Most Overrated Books

7 responses.

Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities (1983)
I don't think Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities is overrated, I just think it's overcited and underapplied. I propose a rule for all graduate student dissertations in the new millennium. No one gets to refer to Imagined Communities unless they show in detail how its argument is relevant to the dissertation in question. ... [more]

Baudrillard, Jean, America (1986)
Most over-rated book? Baudrillard's America. Every generation the French send over someone to figure out what America is all about, and they always see the same thing: no history, nature instead of civilization, people made goofy by material abundance, and the wine and cheese are inferior. Among the jargon and the silliness are occasional... [more]

D'Emilio, John, and Estelle Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (1988)
In some ways this is a harsh judgement of a path-breaking book that gave me a sense that a field existed when I began to research in this area. Yet as a path, its approach turned quickly into a dead–end. The authors’ claims in the preface to the 2nd edition notwithstanding, almost immediately after it was published new scholarship appeared that... [more]

Fogel, Robert William, and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross (1974)
The most overrated book is surely Fogel and Engerman's Time on the Cross, a book that is a perfect example of putting real intelligence and great skill to use in answering a meaningless question, the profitability of slavery. The lessons that echo down the halls of history about slavery and race relations have a good deal to do with slavery... [more]

Freeman, Joanne, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the Early Republic (2001)

More than half a century ago, Lewis Namier argued that English political history needed to be understood as a series of transactions among status-seeking insiders. In this book Joanne B. Freeman depicts early national politics was nothing less and nothing more than the deeply charged and culturally programmed interactions of... [more]

Kammen, Michael, American Culture American Tastes (1999)
Kammen is amazingly prolific, and he writes in an elegant and even "magisterial" style about topics that are often somewhat neglected. There's a wealth of information: obviously a lot of research has gone on. But the books are strangely flat and leave you with little to chew. There's not much of a thesis, and the material isn't worked with much... [more]

Roediger, David, The Wages of Whiteness (1991)
I prefer anonymity only because I seek to avoid a "war of words." Roediger's Wages of Whiteness is not based on research in archives and draws its hypotheses from a limited number of published sources, not necessarily a handicap. Unfortunately, Roediger plays a one-key variation on the conventional treatment of race by most historians of... [more]