An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy
by Gunnar Myrdal
Publication Date: Jan 31, 1996
List Price: $55.95
Format: Paperback, 936 pages
Imprint: Transaction Publishers
Publisher: Transaction Publishers
Parent Company: Transaction Publishers
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An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1st Edition, 1944, Harper & Brothers) is a study of race relations authored by Swedish Nobel-laureate economist Gunnar Myrdal and funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York. The foundation chose Myrdal because it thought that as a non-American, he could offer a more unbiased opinion. Myrdal’s volume, at nearly 1,500 pages, painstakingly detailed what he saw as obstacles to full participation in American society that American Negroes faced as of the 1940s. Ralph Bunche served as Gunnar Myrdal’s main researcher and writer at the start of the project in the Fall of 1938.
It sold over 100,000 copies and went through 25 printings before going into its second edition in 1965. It was enormously influential in how racial issues were viewed in the United States, and it was cited in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case “in general.” The book was generally positive in its outlook on the future of race relations in America, taking the view that democracy would triumph over racism. In many ways it laid the groundwork for future policies of racial integration and affirmative action.
In this landmark effort to understand African American people in the New World, Gunnar Myrdal provides deep insight into the contradictions of American democracy as well as a study of a people within a people. The title of the book, An American Dilemma, refers to the moral contradiction of a nation torn between allegiance to its highest ideals and awareness of the base realities of racial discrimination. The touchstone of this classic is the jarring discrepancy between the American creed of respect for the inalienable rights to freedom, justice, and opportunity for all and the pervasive violations of the dignity of blacks.
The appendices are a gold mine of information, theory, and methodology. Indeed, two of the appendices were issued as a separate work given their importance for systematic theory in social research. The new introduction by Sissela Bok offers a remarkably intimate yet rigorously objective appraisal of Myrdal—a social scientist who wanted to see himself as an analytic intellectual, yet had an unbending desire to bring about change. An American Dilemma is testimonial to the man as well as the ideas he espoused.
When it first appeared An American Dilemma was called “the most penetrating and important book on contemporary American civilization” by Robert S. Lynd; “One of the best political commentaries on American life that has ever been written” in The American Political Science Review; and a book with “a novelty and a courage seldom found in American discussions either of our total society or of the part which the Negro plays in it” in The American Sociological Review. It is a foundation work for all those concerned with the history and current status of race relations in the United States.
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