Magisterial investigation of black America by a white reporter for The Washington Post; portions have appeared in Life magazine and the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. The seed for this book was planted when Harrington, who's married to a black woman and has two mixed-race children, overheard a racist joke while sitting in his dentist's chair. Instantly, ""I was touched and humbled, converted...I knew in my heart that I didn't know arching about race."" To educate himself, he undertook a 25,000-mile voyage around the country, talking and listening to hundreds of blacks, from sharecroppers and cops to college professors and writers. Some of the visits were personal: Harrington dropped by his wife's family farm, where he heard his father-in-law's memories of segregation; later, he visited two black acquaintances from his college days, both former radicals. Mostly, though, Harrington met strangers. A few were celebrities: Ice-T, who urged young blacks to work within the system; a diffident Spike Lee; the ""seriously giddy"" Dori Sanders, author of Clover; Ishmael Reed; James McPherson, who saluted ""decents"" of all races. The unknowns ranged from a 96-year-old in Arkansas who remembered lynchings to gang members on the West Coast to a saintly volunteer at a children's hospital in Detroit. Occasionally, the talk shocked Harrison: Several blacks complained about black indolence and crime; young black men found black women ""too manly."" Blacks, the author notes, speak a different language than whites, communicating through rhythm as well as content. At journey's end, Harrison found himself ""leas frightened"" of blacks, admiring their humor, skepticism, and resourcefulness. He contends that the ""white liberal piety"" of black-white sameness is a lie; that racial distrust runs deep; and that it's up to whites to solve the problem. Too long by far, but an engrossing, multilayered portrait--as well as a touching personal odyssey.