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Barbarian Virtues


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About the Author

Matthew Frye Jacobson, a professor of American Studies at Yale, is the author of Whiteness of a Different Color and Special Sorrows. He lives in New York City.


A sense of moral outrage simmers throughout Barbarian Virtues, an outrage that tacitly informs Jacobson's exploration of U.S. attitudes toward immigration and foreign policy (which he sees as two sides of the same coin) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but which is kept from boiling over until the last page. There, Jacobson concludes: "Despite some opposition, the United States consciously chose imperial power along with the antidemocratic baggage and even the bloodshed that entailed; and many Americans liked it." This is not really news. But Jacobson, a professor of American Studies at Yale and author of Whiteness of a Different Color, does have an interesting thesis: at a time when America depended on nonwhite foreigners as both reliable consumers of American products abroad and industrious workers in the U.S., it also reviled them as "primitives" in need of civilization and as potential threats to the national order. The strength of his book is the wealth of evidence it provides; referring to a wide range of documentation--from journalism to literature, political rhetoric to pseudo-scientific studies, Tarzan to Teddy Roosevelt--Jacobson explores every conceivable nuance of his thesis. He might have written a book with far greater resonance, however, had he devoted more than a few pages to sketching out how his thesis also applies to America today. Still, Jacobson succeeds in presenting an analysis of a crucial period in the development of American identity as forged in the simultaneous "crucible of immigration" at home and "empire-building" abroad. 24 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Though the growth and prosperity of the United States was made possible by the labor of immigrants and the availability of external markets, foreigners have often been viewed by Americans with ambivalence. In this study, Jacobson (American studies, Yale), the author of Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (LJ 11/1/98) and other works exploring race and the immigrant experience, examines complex political and social views during a period of explosive immigration and overseas expansion. By considering a wide variety of contemporary sources such as newspapers, novels, academic treatises, and political writings, he discovers attitudes that offer striking similarities to those still voiced by politicians and political action groups in the latter part of the 20th century. Based upon a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, this readable and thoughtful work is recommended for large academic libraries.--Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

"A thoughtful analysis of America's uneasy relationship with foreignness." --Kirkus Reviews "An excellent look at an aspect of U.S. history not often discussed or studied." --Vanessa Bush, Booklist

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