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I *think the theme of the book was about how the arts (mostly the visual arts) fed into, were influenced by, influenced and fought against the various trends of multiculturalism over the 20th and early 21st centuries. It's not always clear if Chang is taking a position on this, or if his voice, which is very conversational, is meant to reflect the artists that he's speaking about. He picks individual artists (for example, he starts with the local, and recently passed Morrie Turner) to discuss how art changed over time. It's never quite clear if he thinks these artists were representative of the changes- as in, good examples of what was going on- or if he believes these artists were the catalysts for the changes that were going on. It also isn't clear, because of the last hundred pages that take place from 2010 on, if this is a book about the history of art as it relates to multiculturalism, or if he's telling the story of multiculturalism through art. The last hundred pages, about Trayvon Martin, Occupy, the Dream Act, have almost nothing to do with art. They discuss the colorization of America. Are no artists representative of this? The section leads with a discussion of Shepherd Fairey's Obama poster, but that's about it.
I slogged through this one, but I don't get it. Tricia Rose points to some of these same issues in her review for the NYT. Hyphen says that Chang's last book had that same slow-going style that I found with this one. Pages took days (and I finished this book last week, so the review did, too). But mostly, the reviews have a positive tone, and Kirkus's influential review is mostly a summary with positive notes. I wouldn't recommend this, though, and feel stupid for not understanding.