Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
"At the dawn of the 21st century... we cannot imagine a truly American culture that has not, in profound ways, been shaped by the contributions of African Americans," write scholars and popular social commentators West and Gates in the introduction to this elegant, fact-filled compendium of nearly 100 short biographies of distinguished thinkers, artists, politicians, entrepreneurs and athletes (one quarter of them women). While many of the figures highlighted here are obvious choicesÄsuch as W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Jackie Robinson, Jessye Norman and Spike LeeÄthere are numerous others who are more obscure, including Bessie Colman, the first black woman aviator; Dorothy Height, who organized black women through the YWCA; and sculptor Martin Puryear. Maintaining an upbeat tone, the authors, Harvard professors both, attempt to address the complexity of their subjects' lives (e.g., Tupac Shakur's indictment on charges of sexual abuse), although they occasionally play down such thorny issues as Louis Farrakhan's anti-Semitic statements or Josephine Baker's support of Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. The concept behind this book is not new (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Profiles in Black Courage, among others, has covered similar territory), but the authors' strong reputations and clear prose make this not only an ideal gift book for younger readers but a good educational resource. 100 b&w photos. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Gates ( Identities , not reviewed) and West ( Race Matters , 1993, etc.) have compiled over 100 essays of mostly biographical material on some fairly well-known figures in the arts, military life, sports, civil rights, politics, and religion. Its a case of rounding up the usual suspects, with a surprise here and there. Those who make the cut include Louis Armstrong, Ralph Bunche, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jessye Norman, and Thurgood Marshall. And then there are the ones you wonder about (Spike Lee, Tupac Shakur, and Michael Jackson). The authors declare in their introduction that they sought to focus less on individuals as isolated icons and more as individuals as part of a grand tradition. Although it comes a little late, this clearly is one of those works aimed at cashing in on the new millennium. It may have missed the boat there, but it can still be sold for Christmas. Diverting but hardly cutting-edge.Author tour
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