Most Neglected Books

22 responses

Alexander, Ruth, The Girl Problem (1998)
Far more than better known authors, Ruth Alexander effectively captures the complex and conflicted situation of teenage, working–class girls in the early twentieth century. She captures the mix of pleasure and danger, new opportunities and constraints they experienced without romanticizing their agency. This deceptively short study offers a rich... [more]

Borchert, James, Alley Life in Washington: Family, Community, Religion, and Folklife in the City, 1850-1970 (1980)
Published in 1980, Borchert's study of African Americans living in the inhabited alleys of the nation's capitol was in many ways a pathbreaking study which has never received the recognition it deserves. Unlike every black urban historical study that preceded it (including my own), Borchert does not focus on patterns of residential segregation, ... [more]

Degler, Carl, Out of Our Past (1959)
I have to confess a personal connection with this book, one that continually prompts me to return to its pages. I first encountered Out of Our Past, in its second edition, as a high school student in the mid 1970s. Degler's provocative, even aggressive arguments, his willingness to make his case without qualification and backtracking,... [more]

Dening, Greg, History's Anthropology: The Death of William Gooch (1988)
Most historians know about Dening's stunning study of Mr Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty but few seem to have read his brilliant little book History's Anthropology: The Death of William Gooch--at least based on anectdotal evidence and its ranking at 508,000 in Amazon.com. Part of the reason may have... [more]

Dyer, Geoff, Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence (1997)
This book opens with a meditation on procrastination. The author is neither an academic nor a historian. Rather, he is an aspiring biographer, but anyone who wants to know more about the underside of historical scholarship will find much here that is edifying -- and funny.

An opening epigraph quotes D.H. Lawrence's words, "Out of sheer rage,... [more]

Felstiner, Mary Lowenthal, To Paint Her Life: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Era (1994)
Mary Felstiner is a historical detective who would put Kinsey Millhone to shame for pure doggedness, creativity, incisiveness and true heart. Without Felstiner, the extraordinary and heartbreaking story of German painter and holocaust victim Charlotte Salomon would be unknown. And into the bargain, Felstiner unearthed a Nazi war criminal! In... [more]

Gosnell, Harold, Negro Politicians (1935)
Black politics in Chicago have been studied exhaustively, by historians and political scientists such as Ira Katznelson, Christopher Reed, Diane Pinderhughes, Paul Kleppner, James Q. Wilson, and others. Noting that some kind of organized, visible black presence developed earlier and more forcefully there than anywhere else (e.g. sending Oscar... [more]

Haag, Pamela, Consent: Sexual Rights and the Transformation of American Liberalism (1999)
This 1999 book went far too little noticed by the historians, legal theorists and political/ethical philosophers who should be influenced by it. Pamela Haag has deconstructed the liberal and legal notion of consent which governs, however imperfectly, our notion of free and mutual agreements. The argument partakes of the lineage of Marxian... [more]

Hofstadter, Richard, The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington (1968)
In my opinion, this is the most polished, most convincing book that one of the best historians of the U.S. ever wrote. But, for some reason, it has received little comment, at least as compared with The American Political Tradition, The Age of Reform, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, and even The Idea of a Party... [more]

Hofstadter, Richard / Polanyi, Karl, The Age of Reform / The Great Transformation (1955)
More than any other two books these made me the historian that I became. It is hard to call The Age of Reform neglected because it won the Pulitzer Prize and for years made the required reading list for many undergraduate US history courses. Today, however, it seems seldom read by undergraduates and even graduate students unless their... [more]

Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz, and Kathy Peiss, eds., Love Across the Color Line (1996)
Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz and Kathy Peiss's Love Across the Color Line: The Letters of Alice Hanley to Channing Lewis is a wonderful book to teach with. In 1992, a black lace stocking full of letters fell out of the ceiling of a Northampton, Massachusetts house that was being remodeled. The letters, written in 1907 and 1908, were turned... [more]

