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Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia

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By 2016, it was impossible to ignore an international resurgence of xenophobia. What had happened? Looking for clues, psychiatrist and historian George Makari started out in search of the idea’s origins. To his astonishment, he discovered an unfolding series of never-told stories. While a fear and hatred of strangers may be ancient, he found that the notion of a dangerous By 2016, it was impossible to ignore an international resurgence of xenophobia. What had happened? Looking for clues, psychiatrist and historian George Makari started out in search of the idea’s origins. To his astonishment, he discovered an unfolding series of never-told stories. While a fear and hatred of strangers may be ancient, he found that the notion of a dangerous bias called "xenophobia" arose not so long ago. Coined by late-nineteenth-century doctors and political commentators and popularized by an eccentric stenographer, xenophobia emerged alongside Western nationalism, colonialism, mass migration, and genocide. Makari chronicles the concept’s rise, from its popularization and perverse misuse to its spread as an ethical principle in the wake of a series of calamites that culminated in the Holocaust, and its sudden reappearance in the twenty-first century. He investigates xenophobia’s evolution through the writings of figures such as Joseph Conrad, Albert Camus, and Richard Wright, and innovators like Walter Lippmann, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Frantz Fanon. Weaving together history, philosophy, and psychology, Makari offers insights into varied, related ideas such as the conditioned response, the stereotype, projection, the Authoritarian Personality, the Other, and institutional bias. Masterful, original, and elegantly written, Of Fear and Strangers offers us a unifying paradigm by which we might more clearly comprehend how irrational anxiety and contests over identity sweep up groups and lead to the dark headlines of division so prevalent today.


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By 2016, it was impossible to ignore an international resurgence of xenophobia. What had happened? Looking for clues, psychiatrist and historian George Makari started out in search of the idea’s origins. To his astonishment, he discovered an unfolding series of never-told stories. While a fear and hatred of strangers may be ancient, he found that the notion of a dangerous By 2016, it was impossible to ignore an international resurgence of xenophobia. What had happened? Looking for clues, psychiatrist and historian George Makari started out in search of the idea’s origins. To his astonishment, he discovered an unfolding series of never-told stories. While a fear and hatred of strangers may be ancient, he found that the notion of a dangerous bias called "xenophobia" arose not so long ago. Coined by late-nineteenth-century doctors and political commentators and popularized by an eccentric stenographer, xenophobia emerged alongside Western nationalism, colonialism, mass migration, and genocide. Makari chronicles the concept’s rise, from its popularization and perverse misuse to its spread as an ethical principle in the wake of a series of calamites that culminated in the Holocaust, and its sudden reappearance in the twenty-first century. He investigates xenophobia’s evolution through the writings of figures such as Joseph Conrad, Albert Camus, and Richard Wright, and innovators like Walter Lippmann, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Frantz Fanon. Weaving together history, philosophy, and psychology, Makari offers insights into varied, related ideas such as the conditioned response, the stereotype, projection, the Authoritarian Personality, the Other, and institutional bias. Masterful, original, and elegantly written, Of Fear and Strangers offers us a unifying paradigm by which we might more clearly comprehend how irrational anxiety and contests over identity sweep up groups and lead to the dark headlines of division so prevalent today.

