Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland” as Want to Read:
American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America)

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating Details ·  264 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews
As the birthplace of the Black Panthers and a nationwide tax revolt, California embodied a crucial motif of the postwar United States: the rise of suburbs and the decline of cities, a process in which black and white histories inextricably joined. American Babylon tells this story through Oakland and its nearby suburbs, tracing both the history of civil rights and black po ...more
Paperback, 408 pages
Published August 28th 2005 by Princeton University Press (first published October 13th 2003)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about American Babylon, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about American Babylon

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Sep 22, 2011 Jasonrhodes71 rated it it was amazing
lily-white suburbs & cash-strapped inner cities as the result of a multi-trillion dollar federal program of real estate subsidies, in which white homeowners play the role of welfare queens while loans are permitted to flow everywhere blacks aren't. for several decades, property values rise as a result of massive subsidies. for the majority of whites, this results in an identity of "homeowner," which trumps any conception of citizenship or social class. the white racism which is maintained, s ...more
Sara Salem
Aug 11, 2016 Sara Salem rated it really liked it
Very interesting book on the history of race and property and urban space in the Bay Area. Shows how segregation was/is a conscious policy pursued by white business and the white population until today. His focus on private property and how Californians understand citizenship and personhood through owning property is fascinating and makes a lot of sense.
Michael Brickey
Jan 18, 2009 Michael Brickey rated it it was amazing
This book may be one of the most influential books in my understanding of the economic and political motivations for the process of suburbanization. Amidst the homogenized suburbanization of the Bay Area, Self accounts for the existence of la colonias in the outskirts, and describes the rise of the Black Panther Party in the city itself. Self's analysis of the development of suburbs through tax-based incentives reveals much about American politics in addition to describing the spatialization of ...more
Nov 30, 2016 Noah rated it it was ok
People have been recommending this to me for ages, but I just couldn't get into it. I suppose there's just no reason to read a dissertation book if you don't have to, and especially if you're on the subway, but I thought that understanding a peripheral industrial port city would be interesting while commuting into Newark (a comparison that Self makes too). But at the end of the day, I just think there's not enough new in there and too much Marxobabble. For example, he says that he's bringing tog ...more
David Bates
Apr 17, 2013 David Bates rated it it was amazing
Robert O. Self’s 2003 study of Oakland, American Babylon, makes many of the same connections. Following the history of Oakland from the 1940s through 1978, Self argues that the Black Power Movement and the Conservative Movement evolved in tandem as political manifestations of the underlying contest between predominantly black inner city residents and white suburbanites. Plans during the 1940s to turn Oakland into an industrial garden with good living conditions and shared prosperity foundered on ...more
Jun 04, 2014 Elise rated it really liked it
I imagine I'll return to this book often, particularly the sections on fair housing, an emerging interest of mine. The author traces the economic decline of cities and the concurrent development of suburbs in the East Bay during the 1940s-1970s, arguing that what has become commonly understood as 'White flight' was not only racially, but also economically motivated. Indeed, residential racial segregation between Oakland and its suburbs was largely facilitated by the real estate industry, which h ...more
Apr 13, 2007 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cities, geography
The industrial garden vision, created by postwar metropolitan boosters and maintained for decades after, relies upon two particularly modern orderings: spatial classification and social regulation. The details of the dream changed over time, and between different people and groups. But in its broad, postwar conception, the dream has two dimensions: “class harmony in pastoral cities,” (9) and an “endless horizon of upward social mobility” (8). The mechanisms which planted and fertilized this indu ...more
Feb 02, 2011 Kb rated it really liked it
Like Sugrue's comparable study of Detroit, Self traces Oakland's urban crisis back decades before the the violence of the late sixties to the idealized days of postwar prosperity. Self's approach traces the flow of capital within spaces as a measure of power and privilege. Of key importance was the municipal political structure that firmly kept power in the hands of conservative business interests at the expense of an increasingly frustrated African American community. One of the strengths of th ...more
Stuart Woolf
Apr 26, 2014 Stuart Woolf rated it liked it
Finding a good book on Oakland's history, especially its recent history, has proven to be something of a needle-in-haystack endeavor. A friend recommended this book to me, warning it was a little academic, and possibly intended for grad students.

While I did learn a few things about Oakland and appreciated the book's analysis of historical processes (as opposed to, say, the decisions of Big Men), I felt it was light on concrete information (or was, at the very least, written in a style that down
Sara Sunshine
Mar 04, 2015 Sara Sunshine rated it really liked it
Painfully slow going at some points due to the dry, heavily academic language. I found myself wishing a livelier writer had tackled this project.

