Book Review: The Disuniting of America

     The Disuniting of America, by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., is part philosophical, part political, part historical, part cultural critique, but all American like the theme which courses throughout this book, and resides within the heart and soul of what it means to be an American: E Plurbus Unum (out of many, one). As he states in the closing of his work, “The question America confronts as a pluralistic society is how to vindicate cherished cultures and traditions without breaking the bonds of cohesion – common ideals, common political institutions, common language, common culture, common fate – that hold the republic together.” (Schlesinger 138)

        This work is specifically focused on the issue of how to approach a pluralistic society and what a plural society means in the American republic.  Schlesinger never waivers from the hope for a united America, with all of its history (both the good and the bad), as opposed to what he describes as “the division of society into fixed ethnicities.” (Schlesinger 113)

     When I was searching for a book to review I was not expecting to find a book that’s primary focus was on the unity of cultures in the American experience; rather, I was expecting to find literature that dealt with the disuniting of America from one people, sharing common dreams for a better life and common ideals through strong work and determination, in favor of the more relativistic approach of multiculturalism as a form of separatism, where each historical cultures, or subcultures, particular roots are advocated above the idea of the melting-pot and becoming one people . So, to find one that advocated the strong bonds of unity, I was very enthralled in what the author had to say.

        The intended audience for Schlesinger’s work is any person who counts themselves an American, strongly held in that is his ascription to the theory of the melting pot.   This work, though philosophical and political in parts, is neither technical nor clinical in approach, nor is it too elementary or too basic.   The Disuniting of America is written to be consumed and understood by novice and expert alike.  It is more a compilation of Schlesinger’s ideas, which had been forming over many decades of experience and reflection, than a traditional scholarly work, even though it was written by a renowned historical scholar. Schlesinger is a master at the story telling of history, and the ease in which he incorporates historical themes into his overarching theory is quite refreshing. The reader has no trouble following his train of thought, but, for those less familiar with American history, at some points an encyclopedia would serve as a valuable addendum to the overall comprehension of his more detailed points.

        This work was originally written in 1991; from what I can find online, there was a revised and enlarged edition which came out in 1998, but I cannot find anything more current than this. Mr. Schlesinger was a prolific writer throughout his lifetime writing over twenty books and hundreds of articles before he died in 2007. (New York Times: Arthur Schhlesinger)

        This book is very easy to use and it is a good read on a multitude of subject matter.  I would reference this source on subjects such as American history, philosophy, politics, ethnocentrism, multiculturalism, education, sociology, and many more. The Disuniting of America, as is Schlesinger’s style, conveys many themes and parallels throughout history and finds the common thread that binds them together. Every new question he espoused always reverberates back to the central theme of as Americans, we are better off united in our political philosophies, than separated by the divide of a staunchly multicultural approach to the American experience.

        Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., was an “American historian, educator, and public official.” (Britannica 2013)  He was a graduate of Harvard and a writer of biographies such as Orestes A. Brownson: A Pilgrim’s Progress, The Age of Jackson, The Age of Roosevelt (in three volumes), and A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House.  He was “twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.” (NYT: Arthur Schlesinger)

        “Throughout his life Schlesinger was active in liberal politics.” (Britannica) He had the opportunity to serve such figures as Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy.  Kennedy even appointed Schlesinger a “special assistant” for Latin American affairs.  “However liberal, he was not a slave to what came to be called political correctness. He spiritedly defended the old-fashioned American melting pot against proponents of multiculturalism, the idea that ethnicities should retain separate identities and even celebrate them.”(NYT: Arthur Schlesinger)

     The Disuniting of America will serve as a valuable resource in anyone’s further understanding of America, Americanism, ethnocentrism, and multiculturalism. As I stated earlier, The Disuniting of America is easy to understand, and is not bogged down in a myriad array of details because Schlesinger plays on universal nodes on which we all share. “The United States has worked, thus far,” Schlesinger writes, “because it has offered” to “give ethnically diverse peoples compelling reasons to see themselves as part of [this] nation.” (Schlesinger 11)


Doniger, W., Friedman, B. M., Gelb, L. H., Gelernter, D., Gell-Mann, M., Gregorian, V., & Houndwood, L. S. o. (Eds.). (2013). Encyclopedia britannica: Arthur M. schlesinger Encyclopedia Britannica.

Martin, D. (2007, March 1, 2007). Arthur schlesinger, historian of power, dies at 89. New York Times.

Schlesinger Jr., A. M. (1992). The disuniting of america. United States of America: Norton.


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