46 review for Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    Of Fear and Strangers is a startling work of historical sleuthing and synthesis which reveals the forgotten histories of xenophobia—and what they mean for us today. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst George Makari, the head of the department of history of psychiatry at Cornell who is also a historian, has written a timely new book Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia. By 2016 when it was impossible not to notice an international resurgence of xenophobia. What had happened? Looking for clue Of Fear and Strangers is a startling work of historical sleuthing and synthesis which reveals the forgotten histories of xenophobia—and what they mean for us today. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst George Makari, the head of the department of history of psychiatry at Cornell who is also a historian, has written a timely new book Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia. By 2016 when it was impossible not to notice an international resurgence of xenophobia. What had happened? Looking for clues he started out in search of the idea’s origins. To his astonishment, he discovered an unfolding series of never-told stories. He discovered that while the fear and hatred of strangers may be ancient, the notion of a dangerous bias called "xenophobia" arose not that long ago. Coined by late-nineteenth-century doctors and political commentators and popularized by an eccentric stenographer, xenophobia emerged as a popular cultural concept alongside Western nationalism, colonialism, mass migration, and genocide. Makari chronicles the concept’s rise, from its popularization and perverse misuse to its spread as an ethical principle in the wake of the Holocaust, and then on to its sudden reappearance in the twenty-first century. He investigates xenophobia’s evolution through writers like Joseph Conrad, Albert Camus and Richard Wright, and innovators like Walter Lippmann, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Frantz Fanon. Weaving together history, philosophy and psychology, Makari also offers insights into related ideas such as the conditioned response, the stereotype, projection, the authoritarian personality, the other, and institutional bias. Makari offers a unifying paradigm for comprehending more clearly how xenophobia, other irrational anxieties and contests over identity sweep through cultures and lead to the dangerous divisions so prevalent today. A fascinating, informative and eminently readable work of nonfiction. Written in elegant prose, this is a timely and comprehensive investigation of one of the issues blighting our lives. Highly recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Peter Baran

