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




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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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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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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