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Book Review of: Driven Out


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Review of Driven Out, by Jean Pfaelzer (Hardcover, 2007)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

Let me start out by praising this author. I normally start a review by listing mistakes. As you read my kudos, you will see why I made that exception for this book.


  • Today, it is nearly unheard of to write a nonfiction book and stay on topic. Nearly all allegedly nonfiction authors contaminate their work with large doses of their personal political opinions. Most of those opinions reveal a myopic understanding of the topic on which the author is opinionating.
  • Pfaelzer's editorial integrity is especially noteworthy because this book is directly relevant to the hot button political (non)issue of immigration, but the author doesn't impose her political view.
  • I enjoyed reading a book that breaks the current trend of writing in Pidgin English. Whether such writing is done to obfuscate or done out of ignorance, I don't know. Either way, this common practice of saddling the text with confusing errors in grammar, composition, and word choices is annoying. Pfaelzer is a professor of English (and of East Asian History and of American Studies), so perhaps she felt obligated to break from the herd on this issue.
  • If this book had errors of fact, I didn't catch them. I'm not sure that this characteristic (free of errors of fact) is normal, either.

What it's about

Driven Out addresses the atrocities committed against Chinese people who were living and working on the American west coast (mostly California) at a particular time. That time was the half-century or so between the post-Civil War reconstruction era and the first part of the Twentieth Century.

The same psychodrama plays out today as then, except today "we" hate Mexicans instead of the Chinese. The hatred for (and fear of) the Chinese was predicated on a zero sum game mentality and an ignorance of economic realities. The time, energy, and money spent trying to eradicate the "threat" of peaceful and productive Chinese-Americans would have solved existing problems if applied to those problems rather than diverted to such irrational purposes.

Bigotry is a delusion-inducing poison, so in that sense we are reading a story that constantly repeats itself. The richness of detail in Driven Out allows us to see the particular ways in which bigotry played out in this particular time and place.

Pfaelzer took great pains to thoroughly research events, sort through the facts, and reconstruct what happened. Her method is one of first providing a macro view and then providing a detailed accounting of the subsequent events. For example, she talks about the Eureka method (named after the town of Eureka) in Chapter 4 and explains what it was about. Then, she goes into specific events that occurred as part of putting the Eureka method into practice. Pfaelzer shows the rationalizations that people used to justify their reprehensible behavior.

Eureka was just one of many towns that embarked on a vicious and insane program of forcing the Chinese to leave. In Chapter 5, Pfaelzer uses the same approach to reveal the Tuckee method and the atrocities committed there.

The violence to persons and property nearly always had a veneer of legitimacy. Today, we are all familiar with how IRS employees generally view taxpayers as subhuman scum who are "deserving of whatever they get." This attitude allows those employees to justify all sorts of abuses. This is the kind of "thinking" that occupied the minds of public officials of that era, as well. Rather than uphold the law, they used the power of their position to engage in psychopathic cruelties to other human beings.

It's worth noting that Pfaelzer provided anecdotes about the difficulty of locating records and talked about how some records were destroyed.

A well-written, thoroughly researched, eye-opening book. It's definitely a "must read."


Reviewer's Commentary: The Value of the History Provided by Driven Out

Unless we learn from history, we repeat it. To learn from history, we must first learn the history itself. An understanding of these particular events would be instructive for our times. Then, as today, the newspapers were instruments of disinformation and more concerned with making the news than reporting it. Back then, the "news" was that immigrants were the reason for job loss. Does this sound familiar?

Today, our mainstream media misdirect attention away from solving the core problems that are laying waste to our society. Back then, the misdirection had a similar effect (preventing attention to the right things), but for a different set of problems. In both eras, we see a few "boogeyman" non-issues (e.g., immigration). While Congress continues to spend inordinate amounts of time mishandling non-issuea, they ignore real issues.

Any well-informed reader will not be surprised by the legal maneuvering, dishonesty, and hypocrisy of the people who held the reigns of power at that time, because this is what we get from our lawmakers and bureaucrats today.

What may shock some readers is the extent of the brazen violence rained down upon the Chinese, who were simply minding their own business. For example, the book talks about an incident where people's homes were set on fire and then those people were shot while trying to escape the flames. Those who perpetrated this evil were not prosecuted. One was even appointed later to a high position in law enforcement. History repeated itself in 1993 in Waco, TX, and those killers are free today.

Driven Out provides the reader with insight into a series of shameful events in US history. The inhuman actions were abetted by corrupt government employees, spineless judges, and apathetic elected officials. The behavior spanned across multiple generations for reasons that defy logic. And yet, history repeats itself. The horrific story that unfolds on these pages holds many parallels to events in our own times--also abetted by corrupt government employees, spineless judges, and apathetic elected officials.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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