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)
Yes. I am recommending this book to friends and family. In reading this story of the Great Migration, I learned about my family. I was able to piece together things I knew of my family through this narrative and hence gain a greater understanding and appreciation.
I liked that individual stories were woven into a context of factual history.
Great performance by the narrator, but this is my first time listening to her.
I would use the same title as the book
Yes, I definitely would. This book is an amazing work of nonfiction. Her research was amazing and the way she developed our three main characters was beautiful. We cared about them through every moment of her struggle. As others have stated, the book did need to be edited more - there were many sections that were repetitive. Sometimes I almost felt the book came from several serializations as she felt the need to bring us up to speed with characters, incidents, history that she'd already stated. For such an amazing work, it does trouble me that her publisher and editor didn't pay more careful attention to these details.
I think Dr. Foster's drive out of LA to CA will stick with me. I cried as he attempted to find a motel to spend the night, struggled with him to stay awake when he realized he'd have to keep driving. These scenes captured the injustices of America during this period. I read afterwards that the author had recreated this...perhaps this is why she was able to capture the scenes so well.
Dr. Foster was probably my favorite - although there were many times I didn't like him. His obsession with appearances was troubling at times and it seems to me resulted in some bad decisions. But his ambition, his flair for the dramatic - all made for an entertaining storyline.
There were many - I think the violence and fear of the times came through as she described the story behind Ida Mae's and George's need to flee to the north. Both were fearful for their own safety and how can we not be ashamed that people were made to feel this way.
The author does a superb job at telling the narrative of 3 people in a factual way that connects with the heart!
For the first time in my life I feel like I understand the hardships and struggles Black American Society faced as a whole and the resulting negative effects on American Society we see today. You are able to relate to the 3 people in a personal, humane way. This book is very factual and does not paint any one person or people group as a problem.
Her vocal inflections bring the characters to life. She nails her accents and it REALLY adds to the book!!!
A MUST READ!!!
Audible obsessed lifelong learner.
Very powerful look at how racism and JimCrow laws lead to the dispersion to black society cluttered in the south to explainable patterns we have come to today. A moving read that fully pulled me in to the hatred that tried to keep a people back as they yearned for their place in America.
I was born in mid 1960's and grew up in desegregated florida. This book revealed facts about america that I would have never known otherwise. I grew up 50 miles south of Mims and race was rarely discussed, however it was always present. Knowledge and perspectives from both sides of racism are important if we are to ever completely eliminate hatred based solely on skin color. Perhaps that is too utopian a dream and may very well be the message that we gleam from the author. The characters sought a land void of racism, what they found was something different. Please do not miss this one.
Fascinating, well-told, surprising
The stories of the atrocities of the Jim Crow laws were shocking - all the more so because they were true.
She does different voices for the different characters very well, which helps clarify who is talking and makes it more enjoyable.
It is a long book - which works well for me with a 30 minute commute, but couldn't be done in one sitting.
Love history,mystery,true crime,love books especially audio.
I love history & this is an excellent book on the migration of African-Americans within this country. It is so good I have listened to it twice just to make sure I did not miss anything.
Every high school student should read an abridged version of this book!
An oral history, work of literature and academic study of Ida Mae, Robert, and George who all left the South with six million other African Americans between 1916--1970 to seek a better life in the North.
The book is 660 pages long and the author intertwines the stories of these three characters (who never meet each other) as they leave the South and faced the America of the North (New York and Detroit), Midwest (Chicago) and West (Los Angeles). The author tells their stories while also giving the story of the era. The author captures the people and an era in a way that makes you just want to keep reading this very long book.
It's a very insightful book about a part of American history that we tend to ignore and remains too little known to all.
This was an amazing adventure through the travels of southern migrates. So many things that you just don't learn in school.
The content and the narrator.
The mix of real life accounts with academic material.
The reading of dialogue and interactions between the characters.
No, I'd bought the paperback, but it was just too big and heavy and I just couldn't read it!
It's essential that American people learn and understand the subject of this book. I've also found it haunting to learn that jim crow continued well into my life time, and has not been completely eradicated from our culture. And it was especially poignant since we now have an African American president.
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