While the personal discoveries provide human interest in a sometimes tedious recitation of genealogical information and...

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FACES OF AMERICA

HOW 12 EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE DISCOVERED THEIR PASTS

The complex immigrant story of the United States viewed through extensive genetic and genealogical research into the backgrounds of 12 ethnically diverse, famous Americans.

Renowned scholar Gates (African American Studies/Harvard Univ.; The Signifying Monkey, 2010, etc.), who narrated the recent PBS mini-series on which this book is based, selected people of accomplishment who interested him, including writers, a director, a chef, a musician, a comedian, a physician, a figure skater, even a queen. With the assistance of genealogical researchers and geneticists, he explored their very different backgrounds and shared his findings with his subjects—not only about their named ancestors but also about what their genes revealed about their family trees. After an introduction and some explanatory notes about DNA testing, Gates offers 12 similarly structured chapters. First he briefly cites the subject’s accomplishments, tells why he or she is part of the project and provides a brief biographical sketch. In the next section, the author puts the ancestors’ personal stories into a broader historical context. Finally he tells each subject what the DNA tells him about the subject’s ancestral lineage, where his ancestors probably lived in the distant past, how they are linked with others on the human family tree and what percentage of the subject’s heritage is European, African or Asian/Native American. Each chapter concludes with the subject’s reaction to the facts and the linkages that Gates has uncovered for them—e.g., Mike Nichols was thrilled to learn that he is a distant cousin of Albert Einstein, and Malcolm Gladwell was stunned to learn that his mixed-race Jamaican ancestors were slave-owners. Other subjects include such luminaries as Meryl Streep, Yo-Yo Ma, Stephen Colbert, Mario Batali and Mehmet Oz.

While the personal discoveries provide human interest in a sometimes tedious recitation of genealogical information and technical genetic data, it is the broader sweep of history and the causes and ramifications of human migrations that engage the reader and give the book its impact.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8147-3264-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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