Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns (Random House) is a remarkable, triumphant book on the subject of the Great Migration, the vast movement of millions of African-Americans from the South to the North and West. To humanize the story, Wlikerson has focused on three individuals as archetypal in this process — one who migrated in the 1930's, one in the 1940's, and one in the 1950's. They were from different places and wound up in different destinations (Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles), and did not know each other. She interviewed each of them, along with their friends and family members, over a period of many years. The deep knowledge of them that she acquired really pays off in the detail that she is able to offer.
In my reviews of biographies of the eminent jazz musicians Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Thelonius Monk I observed that telling their stories was also telling the story of the importance of race in America, and how we have what is essentially the story of race itself: of how the ghettos of the North came into being, and of how a fortunate white community tries to pay its debt to a huge proportion of its fellow citizens whose ancestors were forcibly brought here over a period of two hundred years in a demonstration of human dpravity nearly without parallel.
I regret to say that of course many of these issues are still with us. Although we have at long last a black president, the almost insane reaction against him from so many quarters canonly be attributed to lingering issues of race. I think that reading The Warmth of Other Suns is really something of a piblic duty. It ought to be required reading for every American.
— Jeremy Nussbaum