Sunday, March 01, 2009

Books on American history: 5 best

Gordon Wood, a professor of history emeritus at Brown University and the author, most recently, of The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History, named a five best list of books on American history for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on his list:
White Over Black
by Winthrop D. Jordan
University of North Carolina, 1968

Although the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and early 1960s obviously lay behind Winthrop D. Jordan's "White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812," the book is not a polemic; it magnificently transcends the passions and racial turmoil of its day. Jordan showed that racism in America arose in a complicated manner, developing out of a complex cycle of degradation over several centuries. He subtly explored white ideas of black sexuality and physiology and helped to make sense of the sources of biologically based racism in early 19th-century America. Although the book has nothing to say about black attitudes, it is one of the most important historical works of the past 40 years, contributing to the cultural shift in white thinking that made possible the election of President Barack Obama.
Read about Number One on Wood's list.

--Marshal Zeringue