In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past

Henry Louis Gates, JR., Author Crown $27.50 (438p) ISBN 978-0-307-38240-5

In this companion book to a two-part PBS series, Gates (Colored People ) combines rigorous historical research with DNA analysis to recreate the family trees of African-American celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones, as well as intellectuals, authors, comedians, musicians and athletes. Most of the subjects knew very little about ancestors as recent as grandparents, to say nothing of the information DNA results provided about their African and European ancestry. Gates connects gaps in ancestral knowledge to the fundamental evil of the American slave era, when slave owners and sellers purposely “robbed black human beings of... all aspects of civilization that make a human being 'human’: names, birth dates, family ties.” Though the book relies too heavily on the notion that knowing one’s ancestry leads to a better understanding of aspects of one’s own personality, Gates proves in case after case that the past brings itself to bear on the present. In Chris Rock’s case, had he known he had a 19th-century ancestor who had served as a South Carolina legislator, “it might have taken away the inevitability that I was going to be nothing.” (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 11/10/2008
Release date: 01/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 301 pages - 978-0-307-40973-7
Downloadable Audio - 1 pages - 978-1-4159-5955-8
Compact Disc - 978-1-4159-5953-4
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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