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An American Story Hardcover – September 19, 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Debra Dickerson's fiercely honest account of her journey from the black working class to the ivied halls of Harvard Law School couldn't be more aptly titled. What's more American than someone who reaches a political turning point as a result of buying a lousy car? At the time, Dickerson was a conservative supporter of Ronald Reagan who believed her north St. Louis neighbors were poor and jobless because of their personal failings--and of course, it wasn't really her lemon of a Renault Alliance that changed her mind. But after years of struggling to get an education while her brother Bobby threw away every opportunity, after finding an apparent refuge in the Air Force (just as her bitter, violent father had during World War II in the Marines), Dickerson was appalled that "a blameless person in uniform" was expected, by everyone from her superior officers to the lawyers she tried to hire to help her, to make payments on a car that wouldn't run. "That experience made it crystal clear to me whose side society was on," she writes. Without abandoning her belief in personal responsibility, Dickerson began to reassess her contempt for people like her brother, who had made mistakes but had never been given any margin for error. Her reconciliation with Bobby is the most moving moment in a book notable for its bruising candor on the uncomfortable subjects of race and class, as well as its complete lack of political and cultural platitudes. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

HFollowing a controversial 1995 New Republic article about the shooting of her nephew, Dickerson became a popular commentator on race and society in America. In her first book, she again stirs the cauldron with a no-holds barred look at her humble Midwestern beginnings, scrappy clan, career strivings and personal miscues and victories. Rarely does a memoir strip away so much emotional armor to expose so many defects as well as strengths. A lawyer with a Harvard Law School pedigree and journalist with bylines in many leading national publications, Dickerson first turns her unflinching gaze upon her struggling parents, sharecroppers who had migrated to north St. Louis, whom she analyzes in painstaking detail. She admits the brutal psychological effects of her father's iron-fisted rule and life in an inner-city environment, which left her with a growing burden of self-doubt and self-hatred that only subsided upon her entry into the Air Force at age 21. A minor flaw is Dickerson's reluctance to examine her other four siblings with the same razor-sharp scrutiny that she applies to her youngest brother, Bobby, who als0 endured emotional abuse by their father. If Dickerson is ruthless in her appraisal of others, she is twice as hard on her own shortcomings, especially the views about poor and lower-working-class blacks trapped in poverty and despair she held as a young woman. Her display of courage following a rape, along with her gritty determination to excel at Harvard, attests to the complexity and resilience of this chameleon of a woman. This tough, sassy memoir dramatically underscores the importance of hope, family and truth in one person's quest to reach and sustain her version of the American dream. Agent, Ronald Golddfarb. First printing 75,000; 9-city author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Pantheon
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (September 19, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037542069X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375420696
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,956,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an African American woman, who also served as an officer in the Air Force during the same time frame of Ms Dickerson, I was anxious to read about her journey through the military. I saw many similarities in our experiences. I found the book to be most compelling in the first 100 pages; her memoir about the foundation laid to make her the person she is today. This was poignant and affecting writing. After high school, she turns from a living, feeling, and thinking young girl to a two-dimensional character. Important events are glossed-over/minimized. For example her treatment of sex and her relationships with men or really...anybody. There was little or no acknowledgement of her relationships with anyone outside of her parents and her little brother. She occasionally mentioned a boyfriend by name, but apparently other than getting her into Harvard Law School, they had very little impact on her life or the way that she sees the world. Same goes for roommates during OTS and her time as an enlisted person in the Air Force. These people are apparently (by theri ommission) unimportant to her intellectual/emotional development as an adult. Her journey became about the environment she was navigating and her perceptions thereof. A very sparsely drawn environment at that. It was the literary equivalent of her looking through the glass at other peoples lives and judging them rather than experiencing and examining her own life. She did address something that I think is unfortunately overlooked: how middle and upper class blacks feel and interact within their own culture and amongst themselves. She nailed it. I saw similar attitudes and behavior.
Ms Dickerson seems to have bountiful book knowledge, but not necessarily emotional intelligence. Unless she is in charge, she doesn't seem to do well.
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Format: Hardcover
Even the most die-hard conservative/liberal will be nudged toward the center by Ms Dickerson's personal journey across the political spectrum--from self-actuating conservative to longsuffering liberal, landing somewhere in the middle. Woven throughout are powerful statements on the state of American society today, gender issues, and a refreshing take on the potential of the military to level the playing field. "An American Story" offers a balanced perspective on race and gender in these United States, without all the angry baggage, and with a writing style that insists that you read on. Highly recommended!
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By A Customer on October 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a compelling memoir of a remarkable woman's personal odyssey from a hard childhood in St. Louis to a brilliant career of a dozen years in the US Air Force, a college education garnered on the side, civilian reentry at Harvard Law School, and the choice of journalism and writing over law as a second career. Ms. Dickerson's story is compelling and well written, and thus it is hard to put down once you start. It offers original and insightful "takes" on racism, on segregation and integration, on the American military (including its successes in becoming a race-blind meritocracy and its failures in areas of sexual harassment and assault), on personal growth and self-knowledge, on being black as well as being female in modern America, and on where our society stands today in a variety of sectors. There is much that is painful here, but much that is funny and more that is uplifting and deeply thoughtful. The writing is crisp and the pace is rapid. A good read in every way.
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Format: Hardcover
Dickerson has written a searing story of struggle and success. Her narrative voice is engrossing, appealing and emminently readable. Her journey from sharecropper's daughter to Harvard Law School graduate kept me marveling at her continued accomplishments. But she doesn't stop there...
Dickerson also offers extraordinary perspective into her own behavior and the behavoir of those around her. At every turn she analyzes her motivations and separates out issues of race and personal identity. With sparkling insight, she digs right to the core of human behavior.
Book groups and other readers will find themselves mulling over such topics as obstacles to maximizing personal potential and to what degree our race/religion/ethnic identity affects our life choices.
By the time I finished this book, I felt as if I had just completed a soul-searching conversation with an old friend.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Heroes don't need to be likeable. They exist to show us the way to greatness, setting the highest new standards for the best things humanity has to offer. In their own lives they demonstrate how one person can make a difference in the world through courage, persistence, ethics, and compassion.
Debra Dickerson fits every conceivable definition of a hero. The frustrating thing about her strenuous autobiography, "An American Story," is that she's a person the reader wants to like, but can't. Her journey from the hardscrabble life of the working poor through her years as a star at Harvard Law School can hardly be more compelling. She overcomes the multiple demons of racism, class oppression, family violence and heartbreaking personal insecurity and propels herself through a challenging education, transformative career in the air force, and finally into the highest echelons of America's political and jouralistc elite, all the while gaining new and valuable insights into the intricate interrelationships of politics, economics, race, sex and class. She emerges as a compelling new voice in the intellectual community as America enters its next stage of social development in the 21st century.
The respect she commands for her achievements could never be denied her by anyone. Yet for all she accomplishes in her remarkable life, the tone of her book resonates with anger, most of it richly justified, and insecurity, all of it rather sad. For all of the thinking she does, from her time as a child petrified by her abusive father through her many misadventures as an ambitious Air Force officer and in law school, she never seems to arrive at the conclusions she wants, and confusion remains with her right until the end.
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