Oakes, James 1953-

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Oakes, James 1953-

PERSONAL:

Born December 19, 1953, in Bronx, NY; son of Frank (a railway signals maintainer) and Joan Oakes; married Deborah Ann Bohr (a hospital administrator), June 5, 1980. Education: Bernard M. Baruch College of the City University of New York, B.A., 1974; received M.A. from University of California, Berkeley, and Ph.D., 1981.

ADDRESSES:

Office—New York, NY. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Historian, educator, and writer. University of California, Berkeley, instructor in history, 1980-81; Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, assistant professor of history, 1981-82; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, assistant professor of history, 1982-86, professor of history, 1986-97; City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, New York, NY, professor of history, 1997. Work-related activities include chair of the Avery Craven Prize Committee, Organization of American Historians, 1992, and member of the Organization of American Historians program committee, 1996-97, also holds the Humanities Chair.

MEMBER:

American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians.

WRITINGS:

The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders, Knopf (New York, NY), 1982, reprinted, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1998.

Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South, Vintage (New York, NY), 1991.

The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to Civil War History.

SIDELIGHTS:

In The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders, James Oakes presents an "eye-opening scholarly study of the American slaveholding class from its earliest days to its last," Charles Champlin noted in the Los Angeles Times. The author deals primarily with "the attitudes and operations of the slaveholders," Champlin continued, and "inevitably the study of the masters is a study of the condition of their chattels." In his book, Oakes reveals a lifestyle that was often rigid, inefficient, and as much an enslavement of the masters as it was of the slaves. The Ruling Race, Champlin noted, like Arthur Hailey's Roots, is a stunning corrective to the popular image of a gracious antebellum South.

Oakes told CA: "I write out of a general concern for the nature of democracy. Specifically, I try to understand two things: the relationship between minority rights and majority rule and the relationship between capitalism and democracy. How does the social structure of a capitalist society undermine or reinforce democracy and civil liberties?"

Oakes's second book, Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South, is a series of essays that examine the growth of slavery in the Old South. Ironically, the author writes that slavery is a result of capitalism despite the fact that it goes against the ideals of a free society for everyone. The author also describes the very negative effects that slavery had on Southern American society and how it was the rebellion of the slaves themselves during the Civil War that contributed greatly to the eventual fall of the Confederacy. Genevieve Stuttaford, writing in Publishers Weekly, noted that the author's "rewarding synthesis strips away myths and misconceptions surrounding slavery and its aftermath."

In his book The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics, Oakes examines the relationship between Lincoln and the black abolitionist Douglass, as well as the evolution of their political and anti-slavery outlooks. The author describes how Lincoln went from being a moderate who had no strong feelings about abolishing slavery in the South to the president who oversaw slavery's downfall there. Conversely, Oakes describes Douglass as an extreme radical who eventually recognized the need for compromise. In addition, the author delves into the personal and moral aspects of each man that led to their opposition to slavery. Much of the book, according to a reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly, reveals Lincoln through the eyes of Douglass.

Calling The Radical and the Republican "a sharp analysis," a Kirkus Reviews contributor went on to write that Oakes provides a "demonstration of the interplay between the agendas of passionate, single-minded reformers who prepare the public for change, and the talented politicians who master the art of the possible." Other reviewers also praised the book. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author "vividly conveys both the immense distance America traveled to arrive at a more enlightened place and the fraught politics" that led to slavery's abolishment. Referring to the story of slavery in the United States, and perhaps the two most prominent men who fought to end it, James M. McPherson wrote in the New York Review of Books: "No one has told this dramatic story better than James Oakes."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Boston Globe, February 4, 2007, David Waldstreicher, review of The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2006, review of The Radical and the Republican, p. 1002.

Library Journal, November 1, 2006, Emily-Jane Dawson, review of The Radical and the Republican, p. 87.

Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1982, Charles Champlin, review of The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders.

New York Review of Books, March 29, 2007, James M. McPherson, review of The Radical and the Republican.

Publishers Weekly, January 19, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South, p. 88; November 13, 2006, review of The Radical and the Republican, p. 47.

ONLINE

City University of New York Ph.D. Program in History Web site,http://web.gc.cuny.edu/History/ (June 6, 2007), faculty profile of author.

PBS.org,http://www.pbs.org/ (April 6, 2007), Tavis Smiley, interview with author.

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