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)
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I had no idea there was such a thing as a “Great Migration” where black people streamed out of the South to make better lives for themselves in the Northern States. I of course have heard of The Underground Railroad, but never this “overground” version of events which took place from about 1915 to 1970; I definitely learned a lot.
I constantly have my nose in a book (actually I should say my ears since most of them are audio!) and I always look forward to reading/listening every chance I get; except for this case. I never felt like getting back to it, it felt a burden every time. Yet when I would pick it up again, I was quickly recaptivated and always surprised that it had felt like a chore to get going once more. You’d think I’d be anxious to continue because it’s a very very interesting topic.
I suppose it’s because the subject matter is so amazingly depressing. Hearing about how people were treated so abominably is not easy to absorb, I think perhaps deep down I did not want to know more about it. It’s all so sad and distressing and depraved – but in the end I am glad I finished it. Sadness aside, I feel a little better educated.
The great migration was not a part of history covered in any of my history classes. This is a book all Americans, whatever ethnicity or background, should read. It is a piece of our history we should all know. This book was extraordinarily well written and extremely well narrated. For how long it is, it never felt long - I listened to it in record time, and felt compelled to listen all the time. Highly highly recommend.
Good book that was especially interesting in the first half detailing the reasons for Blacks making the migration North and West. I was at times extremely embarrassed and angry at the behavior of Whites towards a people that are just trying to find a better life. It helped me understand the reasons why Black neighorhoods in the North evolved like the did----because African Americans were forced into these costly, crowded and often crime ridden areas. Great historical read and something than my pre-teens will be listenting to soon.
Putting books on the back burner.
I don't know what compelled me to read "The Warmth of Other Suns." I've read other books on African Americans, like the Help and I have watched Roots, Color Purple and many other films on this topic. I've always thought that I knew the struggles for the blacks, but Isabel Wilkerson prize winning book really touched my heart because the stories are all real.
Instead of fictional characters that are there to entertain us, this book is about the migration for many African Americans fleeing the south and heading elsewhere in the country for an new start. The three biographies are really good. It gives you different views of different lives. There is a sharecropper's wife who leaves for Chicago. an agricultural worker who migrates to New York and a doctor who journeys to Los Angeles.
Each of their lives are unfiltered and their stories are not embellish for the publication. Their stories are just well told without a climax, just like many of our lives.
Already have! The stories are a rich tapestry of the Black American migration to the north following the development of Jim Crow laws in the south. I had never considered the "how or why" so many blacks live in the cities of Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, or Los Angeles. This book opened my eyes to yet another chapter in the American experience. It reminded me of the phrase "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". The strength and perserverance of some people amaze and humble me when I read a story like The Warmth of Other Suns.
This is one of the best books that I've ever read. The scope of the book covers the 60 years of blacks migrating to the north, east and west. It rarely gets boring. Mostly because Wilkerson follows 3 very different people out of the South. She intersperses the data between the ongoing stories of their lives so well that you forget that it's nonfiction. It's only the second book that has moved me, shocked me and made me cry... the other being The Grapes of Wrath. The Jim Crow brutalities and oppression were horrifying and deserved her detailed descriptions. Robin Miles narration has a great deal to do with the books success. She does a superb job of southern voices both men and women, all of them distinct from each other.
I can't recommend the book highly enough.
Newly retired, I am a reading fiend! I like many types of books, both fiction and non-fiction, with the exception of romance and fantasy
I knew I wanted to read this book when it first came out, although I didn't realize just how important and timely it would be. This book should be mandatory reading in every American History class.
First of all, the narrator was perfection. I don't believe anyone could have done a better job.
The story really opened my eyes and made me aware of things that I just could not know from living in my own small and isolated world. I was fascinated and curious to follow the individual story threads out to the end. Along the way, I often shook my head in disbelief or grimaced in amazement that these things could have happened in my country. It feels almost like parallel worlds were sharing the same space-time continuum. I do feel I am a better, more knowledgeable person for having listened to this history of the African-American migration and what it was like to be African-American in this country. We've come a long way but I fear, we still have a long way to go.
I strongly recommend this well-researched, well-written, and expertly narrated book.
Say something about yourself!
As a progressive liberal, raised in the post WWII housing projects of NYC and a teenager during the high crime era of "West Side Story" days.... who was shocked by the revelations of the civil rights movement (the idea of "white only" or "black only" ANYTHING down south was unimaginable) the first chapter was kind of an annoying rehash of US history as I lived it.
BUT, hang in there, don't get discouraged, this book is worth all 22 hours and 42 minutes of your time. I usually listen to books while doing something else. This is the first book that made me sit still and just listen..
We are all aware of the Jim Crow laws and the plight of the blacks but this book puts literal teeth into the horrors of slave treatment after emancipation. It traces the lives of various slaves as they find life in the south unbearable and dangerous and thus migrate to the north. I had no idea the numbers were in the millions. An important read.
Each of the characters has such a unique perspective I cannot choose one. I learned something new from each of them.
I found the scenes from the railroad conductor particularly moving.
This was an excellent retelling of real people's stories who lived through the major events of American civil rights history. It documented the lives of four people who dealt with the blatant racism of the South, as well as the more subterranean racist systems of the North as they migrated from the South to the perceived promised land of the North. It brings to light the insidiousness of race relations throughout much of the 20th Century and informs how we can continue to think about race issues today. For me as a young white male who did not grow up understanding much of these issues, it was a deeply impactful narrative. This book turns abstract statistics about race relations into concrete stories that describe how people actually experienced race relations. I highly recommend it!
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