SHAME by Shelby Steele


How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country
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A conservative analysis of political polarization and race relations in America, more thoughtful and less vitriolic than most volleys from either side.

As the son of a mixed-race marriage, Hoover Institution senior fellow Steele (A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win, 2007, etc.), who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Content of Our Character (1991), built his moral foundation on the civil rights activism and idealism of his parents. In college, he considered himself “on the borderline between liberalism and radicalism.” But as he remained true to what he considered the country’s ideals and never succumbed to the anti-American hatred of an evil empire, he found that his notions of freedom and fairness fit better within the conservative camp, which rejected affirmative action and other signs of “paternalism…far more maddening and smothering than anything I had known in full-out segregation.” Steele claims that the country must overcome the sins, shames and apologies of the past if it is to move forward, black Americans in particular. Personal experience humanizes his political progression, from his quitting the high school swimming team after a racial exclusion to his trips to Algiers, where he encountered Black Panthers he considered “thugs” and to an Africa that had reaped the charitable benefits of “American exceptionalism.” The author maintains that the liberal mainstream has been willing to compromise core values for the sake of “the Good” and for the poetic truths that he believes are illusions of innocence in comparison with the literal truth favored by conservatives. “[T]his is a ‘war’ between two foes—today’s political Right and Left—that are almost as fundamentally antithetical and irreconcilable as the Soviet Union and the United States once were,” he writes in a bit of overreach that doesn’t characterize the tone of most of the book.

Liberals will challenge Steele’s conclusions, but the sincerity of his convictions seems beyond question.

Pub Date: March 2nd, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-465-06697-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2014


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