September 27, 2021

George Makari

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes psychiatrist, historian, and writer GEORGE MAKARI for a discussion of his latest book, Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia. He will be joined in conversation by award-winning poet ANTHONY WALTON, the acclaimed author of Mississippi: An American Journey.


By 2016, it was impossible to ignore an international resurgence of xenophobia. What had happened? Looking for clues, psychiatrist and historian George Makari started out in search of the idea’s origins. To his astonishment, he discovered an unfolding series of never-told stories. While a fear and hatred of strangers may be ancient, he found that the notion of a dangerous bias called "xenophobia" arose not so long ago.

Coined by late-nineteenth-century doctors and political commentators and popularized by an eccentric stenographer, xenophobia emerged alongside Western nationalism, colonialism, mass migration, and genocide. Makari chronicles the concept’s rise, from its popularization and perverse misuse to its spread as an ethical principle in the wake of a series of calamities that culminated in the Holocaust, and its sudden reappearance in the twenty-first century. He investigates xenophobia’s evolution through the writings of figures such as Joseph Conrad, Albert Camus, and Richard Wright, and innovators like Walter Lippmann, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Frantz Fanon. Weaving together history, philosophy, and psychology, Makari offers insights into varied, related ideas such as the conditioned response, the stereotype, projection, the Authoritarian Personality, the Other, and institutional bias.

Masterful, original, and elegantly written, Of Fear and Strangers offers us a unifying paradigm by which we might more clearly comprehend how irrational anxiety and contests over identity sweep up groups and lead to the dark headlines of division so prevalent today.

About Author(s)

George Makari is a psychiatrist, historian, and the author of Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind and, most recently, Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia. Director of the DeWitt Wallace Institute and professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, he lives in New York City.

Anthony Walton is the author of Mississippi: An American Journey, and editor, with Michael Harper, of Every Shut-Eye Ain’t Asleep and The Vintage Book of African American Poetry. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York TimesThe Black ScholarTLS, the BBC, PN Review, Poetry Ireland ReviewNotre Dame ReviewHarper’s, and Atlantic Monthly, among many other journals, magazines, anthologies, and media. The recipient of a Whiting Award, he teaches at Bowdoin College.