Meg's Reviews > The History of White People

The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter
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's review
Dec 05, 10

bookshelves: race-and-racism, history
Read in December, 2010

An extremely thorough investigation into the history of white people applying racial classification theories to other white people. Really puts things into perspective - for example, check out this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
"If all our nice friends in Beacon Street, and Newport, and Fifth Avenue, and Philadelphia, have one child, or no child at all, while all the Finnegans, Hooligans, Antonios, Mandelbaums and Rabinskis have eight, or nine, or ten - it's simply a question of the multiplication table. How are you going to get away from it?" (253)
Sound familiar? Very reminiscent of the kinds of things people are saying about Latinos in the current immigration debates. It was a major relief to finally get to the chapter on Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict dissenting from all the ridiculous racial classification theories in vogue at the time.

The book is long and detailed; not recommended for slow readers! The author is incredibly well researched in a wide variety of disciplines and historical periods. Wow. At times I thought she got a little too caught up in biographical details; I appreciated her obvious interest in her subjects, but it was more information than I wanted.

I was kind of entertained by the way the author used footnotes to include things that are not especially relevant, but that she couldn't resist including, like this one (my favorite footnote):
"In his preface Ripley says that his wife performed such 'a goodly share' of the book's preparation that he wanted to include her name on the title page. This did not occur." (p. 213)
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Will (new)

Will Oh - I heard this woman on the radio - fascinating. I remember thinking I should pick it up for you at the time.

message 2: by Louise (new)

Louise Isn't all history about white people? Oh snap.

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