A Nation of Nations

“A Nation of Nations is a necessary book on what America has become in the last half‑century. It tells the stories of new immigrants to a great country and defines and celebrates an exciting new American Exceptionalism.”
— Richard Reeves, author of Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese‑American Internment in World War II


The dramatic and compelling story of the transformation of America during the last fifty years, told through a handful of families in one suburban county in Virginia that has been utterly changed by recent immigration. – See more at Simon & Schuster

In the half century after the 1965 Immigration Act, the United States underwent a profound demographic shift, with newcomers arriving from around the world in numbers not seen since the early years of the twentieth century. When the law was passed, fewer than five percent of Americans were foreign born.  Fifty years later, immigrants made up nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population, and the composition of the foreign born population had changed dramatically. The 1965 Act abolished the national origin quotas that favored immigrants from Europe and discriminated against all others. The United States for the first time became a country that officially welcomed people of all nationalities.

Over the next decades, America’s founding myth of openness was put to the test. Prior to the 1965, three out of four immigrants came from Europe, and the country’s cultural character reflected its Anglo Saxon roots. Since then, nine of ten have come from other parts of the world. One of the last—and most important– acts of the civil-rights era, the 1965 immigration Act forced a new consideration of the U.S. national identity. By committing to a multicultural heritage, America took a thrilling gamble, betting heavily on its own resilience.


Early Praise

“The 21st century will be defined by seismic global immigration, remapping human interaction to the core, and the United States will remain the model for other nations to emulate. Tom Gjelten understands why, not only because he is a byproduct of immigration, but because he has been in the trenches—the inner cities, the rural landscapes, the contested borders‑‑where America is reborn on a daily basis. In this probing exploration, he explains, lucidly and with compassion, the extent to which the motto e pluribus unum is the engine of progress.”
— Ilan Stavans, editor of Becoming Americans: Immigrants Tell Their Stories from Jamestown to Today

“Tom Gjelten sings of a new America that bravely invites newcomers. A Nation of Nations would have pleased Whitman himself for its generosity, spirit and hope. This book is both smart and moving.”
— Min Jin Lee, author of Free Food for Millionaires

“An incisive look at immigration, assimilation, and national identity. . . . A timely, well‑informed entry into a national debate.”
— Kirkus Reviews

Tom Gjelten

Veteran NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten follows the experiences of immigrants and their families from Korea, Libya, Bolivia, and El Salvador as they settle in a part of northern Virginia famous for its ethnic diversity. A Nation of Nations is part political history, part intimate social narrative, part economic and cultural analysis. Among the characters in this epic story are the politicians and pundits who debated for years whom the country should welcome, the African American activists who overcame segregation only to face competition from new immigrant neighbors, and the government officials who had to design services for a population distinguished along racial, linguistic, and religious lines. At the center are the immigrants themselves, finding and embracing the values that bind them to their new homeland and make them fully American.

Over a thirty-year career as a correspondent for NPR News, Tom Gjelten has covered war and political conflict in Central America, the Middle East, and the former Yugoslavia, as well as major national stories in the United States. His NPR reporting has won him two Overseas Press Club Awards, a George Polk Award, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He is the author of Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege and Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause.

Recent NPR Work