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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

Ethnic Americans: A history of immigration
Leonard Dinnerstein & David M Reimers

New York: Columbia University Press, 1999
250pp. Pb.: $16.50; ISBN 0-2311-1189-4

'In 1916, 72 percent of San Francisco's population spoke a foreign language in addition to English'. (p. 54) 'About 30 percent of American soldiers fighting in Western Europe in 1944-45 were German in origin.' (p. 180) 'In 1998 25.7 million people born abroad lived in the United States, nearly 10 percent of the American population?of that number, seven million were from Mexico.' (p. 125)

The above quotations give a flavour of the fascinating detail in Dinnerstein and Reimers' history of immigration in the United States. No other state has had to cope with such sustained immigration from such a variety of sources. Yet there has been no race war, a fact overlooked by many scholars. In the absence of mass inter group violence, however, there has been shocking discrimination, persistent tensions, and differentials among social indicators, all of which are charted by the authors.

Six chapters chart the chronology of immigration from the colonial era to the contemporary phase in which Latinos comprise the bulk of new entrants. These are followed by two analytical chapters concentrating on ethnic mobility and assimilation. The book is perhaps best at giving an overview of the main dynamics of immigration and assimilation in respect of each of the main ethnic groups rather than attempting to draw general conclusions about the immigration experience in general. A thoroughly accessible narrative style means that the book can be recommended as an introductory text. Now in its fourth edition, the main issues in the immigration debate are covered with remarkable brevity and clarity.

A serious flaw, however, is the failure to use a referencing system allowing the reader to connect specific quotations or figures to specific authors and works. There is a helpful bibliographical chapter, but without an academic standard of referencing, the book is of limited value as an academic text.

Dr Roger Mac Ginty

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