American Ideas of Equality: A Social History, 1750–2020

by Carl L. Bankston III


"American Ideas of Equality provides a social history spanning 270 years, longer than the founding of the American nation. Bankston deftly reveals how the American idea of equality evolved and diverged and how conflicting ideas intersect race and class to shape prevailing patterns of group formation and identity politics. With his rigorous analysis of empirically rich data and lucid narrative, Bankston advances our understanding of the complex notion of inequality." —Min Zhou, Professor of Sociology & Asian American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

"American Ideas of Equality is carefully argued, easy to follow, and well written. It is an exemplar of historical sociology—and even if that’s all it were, it would be valuable for its analysis of how notions of equality have changed and how they have shaped U.S. culture and politics. However, this book is more than that, though, given that we are currently living through a time of contested notions of equality, and that this is part of what is polarizing the country. Bankston’s analysis helps us understand the current political environment, and it is a deep understanding that goes beyond the arguments one side or the other might make in that it identifies the structural and historical factors that have led to them. American Ideas of Equality deserves to be widely read by sociologists, historians, political scientists, policy makers, and political commentators." —Bradley Campbell, Professor of Sociology, California State University, Los Angeles

"This is a thoughtful book addressing the history of United States in terms of serious questions regarding inequality. Bankston addresses the differences among the founders of the nation brilliantly. He then walks the reader through the various challenges to the question of equality through each era. His critique of the American ideal of the self-made man and the importance of this image recurs as an important theme though his narrative shows that all human beings are subject to various factors that influence their levels of accomplishment." —John Kilburn, Associate Dean of Research and Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Texas A&M International University


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