Though well meaning, Russell's intended trove of biographical essays about important and inspiring African-Americans sounds an annoyingly simplistic, jingoistic rah-rah for people (Duke Ellington, Bob Moses) who deserve much better. The former TV Guide staffer just doesn—t offer sophisticated analysis. Instead, he offers ritualistic kudos directed, perhaps, to the perpetually innocent white consumer. Russell has an irritating habit of collecting profuse quotes from a fascinating elect (Cornel West, Toni Morrison) that we have heard before but usually in better-framed, more eloquent sentences. His observations are lackluster (in West's Harvard University office, "books lay stacked everywhere—horizontally, vertically, diagonally"). Russell does lay out the basic information about his 33 subjects, well-known and lesser-known (such as sculptor Meta Warrick Fuller and arts educator Elma Lewis). Yet neither individually nor cumulatively do these portraits approach an elucidation of genius in general, or of black genius in particular. This is a shame, since an intelligent biographical look at the African-American heritage for the general reader is long overdue.
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