Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered Their Pasts

Henry Louis Gates Jr. , New York Univ., $26.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8147-3264-9
Mitochondrial DNA, passed from mother to child, provides, upon close examination, a record of ancient migration patterns and family groupings. It is what links groups of human beings to each other and it is one of many genetic mysteries that motivated Harvard professor Gates to unravel the historical and genetic past of 12 celebrities, artists, and intellectuals in this follow-up to a previous examination of notable African-Americans. Based on the PBS series of the same name hosted by the author, the book is a deceptively breezy read that contains profound revelations on race, on biology vs. social constructs, and how ancestry can subtly (or resoundingly) manifest itself. There are surprises—he finds a common ancestor between Queen Noor of Jordan and African-American academic Elizabeth Alexander; both are 37th great-granddaughters of Charlemagne—and in getting such subjects as Mike Nichols to open up about their pasts, he finds how powerfully the past informs the present. Gates offers a book stuffed with epiphanies that will spark curiosity among readers about their own ancestry as well as their possible connections to each other. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/24/2010
Release date: 07/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
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