Bright, inquisitive take on the multifarious murky stories and relationships that make up the history of a dispossessed...

IN SEARCH OF OUR ROOTS

HOW 19 EXTRAORDINARY AFRICAN AMERICANS RECLAIMED THEIR PAST

Chatty companion volume to the landmark PBS documentary African American Lives.

The folksy persona displayed onscreen by the two-part program’s writer/producer was a decided change of pace for gadfly public intellectual Gates (director, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute/Harvard Univ.; America Behind the Color Line, 2004, etc.), whose scholarly work can be starchy. Often going by his nickname “Skip,” Gates led celebrity guests like Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Morgan Freeman through their family history, with an impressive team of genealogists and DNA scientists helping to clear up many mysteries. That same engaging tone emanates from this book, which covers all 19 people profiled on the show and adds a chapter on “How to Trace Your Own Roots.” It’s the rare African-American family that can track any relative back past the 19th century, and none of Gates’s guests knew nearly as much about their family as they would have liked. (“I just want to know exactly what happened, whatever it is,” was a common statement.) There’s not a dull story in these pages. Tina Turner found out she was actually one-third white: “So that’s why I love Europe,” she quipped. Reverend Peter J. Gomes learned that his Cape Verdean background included several Jewish ancestors. Don Cheadle’s ancestors were owned, not by whites, but by Native Americans. Long-held family myths were dispelled by hard genealogical or genetic data, often prompting very emotional responses, but the historical truths that replaced them were sometimes even more fascinating. Like the documentary, the book aims to be as approachable as possible—Gates’s frequent use of “we” is a nicely familial touch—but there are times when this stance becomes repetitive and bland, despite the intrinsically intriguing material. In the end, though, Gates achieves his goal: to produce a Roots for the 21st century.

Bright, inquisitive take on the multifarious murky stories and relationships that make up the history of a dispossessed people.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-38240-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2008

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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