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American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 19, 2012
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“Extraordinary. . . . A fascinating account of the First Lady’s family. . . . No political [book] has ever looked like this one.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Riveting. . . . A microcosm of this country’s story. . . . The real-life saga of struggle, survival, triumph and tragedy serves as an uplifting companion to Alex Haley’s Roots.” (USA Today)
“Richly detailed. . . . A lushly layered portrait of the nation itself. . . .Swarns weaves a narrative in which massive social changes (slavery, Reconstruction, the Great Migration) and the microscopic details of DNA play equally important roles.” (Boston Globe)
“Swarns has unearthed and disseminated crucial American history here. . . . A remarkable, only-in-America story that Swarns tells with care and thoughtfulness. . . . Her passion for the story is clear and striking. . . . This book is a worthy and significant endeavor.” (Washington Post)
“Swarns paints a vivid, intriguing portrait of people whose struggles, losses, and triumphs speak volumes about the pull of family and the power of American endurance.” (Los Angeles Times)
“A meticulously researched and eloquently written real-life detective story.” (Essence)
“A completely fascinating look at the complex ancestry of one family, African Americans, and all Americans.” (Booklist (starred review))
“Tremendously moving. . . . Swarns provides numerous tales of heartbreak and achievement, many of which essentially make up the American story.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“An engrossing book. . . . Swarns outlines the fascinating journeys taken by various ancestors of First Lady Michelle Obama—the people who, across the generations, helped make her who she is today.” (Library Journal)
“[A] meticulous, detailed investigation into Mrs. Obama’s family tree. . . . American Tapestry holds rewards.” (Denver Post)
“Swarns discovers an interesting world that not only helps to define the First Lady’s personal background but is also an essential piece of the fabric that makes up America’s roots. . . . A great glimpse into America’s multicultural foundations.” (Upscale Magazine)
“[A] layered, scrupulously researched, and wrenching chronicle.” (Publishers Weekly)
“The First Family becomes ever more fascinating—and ever more representative of the nation as a whole—in Rachel Swarns’s terrific investigation into the roots of Michelle Obama. . . . This is a most compelling read and more evidence for our interconnectedness as a people.” (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University professor and host and executive producer of PBS's Finding Your Roots)
“A grand, important book that shows how American bloodlines are rarely wholly black or purely white, neither one race nor another. Nowhere is that more true than in American Tapestry, an eloquent history of the First Lady’s family.” (James McBride, author of the New York Times bestseller The Color of Water)
“Rachel Swarns has not only excavated, with painstaking care, the family tree that is Michelle Obama’s, but, with great insight and beautiful prose, has revealed the complex, eye-opening, and disconcerting experiences that are America. This is a work of impressive historical imagination and deep cultural significance.” (Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Nation under Our Feet)
“Illuminating. . . . Unforgettable in its sweep and movingly told, American Tapestry has the power to reshape our understanding of the phrase ‘descended from slaves.’” (Janny Scott, author of A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother)
“In this tour de force of biological sleuthing, Rachel L. Swarns explodes simplistic notions of life and love in the Old South.. . . . Swarns has bestowed upon all Americans a revelatory understanding of our shared racial heritage.” (Fergus M. Bordewich, author of Bound for Canaan)
From the Back Cover
Michelle Obama's family saga is a remarkable, quintessentially American story—a journey from slavery to the White House in five generations. Yet, until now, little has been reported on the First Lady's roots. Prodigiously researched, American Tapestry traces the complex and fascinating tale of Michelle Obama's ancestors, a history that the First Lady did not even know herself. Rachel L. Swarns, a correspondent for the New York Times, brings into focus the First Lady's black, white, and multiracial forebears, and reveals for the first time the identity of Mrs. Obama's white great-great-great-grandfather—a man who remained hidden in her lineage for more than a century.
American Tapestry illuminates the lives of the ordinary people in Mrs. Obama's family tree who fought for freedom in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars; who endured the agonies of slavery, the disappointment of Reconstruction, the displacement of the Great Migration, and the horrors of Jim Crow to build a better future for their children. Swarns even found a possible link to the Jewish Reform movement.
Though it is an intimate family history, American Tapestry is also the collective chronicle of our changing nation, a nation in which racial intermingling lingers in the bloodlines of countless citizens and slavery was the crucible through which many family lines—black, white, and Native American—were forged.
Epic in scope and beautifully rendered, this is a singularly inspiring story with resonance for us all.
Top customer reviews
I wanted to like this book because the lived reality of race in America is indeed fascinating. In looking at the family story and tree of Mrs. Obama there was an opportunity to look at how the black middle class formed. In relating how slaves reacted to freedom by looking for lost(sold) relatives and marrying their common law spouses the reader is given an insight into the strength of family in these peoples lives. Were they so different than us? Maybe just more courageous.
When the author starts filling in the blank spaces of these peoples lives she often writes things like "she must have felt this... or this." It felt a bit made up.
Swarns also takes the best view that one can take of the bare bones evidence. There are numerous instances of men deserting families and serial divorcées. She tends to give them a pass. Maybe the preacher who divorced three times might be a hypocrite rather than a pillar of the community? Maybe families moving every 6 months are evading creditors or just plain unhappy and unstable? To say they just had a wander lust is taking an easy option when one has taken the path of trying to explain people who are long dead and who left little evidence behind them.
The writing style, while reasonable if it was your Aunt Mabel's attempt at a family history, is simple not good enough for a published book. Swarns is a professional writer so her flabby, folksy prose style is not appropriate. The way the notes where set out is something I have never seen in a book that relies heavily for evidence for its story. Each note is set out in italics of the original statement in the text and then cites the evidence/quote to back up the texts assertions. Why do this? Are footnote this annoying? Leave it to the reader to look at the end of the book if they want to look up the evidence. Some people will and some won't but you are not given a choice.
In all a quite amateurish effort.