America for Americans

A History of Xenophobia in the United States

(New York: Basic Books, 2019); Updated 2nd edition (paperback) with a new epilogue on xenophobia during the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021)

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Winner, American Book Award

Winner, Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, Adult Non-Fiction

Ralph Waldo Emerson Book Award Finalist

2020 Richard Frisbie Adult Nonfiction Award Honoree

2020 Minnesota Book Award Finalist

Reviewed in: Publisher’s Weekly | Kirkus Reviews (starred); profiled in: The New Yorker; excerpted in: The Atlantic; highlighted by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the New York Public Libraryas one of the most important books illuminating the Trump era and informing essential issues in the 2020 election

Featured in Best Book Lists in Time, USA Today, Ms. Magazine

Related Op-eds: Washington Post, Time


“As Erika Lee brilliantly shows, xenophobia has forever been an integral part of American racism. Forcing us to confront this history as we confront its present, America for Americans is essential reading for anyone who wants to build a more inclusive society.”

—Ibram X. Kendi, New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist and Stamped from the Beginning

“America for Americans is unflinching and powerful. Through extensive research and crystal clear prose, Erika Lee has masterfully tracked the phenomenon of xenophobia and its devastating effects on this nation’s democracy and its people. Spurred on by unscrupulous politicians and key segments of the press, the cadence of fear, racism, and policy violence has rained down on immigrants since the colonial period and wreaked havoc on America’s laws and claims of moral and human rights leadership. This is a must-read for all who need and want to understand how the ‘leader of the free world’ came to ban a religion, violate asylum laws, and lock babies in cages.”

—Carol Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of White Rage and One Person, No Vote

“The most comprehensive and chilling history of anti-immigrant sentiment in America ever written. With narrative authority and analytic precision, Erika Lee shows how xenophobia has shaped America more than the ideals embodied by the Statue of Liberty. An indispensable and sobering guide to the politics of our own time.”

—Gary Gerstle, author of American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century

“Erika Lee’s America for Americans is an insightful, thought-provoking book that helps us understand why the United States, a ‘nation of immigrants,’ could be the home to such longstanding and powerful anti-immigrant movements. Anyone who wants to fully understand why Americans are so divided over border walls, asylum policy, and sanctuary cities must read this outstanding book.”

—Tyler Anbinder, author of City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York

“America’s xenophobic underbelly is laid bare by Erika Lee’s meticulous chronicle, which begins well before 1776, when ‘swarms’ of Germans in the American colonies were labeled ‘scum’ and ‘criminals,’ and then details how those same hateful descriptions have been applied to Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Muslims, and others. This fascinating, timely, and important book makes it possible for us to stop repeating history and instead to build bridges based on our shared immigrant experiences.”

—Helen Zia, author of Last Boat out of Shanghai and Asian American Dreams    

“America for Americans is an intellectual tour de force wrapped in a vibrant, accessible narrative. Erika Lee reveals how hostility toward foreigners has profoundly influenced popular imagination and public policy, beginning with agitation over German settlers in early America. The exclusionist rhetoric, practices, and policies so prevalent today are nothing new, but echo back centuries of marking the boundaries of belonging. A timely, eloquent meditation on immigration, Lee’s book demonstrates why history matters in understanding the contemporary resurgence of xenophobia and makes plain its shameful consequences (past and present) for individuals and the nation.”

—Vicki L. Ruiz, author of From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America

“A ‘nation of immigrants,’ America badly needs a history of xenophobia, and in America for Americans, Erika Lee delivers. By distinguishing nativism from xenophobia, she shows how Native Americans and Africans were transformed into foreigners and how that xenophobia fueled racist attacks against immigrants. Neither natural nor inevitable, xenophobia is always promoted by those who benefit from it, and in this courageous book, Lee names the beneficiaries.”

—Donna Gabaccia, Emerita Professor of History, University of Toronto