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Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered their Pasts Hardcover – July 6, 2010

5 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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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.
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Review

“The complex immigrant story of the United States viewed through extensive genetic and genealogical research into the backgrounds of 12 ethnically diverse, famous Americans.... [I]t is the broader sweep of history and the causes and ramifications of human migrations that engage the reader and give the book its impact.”
-Kirkus Review



“In Faces of America, Henry Louis Gates Jr. has found a middle path: He applies the most rigorous genealogical and genetic tools to the family histories of 12 ethnically distinct Americans, and in doing so touches on the history of not only these individuals but on the human race itself...Gates’s breezy, intimate style and obvious affection for his subjects results in a book that is the bionic version of that old fourth-grade family tree assignment, thanks to the support of a world-class Rolodex and Harvard researchers and geneticists. It’s fun.”
-The Boston Globe

“There are surprises—[Gates] 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.”
-Publishers Weekly



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



“Henry Louis Gates, Jr., takes us on a spellbinding journey into the lives of some of America’s favorite celebrities by excavating historical archives and using the latest advances in genealogy and genetics. A rich tapestry of the nation’s people, Gates’s Faces of America uncovers the common thread that holds us together while highlighting the differences that make us unique from each other and from one generation to the next.”
-Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham,Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (July 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081473264X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814732649
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,159,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Easy to read. Entertaining to have such a wide range of different subjects with such different heritages. My favorite was the black educator whose father had been a prominent Civil Rights leader who discovered that both her paternal and maternal lineages were largely WHITE and dated back to the Magna Carta. Said something profound about the silliness of the concept of Race. Studying the use of DNA in genealogy is hard work, these easier to understand books are nice respite from the more technical ones. Worthwhile.
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Format: Hardcover
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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