Primarily of interest to avid genealogy buffs.



The latest from redoubtable historian Gates (African-American Research/Harvard Univ.; Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008, 2011, etc.) is not, despite the title, about finding your roots. A companion text to the popular PBS series, and following his similar Faces of America (2010), it’s about finding the roots of 25 American notables of diverse ethnicity.

From Branford Marsalis to Wanda Sykes, Sanjay Gupta to Harry Connick Jr., Cory Booker to Barbara Walters, the histories are uniformly told. The author introduces the subject of each inquiry with a concise biography and some apt words from the honoree. There follows the parade of progenitors discovered through oral history and documents like immigration records, realty transactions and census rolls. Experts were often enlisted. Finally, DNA was used to trace genealogy, sometimes back to the Ice Age. It appears that Martha Stewart is descended from craftspeople, and through the veins of Robert Downey Jr. flows a bit of Jewish blood. As many readers will suspect, climbing the family trees of these famous figures proves that many of us are related—perhaps not even six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon (his ancestry goes back to Edward I, and Brad Pitt is Bacon’s 13th cousin twice removed). Throughout these family tapestries are a variety of common threads—e.g., poverty, name changes and mistreatment. Integral to the nation’s history are the sorry annals of slavery as narrated by Gates in the African-Americans’ case studies. Their stories are particularly moving. Unfortunately, the TV format proves static on the printed page. Despite the persecuted emigrants, the tycoons, the slave masters and all the other colorful ancestral characters populating Gates’ passionate research, the individual tales rarely spring to life. Other subjects in the collection include Rick Warren, Condoleezza Rice, John Legend and Adrian Grenier.

Primarily of interest to avid genealogy buffs.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4696-1800-5

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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


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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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.


Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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