Just Like Us: The American Struggle to Understand Foreigners

Thomas Borstelmann. Columbia Univ, $32 (272p) ISBN 978-0-231-19352-8
Borstelmann (The 1970s), a professor of modern world history at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, explores ”how Americans thought and think about non-Americans” in this incisive, pointillist account. Casting a critical eye on U.S. exceptionalism and the prioritization of individual rights over communal responsibilities, Borstelmann argues that the “absorptive, acquisitive individualism of American culture” has had “at least as subversive an effect” on the rest of the world (by undermining other countries’ values and depleting their talent pools), as immigration, communism, and other foreign influences have had on the U.S. Focusing on the post-WWII era, Borstelmann contends that the mainstream American viewpoint is simultaneously suspicious of foreigners and convinced that, deep-down, they’re no different than the average American: in essence, the natural state of humanity is to be American. He has a tendency to overgeneralize the American perspective, failing to break out the distinctive views of the religious right, for instance, and the chapter on the 2016 election (“the dramatic reappearance of an open, at least rhetorical hostility to people of color, particularly those born elsewhere”) is more muddled than the rest of the book. Nevertheless, this accessible and informative survey delivers a rich, discerning analysis of an essential aspect of American culture and politics. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 03/24/2020
Release date: 04/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 978-0-231-55035-2
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