Synopses & Reviews
One of The New York Times Book Review
's 10 Best Books of the Year.
In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.
Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an unrecognized immigration within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.
"Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a 'necktie party' (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by 'the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town.' Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the 'great migration,' the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an 'uncertain existence' in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"A landmark piece of nonfiction…. sure to hold many surprises for readers of any race or experience….A mesmerizing book that warrants comparison to The Promised Land, Nicholas Lemann’s study of the Great Migration's early phase, and Common Ground, J. Anthony Lukas's great, close-range look at racial strife in Boston.[Wilkerson's] closeness with, and profound affection for, her subjects reflect her deep immersion in their stories and allow the reader to share that connection." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"The Warmth of Other Suns is a brilliant and stirring epic, the first book to cover the full half-century of the Great Migration. Wilkerson combines impressive research…with great narrative and literary power. Ms. Wilkerson does for the Great Migration what John Steinbeck did for the Okies in his fiction masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath; she humanizes history, giving it emotional and psychological depth." John Stauffer, Wall Street Journal
"[A] deeply affecting, finely crafted and heroic book. Wilkerson has taken on one of the most important demographic upheavals of the past century -- a phenomenon whose dimensions and significance have eluded many a scholar -- and told it through the lives of three people no one has ever heard of. This is narrative nonfiction, lyrical and tragic and fatalist. The story exposes; the story moves; the story ends. What Wilkerson urges, finally, isn't argument at all; it's compassion. Hush, and listen." Jill Lepore, The New Yorker
"The Warmth of Other Suns is epic in its reach and in its structure. Told in a voice that echoes the magic cadences of Toni Morrison or the folk wisdom of Zora Neale Hurston's collected oral histories, Wilkerson's book pulls not just the expanse of the migration into focus but its overall impact on politics, literature, music, sports -- in the nation and the world." Lynell George, Los Angeles Times
andldquo;Ethan Michaeliand#39;s The Defender
is a rich, majestic, sweeping history, both of a newspaper and of a people. In these pages, Michaeli captures the degradation and exhilaration of black America in the twentieth century, and driving this story are a handful of men and women infused with incredible courage and a deep faith in journalismand#39;s power to seek justice.andrdquo;
andmdash;Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here.
andldquo;In the spring of 1905 Robert Abbott sat at a card table squeezed into a corner of a realtorandrsquo;s office on Chicagoandrsquo;s South Side to put together the first issue of a newspaper he called The Defender. In the 110 years since it has more than lived up to its name, its pages filled with searing reports of racial injustice and fierce editorials in support of its readersandrsquo; rights.and#160; Now Ethan Michaeli has recreated The Defenderandrsquo;s remarkable historyandmdash;and reminded us of the power of the press at its courageous best.andrdquo;
andmdash;Kevin Boyle, author of the National Book Award-winning Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age
andldquo;This is a major work of American historyandmdash;the compelling and richly-researched story of the legendary newspaper and the astonishing collection of history-makers whose lives are forever intertwined.andrdquo;
andmdash;Jonathan Alter, author of The Center Holds: Obama and his Enemies
andldquo;Here, at long last, is the story that needed to be told.and#160; Inand#160;The Defender, Ethan Michaeli has laid out the power and importance of a fearless newspaper in the struggle for black equality. Meticulously researched, engagingly written, Michaeliand#39;s landmark history of this storied institution, which has served at key moments as lens, interpreter, catalyst or voice for blacksandrsquo; full citizenship rights, will become an essential resource in African American cultural and political studies.andrdquo;
andmdash;Carol Anderson, Professor of African American Studies at Emory University, author of White Rage
andldquo;The story of the Chicago Defender is one of the great untold stories of black America andminus; if not the great story. At every crucial juncture, from the northern migration, to Pullman strikes to civil rights right up to Barack Obama, the Defender was there chronicling, advocating and building an entire civic, political and intellectual universe. It is remarkable to me that this book wasnandrsquo;t written until now and an absolute god-send that Ethan Michaeli has stepped in to fill the void.andrdquo;
andmdash;Chris Hayes, author of Twilight of the Elites, host of MSNBCandrsquo;s andldquo;All In with Chris Hayes.andrdquo;
andldquo;Ethan Michaeliandrsquo;s compelling book represents socialand#160;history at its finest. The Defender explores Americaandrsquo;s long struggle with raceand#160;through the unique lens of an essential and underappreciated Chicago newspaper at the center of it all.andrdquo;
andmdash;David Maraniss, author of the forthcoming Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story
and#160;andldquo;For more than a century, the South Side of Chicago has been a hub of African-American history, and throughout the years, that saga has been told through the pages of the Chicago Defender newspaper.and#160; In this compelling book, Ethan Michaeli shares the story of the Defender and the essential role it has played in Chicagoand#39;s black community and beyond.andrdquo;andmdash;David Axelrod, author of Believer: My Forty Years in Politics
andquot;With meticulous attention to detail and in immensely readable prose, Ethan Michaeli, who once worked for the paper, tells The Chicago Defenderand#39;s story and, through it, that of African Americans in the twentieth century. It is a masterful work that goes a long way toward explaining why we are where we are now.andquot;
andmdash;Jessica B.Harris, Professor of English, Queens College/ CUNY and author of High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America
andldquo;Just as the Defender has broken important journalistic ground time and again in itsand#39; storied history, author Ethan Michaeli is an original and intrepid force in Chicago media, having devoted his life to elevating and celebrating the silenced voices of Chicagoand#39;s public housing projects. Michaeli on the Defender is an unbeatable combination.andrdquo;
andmdash;Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, author of Listening is an Act of Love
andldquo;The Defender is the kind of superb nonfiction you donandrsquo;t see much anymoreandmdash;a big, fluidly written, marvelously researched story about fascinating people who shaped American culture. Ethan Michaeli has written a book that is as important as it is compulsively readable.andrdquo;
andmdash;Jonathan Eig, author of The Birth of the Pill
With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells the story of the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, from 1915 to 1970, through the lives of three unique individuals.
Veteran reporter Ethan Michaeli tells the story of Chicagoandrsquo;s iconic black newspaper, the family and the journalists who made it great, and the hidden history of black America in the twentieth century.
andldquo;The story of the Chicago Defender is the story of race in the twentieth century.andrdquo;and#160; andmdash; Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here
Giving voice to the voiceless, the Chicago Defender had a reach and influence extending far beyond Chicago. The newspaper and the family behind it condemned Jim Crow, catalyzed the Great Migration, fostered the integration of the U.S. armed forces in the wake of World War II, and laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement. Over the years, the Defenderandrsquo;s staff included an unparalleled collection of writers, intellectuals, and activists: Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Jesse Jackson were among the better-known bylines, but there were hundreds of less celebrated reporters at the paper who braved lynch mobs and policemenandrsquo;s clubs to get their stories.
Through the depth of his research, veteran reporter Ethan Michaeli constructs a revelatory narrative of race in America. The Defender sheds unprecedented light on an entire civic, political, and intellectual universe whose legacy reverberates well into the twenty-first century.
About the Author
Isabel Wilkerson won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing as Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times. The first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism and the first African American to win for individual reporting, she has also won the George Polk Award and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. She has lectured on narrative at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and has served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and as the James M. Cox Jr. Professor of Journalism at Emory University. She is currently Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction at Boston University. During the Great Migration, her parents journeyed from Georgia and southern Virginia to Washington, D.C., where she was born and reared. This is her first book.