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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration Paperback – October 4, 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 1,808 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

In The Warmth of Other Suns Wilkerson has composed a masterpiece of narrative journalism on a subject vital to our national identity, as compelling as it is heartbreaking and hopeful. Critics, however, were less certain about whether Wilkerson has written a definitive history of the Great Migration. Several reviewers saw the book as an important corrective to previous scholarship on the Migration that too often grouped African Americans into a voiceless mass, that focused exclusively on the negative consequences of their move to Northern urban centers, and that often emphasized economic and sociological explanations at the expense of the personal. Other critics felt that Wilkerson could have taken advantage of more of this scholarship, even if it was sometimes flawed, and could have taken into account larger structural influences. But The Warmth of Other Suns is an impressive achievement--a fresh, rich look at an important chapter in American history. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679763880
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679763888
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,808 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Wulfstan TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Isabel Wilkerson, the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper writer, has now come back to write a fascinating and sweeping book on what she calls ""the biggest underreported story of the twentieth century."

This is the story... no- make that the stories... of the "Great Migration", the migration of sharecroppers and others from the Cotton Belt to the Big Cities: New York, Chicago, Detroit, LA and etc in the period between the World Wars. Over one million blacks left the South and went North (or West). Of course we all know the tale of the "Dust Bowl" and the "Okies", as captured by Steinbeck in words, by Dorothea Lange in photographs, and even in song by Woody Guthrie. But this was as big or even bigger (estimates vary), and to this day the story has not been covered anywhere near as well as the "Dust Bowl" migrations.

Wilkerson's book has more than ten years of research in its making, and thus is a large and weighty volume at more than 600 pages. It is also personally researched, the author having interviewed over 1,200 people. She picked three dozen of those to interview in great depth, and choose but three of those stories to present to you here.

The title of this book is taken from Richard Wright's "Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth": "I was taking a part of the South to transplant in alien soil, to see if it could grow differently, if it could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns, and, perhaps, to bloom."

http://www.amazon.com/Black-Boy-Record-Childhood-Youth/dp/0060834005

This book is a not an easy summer read, mind you.
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Format: Hardcover
Between World War I and the presidency of Richard Nixon, some six million black Americans fled the indignities and oppression they grew up with in the American south and headed north or west in search of freedom. Some found at least a modicum of it. Some did not. This mass migration --- unplanned, haphazard and often resented --- has affected our laws, our politics and our social relations in all kinds of ways. Some for the better, some not.

Isabel Wilkerson did a mountain of research to tell this story. She conducted some 1,200 interviews and digested a huge volume of sociological data. Wisely, she concentrated her book on just three of those six million people --- a gutsy woman from the cotton plantations of Mississippi, an orange picker from central Florida and an aspiring doctor from Louisiana. Each of them left the south in a different decade and with different motivations. They met with varying degrees of success and disappointment. While they didn't achieve everything they had hoped for, none of them in their final assessment regretted their move.

Wilkerson plays off these three protagonists against a vast chorus of others whose stories vary wildly but all come down to the determination to leave behind intolerable social oppression and at least try their luck in freer air. Wilkerson herself, a child of two black immigrants from Georgia, is a part of that chorus. Her book is valuable on several levels. It documents in gut-wrenching detail the brutal way these migrants were treated in the region of their birth. It is honest about their own personal failings and the not-always beneficial effect that northern life had on them. It challenges the popular assumption that they themselves caused the problems that have made their life up north so difficult.
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Format: Hardcover
There is a page in the book where Wilkerson recounts what a single day of picking cotton in the old South entailed...it's a pretty remarkable mini essay in its own right, and you probably won't forget it. The whole book is like this, with one powerful anecdote after another, woven together with great skill. I've always been fascinated with the Jim Crow era in America, and eyewitness stories of those who lived through it...though this book only follows 3 people out of the millions who endured it, it captures America in the 2oth Century as well as just about social history I've ever read.

As a gay man, I often look to these books to be inspired by how black Americans "soldiered on" and showed such unbreakable spirit during these years. No, I personally never experienced even 1/10th of their struggle, but it still empowers me to face prejudice and avoid a lazy victimhood mentality. I am incredibly grateful for books like this, as should anyone who faces prejudice or discrimination by a majority.

Clearly a book of this scope took years to complete, and I'm rooting for this to win this year's National Book Award. I suggest you set aside a whole weekend like I did and savor every page of it.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
An estimated six million African Americans left the South between 1916 -- 1970 to seek a better life in the North. Historians have called this event the "Great Migration", and recognized it as a seminal movement in Twentieth Century American history. The Great Migration began during WW I as Northern industries needed a source of inexpensive labor to meet the growing economy as many workers were called into military service. It continued until the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s took hold in the South and brought an end to Jim Crow. Although aspects of the Great Migration have been covered in academic histories and in African American novels and poetry, this new sweeping book, "The Warmth of Other Suns", brought the Great Migration to life for me in a way I will be unlikely to forget. It will do so as well for many others readers. Wilkerson is herself a daughter of the Great Migration. She received a Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1994 as well as a Guggnheim Fellowship and many other honors. She is currently Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction at Boston University. The title of the book is taken from Richard Wright in a quotation, one of many, that appears on the fronticepiece:

"I was leaving the South
To fling myself into the unknown...
I was taking a part of the South
To transplant in alien soil,
To see if it could grow differently,
If it could drink of new and cool rains,
Bend in strange winds,
Respond to the warmth of other suns
And, perhaps, to bloom."

Based on more that 1200 interviews with participant in the Great Migration, Wilkerson's book is much more an oral history and a work of literature than it is an academic study.
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