AMERICAN CRUCIBLE: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century

Gary Gerstle, Author AMERICAN CRUCIBLE: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century $29.95 (472p) ISBN 978-0-691-04984-7

Is America a wonderful melting pot in which the world's ethnicities and races can come together to form a vibrant new nation, or has the American dream become, in the words of Malcolm X, the American nightmare? The ideal of the multiracial, multicultural society has always been influenced dynamically by the competing, very potent ideal of America as a white, Protestant country. In this engrossing, powerfully argued study, Gerstle (Working-Class Americanism) shows how this struggle has shaped the past 100 years of U.S. life, society and politics. With a meticulous eye for detail, he moves deftly from quoting Theodore Roosevelt's desire for "hyphenated Americans" to become "Americans pure and simple" to a telling exegesis on how Superman comics represented a unique moment in the conceptualization of "the immigrant," specifically the Jewish immigrant, in popular culture. This ability to draw on a wide range of cultural artifacts and events—from Frank Capra films and the Rosenberg executions to the effect of the Black Power movement on African-American GIs in Vietnam—is matched by his portrayals of telling moments in U.S. history, such as when FDR's Jewish advisers urged him not to meet with a group of Orthodox rabbis who came to Washington in 1943 to ask for an end to "the destruction of European Jewry." Gerstle balances his critique of how often the U.S. has failed to live up to its melting pot ideal with a strong sense of fairness and an even stronger sense of the possibility for change. This informed and well-argued study is a strong addition to the literature on race, multiculturalism and citizenship in the U.S. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/26/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
Paperback - 472 pages - 978-0-691-10277-1
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