A provocative examination of affirmative action as a policymaking paradigm, by sociologist Skrentny (Univ. of Pennsylvania). Though affirmative action programs benefit women and numerous minorities, Skrentny argues that they are mostly controversial because of their primary identification with increasing the representation of African-Americans in the workplace and universities. But it is controversy from a different direction that leads Skrentny to describe affirmative action in terms of ironies. In a thorough historical review of programs and legislation designed to promote racial equality, he reveals the intense opposition of civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., to affirmative action as controverting their goal of a color-blind society. Affirmative action programs came into being without the backing of interest groups, presidential leadership, or congressional mandate, argues Skrentny. Rather, they were instituted incrementally by administrators desperate for pragmatic, quantifiable ways to respond to persistent discrimination in American society. In a further irony, affirmative action was eventually institutionalized as government policy by President Richard Nixon for the cynical political purpose of splitting the black-union Democratic coalition. The final irony, Skrentny writes, is that much support for affirmative action was motivated by fear that the Soviet Union would use demonstrable discrimination against blacks as a propaganda tool. The end of the Cold War, he argues, helps explain why affirmative action now appears so vulnerable. Skrentny's dense analysis offers no conclusions about how well affirmative action programs have succeeded in alleviating discrimination. His goal is not to evaluate affirmative action, but to explain how such a controversial policy could become institutionalized. In this regard, Skrentny's book, for those willing to expend the effort, is an interesting examination of policymaking and adds important context to the affirmative action debate.