    Of Fear And Strangers is subtitled A History Of Xenophobia - which seems like a pretty timely subject and a very broad church indeed. It feels like a pretty universal axiom of human nature that we are predisposed to hate "the other", and as a psychologist I thought that this was the question Makari was going to test. But that isn't really what this book is about. Instead it is a history of the term Xenophobia, spending a lot of time seeing if the term ever really existed in the Greek, and then s Of Fear And Strangers is subtitled A History Of Xenophobia - which seems like a pretty timely subject and a very broad church indeed. It feels like a pretty universal axiom of human nature that we are predisposed to hate "the other", and as a psychologist I thought that this was the question Makari was going to test. But that isn't really what this book is about. Instead it is a history of the term Xenophobia, spending a lot of time seeing if the term ever really existed in the Greek, and then skipping through the ages until a modern coinage in the late Victorian period. Makari is right of course that once concepts have names they gain a different kind of power, but the introduction touts this survey as something that might be able to help dismantle xenophobia, when it really ends up allowing us to point out when the word is being used incorrectly (according the current agreed usage - as the word has slipped through a number of meanings in its time). Luckily Makari is an engaging guide through the use and misuse of the word, and wears his scholarship lightly. But there is a sense as we look for crumbs in 19th century newspapers that he himself knows that the project has slightly slipped away from him. The concept of people hating outsiders is so large and slippery that it takes in diverse prejudices such as racism, jingoism and the concept of nation states. These get played through and there is much to me said for the work here on why xenophobia as a concept is generally ascribed to ones enemies before WW1 to show how unreasonable they are rather than a recognisable state for their own citizens. And certainly near the end he shows how a word previously used around warring nations gets played in the time of peace to prop up far right propaganda and anti-immigration rhetoric. Of Fear And Strangers was an interesting read which promised a little more than it could deliver. The history of the term xenophobia is not the same as the history of xenophobia - but then the history of xenophobia is pretty much the warring parts of all human history. What Makari does well is at least show how the term has shifted through usage, and how the idea of broad xenophobia (rather than say specific Francophobia) has become so accepted as part of human nature that it is proudly trumped by people and even in some case politicians.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Maybe inevitable when an author is both a psychiatrist and a historian, but this book went in too many directions for my taste, along with a terribly long digression about French existentialism. (Just a chapter or two, but why oh why?) But there is a lot of valuable information and analysis here, and some good history. A thread through the book is about the changing meaning of the word xenophobia, which despite its Greek components was never a term used in the classical times, although a similar Maybe inevitable when an author is both a psychiatrist and a historian, but this book went in too many directions for my taste, along with a terribly long digression about French existentialism. (Just a chapter or two, but why oh why?) But there is a lot of valuable information and analysis here, and some good history. A thread through the book is about the changing meaning of the word xenophobia, which despite its Greek components was never a term used in the classical times, although a similar word meaning “love of strangers” was found in ancient writings.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    What an absolutely remarkable book. It's not quite what I was expecting - which was a history of, I guess, where xenophobia has occurred, and maybe it consequences. But more interestingly that that, this is a history of the very concept of xenophobia. It does use examples of historical xenophobia - of course it does; you can't discuss what the word means without showing what it has looked like. But it's more psychological and philosophical than I was expecting, as a way of getting to the guts of What an absolutely remarkable book. It's not quite what I was expecting - which was a history of, I guess, where xenophobia has occurred, and maybe it consequences. But more interestingly that that, this is a history of the very concept of xenophobia. It does use examples of historical xenophobia - of course it does; you can't discuss what the word means without showing what it has looked like. But it's more psychological and philosophical than I was expecting, as a way of getting to the guts of why humans can react so poorly towards strangers, and how we have tried to explain that to ourselves. And the first thing I learned is that 'xenophobia' as a word is brand new. Like, end of the 19th century new. Makari goes through his whole journey of discovery about this - detailing what he read and what explanations he chased down - in what almost amounts to a thriller in terms of sudden clues popping up. This was the first hint that not only was this going to be fascinating information, but also that the style was going to keep me engaged and keep me ploughing through what otherwise might have been overwhelming, both intellectually and emotionally. This was also building on a very personal opening to the book: Makari outlines his own family's experience of being "xenos" - strangers - descended from Lebanese ancestors, living in America, experiencing the dismissal of "Arabs" and wondering about his family's place in the world. Being published in 2021, as well, and of course, the question of xenophobia and how "we" react to the "stranger" remains as tragically relevant today as it has been at any time in the past. Part 1 explores "The Origins of Xenophobia" - where the word originates, how it was used to describe the so-called Boxer Rebellion in China - and therefore the 'mad' reaction of Chinese people to Westerners and all the 'enlightenment' they could bring. And then how the word was used in colonial contexts - xenophobia is a product of the inferior mind, because 'they' don't understand what 'we' (colonisers) are bringing, and they don't know any better than to be hostile! And then on through Conrad's Heart of Darkness, flipping that idea of xenophobia around and showing how colonisers might be the scared ones... and then on into discussion of immigration. Sadly, that connects really early on with Jewish migration, and then of course the book leads into the Holocaust. Part 2, then, explores "Inside the Xenophobic Mind." I have neither philosophical nor psychological training, so this part both taught me many new things, and was also surprisingly approachable. Well, approachable in terms of understanding in general, although again confronting in some parts - like the experiments to train kids into having phobias to try and understand how such fears can develop... and also because some of the philosophical aspects definitely went over my head. So this section, too, made me think much more both about xenophobia as a concept but also about how different groups have approached the desire to understand it - external or internal reasons, love and projection and can we ever truly know someone else... and so on. I would heartily recommend this to people who are interested in why humans act the way they do, for people seeking an understanding of the way the world is and has been; whether you're an historian or not, whether you've knowledge of psychology or not, Makari makes difficult concepts relatively straightforward to grasp. And he doesn't claim to be able to explain all of humanity, but the book does suggest a range of ways that we might try to think about ourselves, and our neighbours, and our leaders... and think about why we react the way we do. And that can only be a good thing, right? In fact, I think that as many people as possible should read this book, so that we can be much better at talking about these things, and be a little less defensive.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    This book is interesting and well-written, though far more academic than I expected from its description. It will be interesting to students of linguistics, philosophy, psychology, and the fallout from the Cold War, among many other topics. The book is divided into three parts. The first part (the strongest in my opinion, and the most fun to read) traces the history of the word xenophobia, from its first time appearing in print in various languages, to the changes in meaning over time, to its cur This book is interesting and well-written, though far more academic than I expected from its description. It will be interesting to students of linguistics, philosophy, psychology, and the fallout from the Cold War, among many other topics. The book is divided into three parts. The first part (the strongest in my opinion, and the most fun to read) traces the history of the word xenophobia, from its first time appearing in print in various languages, to the changes in meaning over time, to its current usage. It does a good job of demonstrating how language can be used to shape thinking. An African country being invaded by England? Why, these Africans are all xenophobes by nature and fear all strangers, so we weapon-bearing colonizers, obviously just here on a friendly visit, have no choice but to be violent and destructive. It's not our fault -- they are the xenophobes. This part of the book is fascinating. The second part of the book examines the psychology behind xenophobia. It delves into philosophy, psychiatry, psychology, anthropology, and pop culture (the origin of the modern usage of the word stereotype is particularly interesting). This part spends a lot of time on Sartre and Beauvoir, and discusses the evolution of anti-Semitism, especially in the context of World War II and the Holocaust. I'm glad I had some familiarity with many of the thinkers mentioned from studying philosophy in undergrad, which made this part a little easier to follow than it otherwise would have been. The third part of the book is the shortest and, in my opinion, the least interesting. It offers an explanation for the current rise of xenophobia in the United States and Western Europe. I wouldn't characterize the book as offering solutions so much as paths for further study, which is valuable, but not what a lot of non-academic readers are looking for in contemporary books with a social justice focus.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Zachary

