Must Read Book

Levine, Lawrence, Black Culture and Black Consciousness (1977).

The most important for me was Lawrence Levine’s Black Culture and Black Consciousness. It was a revelation, just like having a veil ripped away from my eyes. Most books that get published, you figure that given enough time you could hack out a reasonable facsimile, but BC had that divine touch that put it totally out of the reach of my capabilities. I was even familiar with a lot of the material Levine used, but this was a book that spelled out black creativity and aesthetics in a totally new way. I have taught the book to more than 2000 students here over the years and the most frequent response has been “I did not know that a history book could be so interesting.” Of course you can root the book in Levine’s personal history and the 1960s and 1970s, but for all that in so many ways it came out of nowhere. No one could call Black Culture a neglected classic but some of the recent rewriting of the intellectual genealogy of African American history that omits it or downplays its importance amazes me -- for all the supposed cultural turn of late, an awful lot of practising American historians appear to me at least not to have a clue what cultural history is about. In short, then, Black Culture is still an intellectual tour de force and if I can ever write a book half as good I will happily quit and go and play golf somewhere warm.

Recommended by Shane White, Chair, Department of History, University of Sydney

Shane White is a member of the History Department at the University of Sydney. He is author of Somewhat More Independent: The End of Slavery in New York City and of the forthcoming Staging Freedom: Black New York in the Era of Emancipation and co-author with Graham White, who is no relation, of Stylin’: African American Expressive Culture From Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit. And writing this has made him feel ancient.