Narrator Robin Miles has a heroic task at hand as she performs The Warmth of Other Suns by Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson. Part oral history, part scholarly analysis, and part the author’s own family experience, the book tells in unsparing, vivid detail why African-Americans migrated in huge numbers from the southern states to points north and west during the years 1915 to 1970. Recalling what can only be labeled a shameful period in American history, The Warmth of Other Suns chronicles the racist bondage under which African-Americans lived, years after being legally emancipated.
Miles lets us hear the anger, exasperation, fear, and extraordinary nobility of three individuals whose stories serve as the narrative of the book. Ida May Gladney, George Starling, and Dr. Robert Foster were not players on the national Civil Rights scene, but their stories typify the lives of millions of African-Americans who found themselves virtually, if not literally, imprisoned in the American South. Terror is palpable as Miles recounts how young Mrs. Gladney defiantly challenged a night-time lynch mob at her family’s door. George Starling’s anger after 50 years is clipped, short, and intense as Miles relates the ludicrous travel protocols African-Americans had to abide by when simply trying to enjoy their right to travel freely. Finally, it is Dr. Robert Foster’s soul-crushing drive across the Southwest, attempting to flee the encumbrances of Southern racism and merely wanting a place to sleep after a long day’s drive, where Miles triumphs in capturing the staggering weight that racism layered on perpetrators and victims alike. She depicts Dr. Foster’s exhausted, emotional breakdown with compassion and, it seems, the weariness of all fellow travelers on this particular road.
Wilkerson offers her family’s personal experiences as illustrations of the hold that the South maintained on so many people, no matter how ill-treated they were. Miles captures the joyous midnight revelries of Wilkerson’s grandmother and her neighbors, who would gather on warm Georgia summer nights to await the once-a-season blooming of the grandmother’s highly-prized cereus flowers.
Miles also leads listeners through the roughest of Wilkerson’s scenes, allowing all to grasp the absolute horror that could develop during a simple errand, a normal work day, or a hoped-for family outing. She crisply and coolly recounts the laws written and unwritten that kept African-Americans bound to servitude in the South. It is American history unvarnished, needing to be told, heard, and understood. The depth and breadth of Wilkerson’s research and her ability to tell stories, while also relating facts and figures, makes The Warmth of Other Suns a compelling experience. Miles lends a talented voice to Wilkerson’s words, imbuing Gladney, Starling, Foster, and many others described in the book with the respect and dignity they have long deserved. Carole Chouinard
National Book Critics Circle Award, Nonfiction, 2011
In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to previously untapped data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
With stunning detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois state senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue medicine, becoming the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful career that allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.
Wilkerson brilliantly captures her subjects’ first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed their new cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.
Bonus: In partnership with Audible and Playtone, the television and film producer behind the award-winning series Band of Brothers, John Adams, and The Pacific, this audiobook includes an original introduction, written and read by acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns. For more from Audible and Playtone, click here.
©2010 Isabel Wilkerson (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
“A landmark piece of nonfiction . . . sure to hold many surprises for readers of any race or experience….A mesmerizing book that warrants comparison to The Promised Land, Nicholas Lemann’s study of the Great Migration’s early phase, and Common Ground, J. Anthony Lukas’s great, close-range look at racial strife in Boston….[Wilkerson’s] closeness with, and profound affection for, her subjects reflect her deep immersion in their stories and allow the reader to share that connection.” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)
“The Warmth of Other Suns is a brilliant and stirring epic, the first book to cover the full half-century of the Great Migration… Wilkerson combines impressive research…with great narrative and literary power. Ms. Wilkerson does for the Great Migration what John Steinbeck did for the Okies in his fiction masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath; she humanizes history, giving it emotional and psychological depth.” (John Stauffer, Wall Street Journal)
"The Warmth of Other Suns is epic in its reach and in its structure. Told in a voice that echoes the magic cadences of Toni Morrison or the folk wisdom of Zora Neale Hurston’s collected oral histories, Wilkerson’s book pulls not just the expanse of the migration into focus but its overall impact on politics, literature, music, sports — in the nation and the world." (Lynell George, Los Angeles Times)
These are a series of stories building up the lives of some African Americans who left the south in search of better lives in the north and what they found there and on the way. Other stories are interwoven with the principle characters. Sad. Touching.
The way the author seamlessly integrated funny, heartbreaking, and inspiring first-person accounts of real people with sociology and history.
So many- the story of Joseph Pershing's arduous journey simply to escape the South-- adn then the trials he went through to be accepted in the North-- was especially memorable.
I just listened to Robin Miles narrate The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks! She is wonderful, such a warm and expressive voice.
If I could have! But it was 22 hours long haha.
Wonderful American history nonfiction-
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Not only does it provide valuable insight and background, I have a better understanding as to what my father might have experienced in the south, and what motivated his migration north. This book makes me wish I had asked questions and listened more intently when my father was alive.
An excellent researched historical record. Told through the eyes of three real human beings. "The Warmth of Other Suns" reads like a novel. A page turner that should be required reading for all Americans. I loved it because as the son of parents born into share cropping (southern Louisiana) I could see, hear and feel my relatives in all 3 characters.
so much about recent times that I never knew or understood, described in vivid ways I could feel, smell, taste, and remember. this book will likely change any listener... for the better.
I think it's important to read the Epilogue which includes important information about this book as a work of history. I thought the audiobook was quite good, where the narrator does a wonderful job with the variations in accents. This book jumps around a lot in time and space. There is usually a parallel arc in life between the three primary figures in the book, but those similar events are separated in both time and space. Sometimes that can be disconcerting as I was trying to place the events in a larger narrative. However, that wasn't too disruptive. I very much enjoyed the people the author chose to highlight, all are interesting and flawed. I appreciated this take on the Great Migration. The epilogue is what had me take this from charming stories to something illustrative of larger trends and helps explain where we are.
Ignorance of this phenomenon and its dimensions is tragic. Conceivably willful. You'll be better for the read, especially if you're living in the United States and are even remotely curious about why race is still an issue. Start here.
Also, just read it just for the magnificent story and the brilliant telling.
Having grown up in the South as the son of a father from the Deep South and a Christian mother from North Dakota, I listened with painful identity to this story. I came away with a much greater understanding of why my mother put me on the "Hummingbird" (train) from Flomaton, Alabama to Chicago in 1957, so I could attend college in the North. She knew I needed to escape the oppressive culture of segregation.
Please convey my gratitude to the author for the many hours devoted to producing this work. She has given a special gift for all Americans. I am recommending this book to all members of my family and to all my friends.
The narration is superb--the accents so familiar to my memory!
Probably not --- the writer lacks the skills or the willingness to edit the story down so it isn't so repetitious . And I guess her editor didn't solve the problem. No wonder it's 22 hours long.
Remove the repetition and I really didn't need to hear the graphic details of the torture inflicted on these poor souls. Course maybe some others need to hear exactly that.
modulated, neither over dramatic or under-dramatic.
no. But then I couldn't finish it so who knows.
Tell us about yourself! Africa/American male 50 year old,truck driver/ware house, born/raise in new jerse, formal US Marine.
this may be the best book I have heard from audible , I could imagine my grandparents and my wife's grandparents journey up from the South. word good and courageous people they were.
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