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The History of White People
Cover of The History of White People
The History of White People
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A New York Times bestseller: "This terrific new book . . . [explores] the 'notion of whiteness,' an idea as dangerous as it is seductive."—Boston GlobeTelling perhaps the most important forgotten story in American history, eminent historian Nell Irvin Painter guides us through more than two thousand years of Western civilization, illuminating not only the invention of race but also the frequent praise of "whiteness" for economic, scientific, and political ends. A story filled with towering historical figures, The History of White People closes a huge gap in literature that has long focused on the non-white and forcefully reminds us that the concept of "race" is an all-too-human invention whose meaning, importance, and reality have changed as it has been driven by a long and rich history of events.

A New York Times bestseller: "This terrific new book . . . [explores] the 'notion of whiteness,' an idea as dangerous as it is seductive."—Boston GlobeTelling perhaps the most important forgotten story in American history, eminent historian Nell Irvin Painter guides us through more than two thousand years of Western civilization, illuminating not only the invention of race but also the frequent praise of "whiteness" for economic, scientific, and political ends. A story filled with towering historical figures, The History of White People closes a huge gap in literature that has long focused on the non-white and forcefully reminds us that the concept of "race" is an all-too-human invention whose meaning, importance, and reality have changed as it has been driven by a long and rich history of events.

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About the Author-
  • Nell Irvin Painter is the award-winning author of many books, including Sojourner Truth, Southern History Across the Color Line, Creating Black Americans, The History of White People, and Standing at Armageddon. She is currently the Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, at Princeton University and lives in Newark, New Jersey, and the Adirondacks.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 14, 2009
    Who are white people and where did they come from? Elementary questions with elusive, contradictory, and complicated answers set historian Painter’s inquiry into motion. From notions of whiteness in Greek literature to the changing nature of “white” identity ”in direct response to Malcolm X and his black power successors,” Painter’s wide-ranging response is a who’s who of racial thinkers and a synoptic guide to their work. Her commodious history of an idea accommodates Caesar; Saint Patrick, “history’s most famous British slave of the early medieval period”; Madame de Staël; and Emerson, “the philosopher king of American white race theory.” Painter (Sojourner Truth
    ) reviews the diverse cast in their intellectual milieus, linking them to one another across time and language barriers. Conceptions of beauty (“ideals of white beauty firmly embedded in the science of race”), social science research, and persistent North/South stereotypes prove relevant to defining whiteness. “What we can see,” the author observes, “depends heavily on what our culture has trained us to look for.” For the variable, changing, and often capricious definition of whiteness, Painter offers a kaleidoscopic lens.

  • Library Journal [I]ntriguing and well researched. This is an important addition to the nascent academic field of whiteness studies, which examines the social construction of whiteness with particular attention to the American experience. It should be read by all historians and anyone with an interest in cultural studies.
  • Linda Gordon;The New York Times Book Review An insightful and lively exposition from a distinguished scholar.
  • Alan Nadel;Philadelphia Inquirer Compelling, energetic, [and] highly readable.
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