Home » IAAS Prizes » 2017 Peggy O’Brien Book Prize

2017 Peggy O’Brien Book Prize

IAAS Vice-Chair Dara Downey and winner of the 2017 Book Prize, Dan Geary

The Winner

Daniel Geary, Beyond Civil Rights: The Moynihan Report and its Legacy (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).

The book provides a detailed history of the Moynihan Report, The Negro Family: A Case for National Action, authored by Daniel Patrick Moynihan shortly after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The report highlighted socio-economic inequalities facing African-American families, while also making controversial statements about the role of single mothers. As Daniel Geary argues in Beyond Civil Rights, the report’s considerable impact and ongoing relevance over the past fifty years has been considerable, while remaining critical of its gendered attitudes.

In his own words, “I am honored and delighted to receive the Peggy O’Brien Prize for my book, Beyond Civil Rights: The Moynihan Report and Its Legacy. I wrote this book as an American immigrant to Ireland, where I have lived since 2008. I believe the project benefited from my having lived here. Certainly it helped attune me to the ethnic identity of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who drew on his Irish-American heritage to claim authority about African Americans and their family life, the subject of his controversial 1965 report that made him famous and helped launch a long career that culminated in his four terms as U.S. Senator representing New York.

“Beyond that, however, living here gave me the courage and perspective to write on one of the most heated intellectual controversies in recent American history. To many of Moynihan’s critics, his report was a racist document that blamed African Americans for persistent racial inequality by highlighting the ‘instability’ of ‘matriarchal’ families. Moynihan’s defenders, however, view criticism of the report as political correctness run amuck. Though I tend to side with Moynihan’s critics, the point of my book was not to rehash the controversy but to explain how it came about and to treat all participants’ views fairly in order to show how discourse over persistent African American inequality has changed since the Civil Rights era. Working in Ireland gave me the necessary distance to tell that story.”

 

What Our Judges Said

“superbly and clearly written and structured […] an extremely topical book with major relevance for contemporary American politics. It brings the debates over the implications of Moynihan’s report The Negro Family (1963) up to date and provides an exhaustively researched but compellingly written summary and analysis of the report’s impact.”

“a very fresh, well-researched study of the Moynihan Report and its legacy. It alerts us to the Report’s continuing relevance and malleability. […] us[ing] primary sources, including archives and interviews […] it thoughtfully navigates several perspectives (e.g., black sociology, feminism) on the Report. […] The lucidity of the writing is one of the key rewards of reading this book.”

 “There is much to learn and reconsider in reading this book, not only about the politics of race but also about the intellectual limits of liberalism – provocative and timely lessons for today. […] a significant contribution to our understanding of American social and political history.”

 

Short-Listed Books

Steve Gronert Ellerhoff, Post-Jungian Psychology and Short Stories of Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut (Routledge, 2016) – reviewed by Miranda Corcoran here.

Clare Hayes Brady, The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace: Language, Identity, Resistance (Bloomsbury, 2016) – available for review.

Lee M. Jenkins, The American Lawrence (University of Florida Press, 2015) – reviewed by Gillian Groszewski here.

David Coughlan, Ghost Writing in Contemporary American Fiction (Palgrave, 2016) – available for review.