Katznelson, Ira /Peterson, Paul E., City Trenches: Urban Politics and the Patterning of Class in the United States/City Limits (1981)
I am taking a minor liberty and suggesting two, companion, books in the category of scholarship that should be more widely read. These two classics of political science appeared in the same year, 1981, and laid down in provocative arguments why American cities had seemed to languish for nearly half a decade. Katznelson gave pithy voice to a... [more]

Litwack, Leon, Trouble in Mind (1998)
Leon Litwack's Trouble in Mind is the most thorough history we have of the "Jim Crow" period in American history. It's required reading for all historians and for literary scholars as well: the centrality of Jim Crow to the history of the culture of race in the US has not received sufficient treatment, as compared with the legacy of... [more]

Livingston, James, Pragmatism and the Political Economy of Cultural Revolution (1994)
It's not THAT neglected, but it's asking different questions, and working from different assumptions, than most books in the period. Don't get me wrong--I strongly disagree with a lot of it, and I think some of it is just incoherent. But Livingston wants to vault the wall between economics and cultural studies. It's a worthy project and he does... [more]

Lumpkin, Katharine DuPre, The Emancipation of Angelina Grimke (1974)
A book that has long impressed me by its sensitivity to its subject and its close reading of sources is Katharine DuPre Lumpkin's The Emancipation of Angelina Grimke, first published in 1974. Rather than the conventional portrayal of Grimke as a crusader, Lumpkin examines her conflicts with region, parents, siblings, and husband and shows... [more]

Mathews, Donald G., Religion in the Old South (1977)
Historians of the United States are much more generally interested in religious history than they were a generation ago. An important sign of that development is the well-deserved recognition bestowed on Christine Heyrman's Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt, winner of the Bancroft Prize in 1998. Now historians need to reach... [more]

Paludan, Philip, Victims: A True Story of the Civil War (1981)
The most neglected book, I believe, is Philip Paludan's Victims: A True Story of the Civil War, published in 1981. The book never received the kind of praise that it deserved for so nicely combining anthropology, history, and folk lore into a compelling story. As important, in telling the story of the massacre at Shelton Laurel, Paludan... [more]

Portelli, Alessandro, The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (1997)
This is probably too recent a book to categorize as "neglected," but I suspect it does not enjoy the readership is should in part because it doesn't fall neatly into any single historical category. Many 20th century hisorians draw upon oral history interviews in their research, yet don't approach them with the methodological sophistication they... [more]

Quinn, Peter, Banished Children of Eve (1994)
Historical fiction, when it's done well, can sometimes offer a more compelling treatment of historical issues than a monograph. I would classify Peter Quinn's Banished Children of Eve as a "neglected" work only in the sense that historians tend to overlook these kinds of books. But this book really provides a superb treatment of New York... [more]

Sauer, Carl O., Seventeenth Century North America (1980)
So much hoopla over environmental history lately, yet so little recognition of one of the field's true masters. Carl Ortwin Sauer is well known to geographers. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley, for three decades and rose as high as he could in his field. Anyone spending time in environmental history will run across his name... [more]

Shaw, Stephanie J., What a Woman Ought to Be and to Do: Black Professional Workers during the Jim Crow Era (1996)
While never dismissing the damaging aspects of life under Jim Crow or of sexism, Shaw shows her subjects in all their strength and competence, as people who grounded their lives in "socially responsible individualism" and achieved much for their communities. Shaw's exhaustive research in personal papers shows the shaping influence of the... [more]

Stuckey, Sterling, Slave Culture (1987)
This is a tough call. Stuckey's brilliant Slave Culture has found its audience as a word-of-mouth classic and perhaps no Oxford University Press book has ever been fully neglected. Indeed Stuckey's masterpiece underpins such critical recent studies of slavery as Michael Gomez's Exchanging Our Country Marks. However, the timing of... [more]