    (I received an advanced copy of this book as part of a giveaway.) I thought this was an excellent book that would be of interest to anyone curious about how the term "xenophobia" and the present idea of xenophobia developed over a long period of time, going back to the Greeks and Spanish Conquistadors all the way to the present. My biggest complaint with the book comes down to an editorial/publishing decision, rather than the contents of the book. Although there is a significant note section at t (I received an advanced copy of this book as part of a giveaway.) I thought this was an excellent book that would be of interest to anyone curious about how the term "xenophobia" and the present idea of xenophobia developed over a long period of time, going back to the Greeks and Spanish Conquistadors all the way to the present. My biggest complaint with the book comes down to an editorial/publishing decision, rather than the contents of the book. Although there is a significant note section at the end of the book, there are no markings to indicate endnotes in the text, this makes it unnecessarily difficult to cross reference his ideas with the citations provided, I am always cautious of an academic book that doesn't have any little numbers directing me to sources. I think this book would be of special interest to social science scholars broadly. I was impressed by the way the author told the story of xenophobia while tracing the developments in the surrounding academic fields. I hope future academics pick up on some of the threads the author left to better figure out how we can reverse the issues stemming from xenophobia in our society, and prevent the broad category of prejudices from tearing us apart further. From this book, I think that is likely a project that will be ongoing or reoccurring throughout human history.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michel Sabbagh

    Subject Appeal: 5/5. Research Depth: 4/5. Research Breadth: 4/5. Narrative Flow: 4/5. Verdict: 4/5. A hard-hitting wake-up call to the cosmopolitan need for loving the unknown and Other in times of uncertainty.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sally

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  11. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Beard

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mauricio Santoro

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    Aviva Strong

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    Mark

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    Shawna

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sydney Stockton

  17. 5 out of 5

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    Cassie

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    Steve Walker

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    Jordan

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    Sjoukje Croux

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Noe

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    Margaret Ferris

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    Toke

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    Paul

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

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    Tawnee Calhoun

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    Shanna Early

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    James Harrison

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  36. 5 out of 5

    Shabuz

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    J.

  38. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Pfendner

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    Alan

  40. 5 out of 5

    ichangedmyname

  41. 4 out of 5

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  42. 4 out of 5

    Tony

  43. 5 out of 5

    Chantel

  44. 4 out of 5

    Bailey S.

  45. 4 out of 5

    Micielle

  46. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Dishman

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