But there is so much good information packed in here, on race, labor, politics, economics, redevelopment, segregation, tax policies, civil rights battles, etc. A lot of the conclusions Self draws apply well beyond Oakland's borders. I can tell this book is going to influence the way I see the Bay Area, California and beyond for a long time to come.
Jo Anne
Jun 16, 2015 Jo Anne rated it really liked it
I have to agree with other reviewers about the dry academic language. I cringed every time I read the words laborite and normative. However, the book has so much information that I persevered and I am glad I did. If you live in the Bay Area, this book will make you understand why out physical space is laid out the way it is and why the cities of the region are the way they are.
Aug 15, 2015 Jakki rated it liked it
Shelves: social-justice
I confess that I read only part of this book before it was due at the library, but I loved learning about the historical race and class divides in Oakland and the East Bay. It sheds light on the way these issues still play out here, and is also rather depressing when you realize how little we've advanced since the 1940s-60s. An important read for understanding social justice issues in Oakland!
Rob Mcbride
Oct 20, 2013 Rob Mcbride rated it it was amazing
As a recent transplant from SF to Oakland, I found this to be an invaluable introduction to my new home. And Self makes it clear that this means not just Oakland, but the whole East Bay. Detailed and a little dry, but not terribly so. Excellent maps and photos.
Oct 25, 2009 Rebecca marked it as abandoned-ship
Linda was right. Way academic. Not exactly dry, but so focused on analyzing "metaphors for urban space" or whatever his lens is that you have to squint to find actual information! Is it too much to ask for a little history in my history books?
Michael Meloy
Aug 10, 2009 Michael Meloy rated it really liked it
great introduction to the east bay landscape, urban life and impact of the "industrial garden." Anyone interested in Prop. 14 and Prop. 13 should read. In other words, if living in California, read.
Mar 26, 2009 Jess rated it liked it
It can be a little tedious to get through but brings up excellent points and discussion topics on how race is placed upon people to subjugate them.
Self looks at the history of the civil rights and black power movements, and of the rise of the new right/anti-tax movement using a single city as a case study. A fascinating read.
Aug 25, 2015 Laura rated it really liked it
Dense, but super informative and well-researched. Great insight into how segregation was perpetuated by local, state and federal government policy.
Catherine M
Jun 04, 2012 Catherine M rated it really liked it
Victor and my other East Bay friends, you should check this book out! It's a history of urban development and racial segregation in Oakland and the Oakland suburbs that I think you will really like.
Aug 14, 2012 Llew added it
A great intro, but the bulk of the text is dry labor history details that don't tie in with the intro. Good as a historical reference text, but maybe not great for the lay reader.
Sean Broesler
Apr 23, 2009 Sean Broesler rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a continuing inspiration to me. Its focus on the spatial aspects of historical change is crucial to forming a thoroughgoing analysis.
Derek Fenner
Derek Fenner rated it really liked it
Aug 12, 2013
Jun rated it it was ok
Sep 13, 2013
Arif Tekin
Arif Tekin rated it it was amazing
Sep 19, 2016
Denzparkjikyung rated it liked it
Jan 15, 2012
Anne rated it really liked it
Oct 04, 2007
6655321 rated it really liked it
Jul 25, 2012
Laura rated it really liked it
Apr 08, 2014
Susan rated it really liked it
Jul 09, 2011
jeffrey rated it liked it
Dec 11, 2015
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939
  • Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America
  • Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy
  • The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit
  • Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism
  • Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, And The Black Working Class
  • Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right
  • The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America
  • Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920
  • Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States
  • To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise
  • Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age
  • Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race
  • Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan
  • Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California
  • Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class
  • Homeward Bound: American Families In The Cold War Era
  • The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War

Other Books in the Series

Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America (1 - 10 of 44 books)
  • Americans at the Gate: The United States and Refugees During the Cold War
  • Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century
  • Changing the World: American Progressives in War and Revolution
  • Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for the Next Silicon Valley
  • Civil Defense Begins at Home: Militarization Meets Everyday Life in the Fifties
  • Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy
  • Dead on Arrival: The Politics of Health Care in Twentieth-Century America
  • Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink
  • Defending America: Military Culture and the Cold War Court-Martial
  • Divided We Stand: American Workers and the Struggle for Black Equality

Share This Book