. This book is not preachy or dogmatic but lets the readers uncover what might be underneath the usual stories that are taken for granted as THE history of the U.S. by providing cogent narratives and analysis.
I just bought this book for my niece who just graduated from high school and think that it makes a great gift for young people as well as anyone who is interested in history.
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