by ; illustrated by
Email this review


As the title suggests, this book shows how profound and pervasive the immigrant influence has been on American life.

Scratch beneath the surface of nearly any facet of what is considered American culture, and you’ll likely find the imprint of someone who came to the country from somewhere else. Such is the lesson of this collaboration between novelist Nović (Girl at War, 2015), who was born and raised in America within an immigrant family, and illustrator Kolesar, who emigrated from Scotland. Here, they celebrate more than 200 individuals, with capsule biographies of no more than a page and full-color portraits that attest to the cultural diversity and vitality of the immigrant influence. “There are 193 member states in the United Nations; this book contains at least one person from each of them,” states the introduction. One two-page spread on “Classic American Products” pays tribute to those responsible for Levi’s, hamburgers, Nathan’s hot dogs, Carvel ice cream, and Chevrolet, all-American iconography that owes its genesis to Germany, Denmark, Poland, Greece, and Switzerland, respectively. The all-American Chef Boyardee was known in his native Italy as Ettore Boiardi. After the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, when he “famously quipped to his doctors, ‘Please tell me you’re Republicans,’ ” three members of his medical team were from Malaysia, “Nicaragua/Mexico,” and “a refugee of Nazi Germany…raised in an American orphanage.” Lest anyone think this is a work of partisan ideology, among those celebrated is “the only naturalized citizen ever to become First Lady, Melania Trump,” balanced a couple of pages later by Hungarian refugee and billionaire human rights activist George Soros. As the narrative clearly shows, from music to fine arts, from the stage to the big screen, from scientific discoveries to athletic records, the history of American culture is impossible to record without significant immigrant representation.

A book that makes its point over and over again without belaboring it.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-984819-82-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2019