To begin with, I should let you know that I am a current Law School student who graduated with an BA in American History and Politics. As a result, I know a little something about our country, its politics, and its past. I read this book by Ms. Anderson during my senior year at Northwestern and I have detested it ever since. I would like to share with you why I feel it is unprofessional and grating on logic.
In summary, "Eyes Off the Prize" is a cynical book that ironically tweaks the famed "Eyes On the Prize" title from the PBS Series by Juan Williams concerning the Civil Rights Movement. Indeed, while Mr. Williams is quite happy about where we've come as a country, Ms. Anderson isn't and sees doom and gloom behind every smile. The basic thesis of her book is that the United States wrongly and irrationally obsessed over CIVIL rights for African Americans during the early Postwar Era. Instead, writes Ms. Anderson, our politicians (especially of the Left) should have focused their many energies on promoting minority HUMAN rights instead. Specifically, HUMAN rights encompass such qualities as health care, human decency, and other social-oriented values that Ms. Anderson and others deem essential to human existence. In contrast, CIVIL rights are simply those legal and political rights people are naturally due to receive as equal members of a free and democratic community. In her book, Ms. Anderson allegedly demonstrates how American politicians of the traditional Left didn't sufficiently push a human rights agenda during the 1940's-1950's. Consequently, during that period of time, they had their "eyes off the prize" that would have led to greater and more in-depth human decency and equality for African Americans. This, in turn, Ms. Anderson claims is responsible for the sorry state of our race relations today and the gulag-like conditions under which African Americans currently live in this horrible and oppressive country (indeed?). Added to that, throughout her "analysis," Ms. Anderson spends a good deal of time rubishing the United States government and such venerable liberal figures as Harry Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt. In the authors' eyes, such leading personalities cynically sacrified the publication of key African American grievances in order to sustain pro-US propaganda efforts against the Soviet Union.
That being said, the main problem with "Eyes Off the Prize" is that it disungenuously under-analyzes issues which require a great deal of explanation, but which the groupthink-inclined academic views as completely self-evident. Indeed, throughout her voluminous work, Ms. Anderson never bothers to argue why human rights should have been the "prize" and she never bothers to address the counter-argument that "civil" rights were more important. Similarly, in tearing apart Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman, she never once bothers to analyze why either of the two figures worked to defend the United States in front of the world. No, no, she thinks that they should have been out there on the international stage condemning every little facet of American social life and portraying every African American as defeated and downtrodden. Because they didn't do this, Ms. Anderson portrays Ms. Roosevelt and Mr. Truman as traitors to morality who were too quick and too eager to cover up domestic crimes in the promotion of the American brand. However, far from traitors to morality, Ms. Roosevelt and Mr. Truman were simply trying to secure the victory of African American rights WITHOUT harming the public reputation of the US and thus leaving foreigners open to Soviet propaganda. Hardly nefarious, such liberalizing efforts are admirable when one considers the great misery perpetrated by the Soviets and the great catastrophe their socialist system brought upon emerging Third World nations. (Indeed, Ms. Anderson, who is so concerned about human rights, should be more concerned about the truly gulag-like conditions created by Soviet state machinery among the African peoples.) In essence, therefore, the "evil" Ms. Roosevelt and Mr. Truman were merely working to secure human rights for people at home AND ABROAD and resultingly found themselves tasked with a balancing act of great difficulty. Naturally, Ms. Anderson never bothers to address these major foreign policy issues, but simply condemns, condemns, condemns with the self-righteousness born of an ideologue and the venom born by a repressed academian without a revolution to join. Besides, she never once criticizes the Soviet Union nor the many lackeys in African American politics who towed its immoral line and supported political and social policies in international relations which the author herself deems repugnant and immoral in America proper. Actually, it's ironic: Ms. Anderson supports white and black activists in her book who pushed human rights at home and proletarian terror abroad but then criticizes Ms. Roosevelt and Mr. Truman for wanting to push morality and human rights EVERYWHERE at once -- an odd "moral" tale.
As a result, I have to say that "Eyes Off the Prize" is a very immature work that does not deserve to access any sane area of the human brain for fear of contamination. That said, I would respect Ms. Anderson if her book had only offered logic and reasoning alongside all the ideology and unfair condemnation. However, instead, her book is one that leaves numerous questions unanswered and yet manages to make more conclusions of certainty than reason would allow.