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Anderson (The Movement and the Sixties), a history professor at Texas A&M, offers a straightforward political history of affirmative action. He traces the genesis of the policy to the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, which made efforts at nondiscrimination in public works projects and the military. The Civil Rights movement birthed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as lingering questions about how to prove discrimination, how to enforce antidiscrimination orders and whether preferences were needed to overcome past discrimination. The zenith of affirmative action, it turns out, came under Richard Nixon, whose secretary of labor, George Shultz, required federal contractors to set goals and targets for minority employment. The concept soon wound up in the courts, and Anderson provides good summaries of relevant cases, from the 1978 Bakke decision to last year's cases involving the University of Michigan. The backlash began in the 1980s, under Ronald Reagan, as enforcement lagged and the Justice Department sought cases to curtail affirmative action. In the 1990s, the rhetoric shifted to "diversity," an easier concept for politicians to embrace, and university systems in California and Texas were forced to give up preferences. (The winners at select universities: Asians.) Many cities and businesses have institutionalized the policy, and affirmative action has created a very different workplace in 40 yearswith little damage to firm competitiveness or fair employment practices, says the author. Still, Anderson concludes by acknowledging a host of questions about whom the policy should help. Though Anderson aims at an evenhanded tone, he could have paid more attention to notable polemics on this topic. He omits examination of affirmative action programs in the U.S. military and would have done well to at least note some international experiences. Photos not seen by PW.
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"A good place to get your bearings. He makes clear that the best defense of affirmative action has always been that the alternatives to it are even worse."--David L. Chappell, The New York Times
"Succeeds in presenting a dispassionate examination of affirmative action--not easy to do.... Anderson's dispassionate treatment of his subject flows from his seeing it as part of a narrow pursuit of economic fairness rather than as part of the broader pursuit of social justice."--Ted Van Dyk, Washington Post Book World
"Excellent...a very well-written, very scholarly, and very fair examination.... His use of sources, both original and secondary, provides the reader with an understanding of the political and economic dynamics of establishing affirmative action programs.... Highly recommended."--The Journal of American History
"Few books match the breadth of his story of affirmative action in the United States. Few offer so engaging a narrative voice or are capable of making a familiar story read as if it were fresh and new....Anderson skillfully weaves the story of how racism, sexism and paternalism for the disabled come out of the common cloth of American prejudices."--Timothy J. O'Neill, Law and Politics Book Review