Unmeltable Ethnics

Politics and Culture in American Life


This new, enlarged edition of an influential book ― originally published in 1972 as The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics ― extends the author's wise and generous view of ethnicity. Its aim "is to raise consciousness about a crucial part of the American experience: to involve each reader in self-inquiry. Who, after all, are you? What history brought you to where you are? Why are you different from others?" But the point of such inquiry is civility: "The new ethnic consciousness embodied in this book delights in recognition of subtle differences in the movements of the soul. It is not a call to separatism but to self-consciousness. It does not seek division but rather accurate, mutual appreciation."

This new edition contains six new essays by the author, including the acclaimed Pluralism: A Humanistic Perspective. New, too, is Novak's comprehensive introduction, bringing the argument up to date. Novak describes how and why ethnicity has become a prominent issue in American politics. He also sharply denounces the current ideology of "multiculturalism" as a disfiguration of genuine ethnicity. "Multiculturalism is moved by the eros of Narcissus" Novak writes, "the new ethnicity is driven by the eros of unrestricted understanding."

When the book first appeared, Time said that "Novak has attacked the American Dream in order to open up a possible second chapter for it." Newsweek called it "a tough-minded, provocative book which could well signal an important change in American politics."

This new edition adds crucial distinctions for those seeking an intelligent path through such current-day mystifications as "multiculturalism" and "diversity." Twenty-five years ago, Novak's argument led the way in focusing on families, neighborhoods, and other "mediating institutions" of civil society. It is an argument critical to a realistic sense of national community.

Originally Published: 1972


“Must reading for new coalitionists, new populists and pluralists.”

Irving M. Levine, Director
National Project on Ethnic America

“… it is perhaps the unequal burden of Americans like Michael Novak to enlighten our intellectual, governmental, and corporate leadership.”

Mayor John V. Lindsay

“A provocative study of America’s ethnic groupings—the Poles, Italians, Greeks, Slavs, Irish, Puerto Ricans, Jews, and others—as ‘unmeltable’ in the national stew.”

Publishers Weekly

“He fires away on every level. Why doesn’t a curator who will organize an exhibition of black art organize one of Lithuanian art? One of six people in New York is of Italian origin. But only 14 out of 165 are deans in the City University. Why do educated classes find it so hard to understand the man who drives a beer truck?”

The New York Times

“That Novak has so brilliantly explored ethnic angst and charted a pragmatic course for ‘a new cultural pluralism’ could well signal an important change in American politics.”


“Perhaps the best reflection on white ethnic life that has appeared so far… teems with good sense.”