Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia

Norton. Sept. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780393652000. $27.95. SOC SCI
This challenging historical work by psychiatrist/psychoanalyst Makari (DeWitt Wallace Inst. for the History of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical Coll.; Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind) examines xenophobia from ancient times to the present. He writes that the fear of strangers had been identified and discussed for centuries before it was named “xenophobia” during the 19th century, an era when phobias of all kinds were identified as worthy of medical diagnosis. He points out the irony that psychoanalysts defined the first “xenophobes” of the 20th century as those people in non-Western lands who challenged political, cultural, and economic colonizers’ expansionist efforts; when resistance to colonialism became violent, as in the Boxer Rebellion in China, it was attributed to xenophobia. In the last century, with more frequent immigration to the West from colonies and former colonies, psychoanalysts reversed the meaning of xenophobia and applied it to fear within Western societies of people different from the dominant population. Makari takes many complex digressions—some enlightening; some not—as he moves toward his goal of analyzing the use of the word “xenophobia” in today’s public life.
VERDICT While parts of the book may appeal to general readers desiring to find the roots of today’s widespread xenophobia, taken as a whole it is likely to disappoint those who need an introduction to this noteworthy topic.
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