Books by Robert J Norrell
Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation
It is difficult to think of two twentieth century books by one author that have had as much influence on American culture when they were published as Alex Haley's monumental bestsellers, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), and Roots (1976). They changed the way white and black America viewed each other and the country's history. This first biography of Haley follows him from his childhood in relative privilege in deeply segregated small town Tennessee to fame and fortune in high powered New York City. It was in the Navy, that Haley discovered himself as a writer, which eventually led his rise as a star journalist in the heyday of magazine personality profiles. At Playboy Magazine, Haley profiled everyone from Martin Luther King and Miles Davis to Johnny Carson and Malcolm X, leading to their collaboration on The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Roots was for Haley a deeper, more personal reach. The subsequent book and miniseries ignited an ongoing craze for family history, and made Haley one of the most famous writers in the country. Roots sold half a million copies in the first two months of publication, and the original television miniseries was viewed by 130 million people. This deeply researched and compelling book by Robert J. Norrell offers the perfect opportunity to revisit his authorship, his career as one of the first African American star journalists, as well as an especially dramatic time of change in American history.
A Major Work in Transnational History: How Ideological Commitments Corrupt Understanding (2015)
No work of transnational work has gained more attention than Andrew Zimmerman’s Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South. It instantly rose to broad influence in 2011, but Robert J. Norrell contends that Zimmerman is wrong on virtually all his major claims. Norrell insists that Alabama in Africa often relies on shallow or tendentious argument. An American black man, Zimmerman claims, is in large part responsible for the maltreatment of Africans in a German colony and therefore bears guilt for the brutality that Germans showed throughout Africa and that carried over to all their international relations afterward. The leading social scientists brought into Zimmerman’s story—Gustav von Schmoller, Max Weber, and Robert Park—are also extracted from their real circumstances and cast into contexts more of Zimmerman’s making than reflections of reality. He is especially hostile to the German Verein für Sozialpolitik’s commitment to placing economic theory in historical context, which reflects Zimmerman’s Marxist interpretations of the events of his story without open acknowledgment of his ideological position.
Tuckaleechee Cove: A Passage through Time (2015)
Nestled amid the western slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee, bisected by the Little River, and including the community of Townsend, Tuckaleechee Cove is known today as “the peaceful side of the Smokies.” Celebrated for its natural beauty, the area is also the site of human habitation dating back at least 13,000 years. Tuckaleechee Cove’s rich past emerged from years of archaeological and historical research that began in 1999 when a state highway project uncovered a wealth of Native American and Euro-American remains, including burial mounds, fragments of tools, weapons, cooking vessels, and other evidence of past activity. This bountifully illustrated book combines details from that study with fascinating bits of history to tell the story of the cove and its disparate peoples. By the 1600s the area’s residents were Cherokees who would soon encounter European explorers and traders. Displacing the Cherokees, Euro-Americans formed a number of small communities in the cove and farmed the land; built churches, schools, and small businesses; and fought in the Civil War. In 1900, a northern investor named W. B. Townsend recognized the area’s potential as a source of timber, and two years later the town bearing his name was literally abuzz with sawmill activity. By the Great Depression, however, the mills had closed, bringing hardship to cove residents. A measure of relief came in 1934 when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established nearby, opening a new, still unfolding chapter in the area’s history.
Eden Rise (a novel), 2012
In Eden Rise, Tom McKee, a white college freshman, returns to his home in the Alabama Black Belt in the summer of 1965 and becomes embroiled in civil-rights conflict that divides his family, his town, and his own identity. His wealthy and powerful family is not prepared for the shocks that have followed the racial quake of the Selma-to-Montgomery March a few months earlier. Tom's black college friend accompanies him home and gets caught in racial violence. Coming to his friend's defense, Tom earns the enmity of segregationist neighbors. He feels both the hot anger of his father for his racial nonconformity and the determined defense of his mother and grandmother, as he witnesses the corrosive effects of the turmoil on his parents' marriage. Attempting to rescue him are a cousin he never knew and a wily old lawyer who meet dangers and legal challenges that force Tom to confront the truth of his legacy.
Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington (2009)
Since the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr., has personified black leadership with his use of direct action protests against white authority. A century ago, in the era of Jim Crow, Booker T. Washington pursued a different strategy to lift his people. Norrell reveals how conditions in the segregated South led Washington to call for a less contentious path to freedom and equality. He urged black people to acquire economic independence and to develop the moral character that would ultimately gain them full citizenship. Although widely accepted as the most realistic way to integrate blacks into American life during his time, Washington’s strategy has been disparaged since the 1960s. The first full-length biography of Booker T. in a generation, Up from History recreates the broad contexts in which Washington worked: He struggled against white bigots who hated his economic ambitions for blacks, African-American intellectuals like W. E. B. Du Bois who resented his huge influence, and such inconstant allies as Theodore Roosevelt. Norrell details the positive power of Washington’s vision, one that invoked hope and optimism to overcome past exploitation and present discrimination. Indeed, his ideas have since inspired peoples across the Third World that there are many ways to struggle for equality and justice. Up from History reinstates this extraordinary historical figure to the pantheon of black leaders, illuminating not only his mission and achievement but also, poignantly, the man himself.
The House I Live In: Race in the American Century (2005)
In The House I Live In, Robert J. Norrell offers a masterful chronicle of American race relations over the last one hundred and fifty years.This scrupulously fair and insightful narrative--the most ambitious and wide-ranging history of its kind--sheds new light on the ideologies, from white supremacy to black nationalism, that have shaped race relations since the Civil War. For, Norrell argues, it is ideology, more than politics or economics, that has powerfully sculpted the landscape of race in America. Beginning with Reconstruction, Norrell shows how the democratic values of liberty and equality were infused with new meaning by Abraham Lincoln, yet soon became meaningless for generations of African Americans, as white supremacy drove a wedge between the races. Indeed, the heart of this book paints a vivid portrait of the long, dangerous struggle of African Americans to defeat this pernicious mode of thought. Along the way, Norrell offers fresh and at times controversial appraisals of figures such as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and dissects the ideas of racists such as novelist Thomas Dixon. Most important, he offers striking new insights into black-white history, observing for instance that the Civil Rights movement really began as early as the 1930s, and that contrary to much recent writing, the Cold War was a setback rather than a boost to the quest for racial justice. He also breaks new ground on the role of popular culture and mass media in first promoting, but later helping defeat, notions of white supremacy. Though the struggle for equality is far from over, Norrell writes that today we are closer than ever to fulfilling the promise of our democratic values, a promise first made by Lincoln at the battlefield of Gettysburg.
Reaping the Whirlwind: The Civil Rights Movement in Tuskegee (1985; 2nd revised ed. 1998)
In this classic and compelling account, Robert Norrell traces the course of the civil rights movement in Tuskegee, Alabama, capturing both the unique aspects of this key Southern town's experience and the elements that it shared with other communities during this period. Home to Booker T. Washington's famed Tuskegee Institute, the town of Tuskegee boasted an unusually large professional class of African Americans, whose economic security and level of education provided a base for challenging the authority of white conservative officials. Offering sensitive portrayals of both black and white figures, Norrell takes the reader from the founding of the Institute in 1881 and early attempts to create a harmonious society based on the separation of the races to the successes and disappointments delivered by the civil rights movement in the1960s. First published in 1985, Reaping the Whirlwind has been updated for [the second] edition. In a newly expanded final chapter, Norrell brings the story up to the present, examining the long-term performance of black officials, the evolution of voting rights policies, the changing economy, and the continuing struggle for school integration in Tuskegee in the 1980s and 1990s.
James Bowron: The Autobiography of a New South Industrialist (1991)
This autobiography covers the life of a prominent English-born Alabama Iron and steel industrialist. Bowron compiled but never published an enormous autobiography that provides new insights on the colonial nature of the souther economy from 1877 to 1928. Bowron’s narrative of his management at Tennessee Coal and Iron and Gulf States Steel illunated the realities of outside control, business ineptitutde, and technological failure among southern Capitalists during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Norrell has edited, rearranged, and explained Bowron’s autobiography—interpreting except from his diary and scrapbooks as well—to give a vivid picture of turn-of-the-century labor relations, including the convict-lease system, and business practices such as kickbacks to politicians, stock watering, and insider trading. In addition to his business activities, Bowron found time for a vigorous family life—he fathered fourteen children—and for many causes and organizations, including Prohibition, women’s suffrage, biblical fundamentalism, and the Republican Party. As an perceptive chronicler of his life and times, Bowron commented on much that was typical—and much that was typical in the culture, commmerce, and society that gave rise to the modern South.
(Note: A new, signed copy of this book is available from Robert J. Norrell, 477 Jenkins Road, Waynesville, NC 28785. [$20 + $3 shipping]
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