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Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered their Pasts [Kindle Edition]

Henry Louis Gates Jr.
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered Their Pasts As a nation of immigrants, the American experience is vibrantly defined by the diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious heritage of its people. Perhaps because so many of their ancestors migrated to this country relatively recently, Americans are especially concerned with their family trees, carving out personal histories by combing through documents such as wills and estate records, federal and state censuses, and private family papers, and mining the stories and tales handed down to them by their forebears. Since 2007, the Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has been helping African Americans find long-buried details about their ancestors by researching their family trees and then, when the paper trail ends, by analyzing their DNA and marrying that information to a wealth of historical data. Now, in Faces of America Gates explores the family trees of twelve of America’s most recognizable and extraordinary citizens, individuals who learn that they are of Asian, English, French, German, Irish, Italian, Jamaican, Jewish, Latino, Native American, Swiss, and Syrian ancestry: Inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander, chef Mario Batali, comedian and television personality Stephen Colbert, writer Louise Erdrich, writer Malcolm Gladwell, actress Eva Longoria, cellist Yo Yo Ma, writer and director Mike Nichols, former monarch of Jordan Queen Noor, surgeon and author Dr. Mehmet Oz, actress Meryl Streep, and Olympic gold medalist and figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi. In addition, each of the subjects in Faces of America underwent dense genotyping to trace their genetic ancestry on their father’s line, their mother’s line, and their percentages of European, Asian, Native American, and African ancestry. Faces of America unfolds as a riveting journey into our country’s complex ancestral past. Readers will share in the surprise and delight, the shock and sadness of these twelve individuals themselves as Gates unveils their rich family stories, traced back to their arrival on America’s shores, and beyond, deep into the history of their ancestors’ countries of origin. America, as Gates shows us, is a nation of many historical threads, interwoven and united in the present moment. In this compelling book, Gates demonstrates that where we come from profoundly and fundamentally informs who we are today.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Faces of America adds compelling evidence that the American story of race is a far more complicated affair than the conventional wisdom of the past would have us believe. Science, history, and genealogy come together in this accessible, intelligent, and elegant presentation. This is a must read for all who are interested in reconstructing the story of the American people.”
Annette Gordon-Reed, 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner and 2008 National Book Award winner for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Product Details

  • File Size: 2692 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003R0MFGM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #663,587 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating June 1, 2011
By Ohioan
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I don' watch much television, so I had never seen Gates' shows on DNA and heredity. What was in this book was new to me, and I found it fascinating. I liked the twelve people Gates' researched, I loved reading their family histories and the results of the genetic and the paper (historical papers) investigations. I also liked the order of the stories, from oldest to youngest, and enjoyed seeing how some of the people were related. I can't figure out why this book hasn't gotten more attention.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars loved the book July 12, 2013
By Laura
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am a genealogy junkie. I loved this book. I enjoyed the author's style of writing and I love that he was passionate about the same things that I am interested. My only input is that it would have been nice to see a family tree as a companion for the book. I seem to remember something online so I will check again. Loved the book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This will make EVERYONE want to do their genealogy! January 1, 2013
Do you know anything about your grandparents? Your great grandparents? Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has made something as seemingly ho-hum as your personal family history the most interesting part of your life! He focuses on famous people, but not necessarily rock stars. For example, the great cellist Yo-Yo Ma has never liked his name and thought his father was playing a cruel trick on him---turns out Yo-Yo's name was ordained by an ancestor SEVEN GENERATIONS before he was born! Not only that, but Gates found the original family book in China! If you've ever had a desire to know more about your own history, try out an episode on this on Netflix or Amazon streaming and then buy it---you'll love it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than the series! November 27, 2012
By Venice
I enjoyed the series, but I liked the book even better because it went into more detail about where Gates & Co. got stuck (sometimes why), some more details about the celebrities' reactions to the information they were given, and more details about the DNA tests each one (except one) took.
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