The Warmth of Other Suns

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Book cover of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

Book description

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In this beautifully written masterwork, the Pulitzer Prize–winnner and bestselling author of Caste 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,…

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Why read it?

12 authors picked The Warmth of Other Suns as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I cannot count the number of times I let out an audible, “My god,” reading this richly detailed account of the lives of three complicated and infinitely brave Black Americans who dared leave the Jim Crow South for cities North and West in the early-mid 1900s.

In school (in New England, not the South), I didn’t get an intimate sense of how routine and oppressive the violence and injustice were against southern Blacks during Jim Crow. And I certainly didn’t learn how, even in the “free” Northern cities, the subjugation continued, just in quieter ways.

Since reading the book, when…

This may be the greatest creative nonfiction book written in my lifetime.

Drawing on hours and hours of recorded oral histories, Wilkerson dug into the history of the Great Migration like a casting agent picking the very best protagonists to tell the story. And so the work follows the lives three primary figures, Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster, as they move north to inhabit the Midwest, the Northeast, and the Pacific West.

This history of social mobility and race reads like an exciting adventure story, and it is stuff-full of genius storytelling, craft, and research. Lyric, deeply…

From Gregg's list on recovering lost histories.

I wrote my book because I heard a talk. Glen Asner of the Pentagon Historical Office spoke at a 2006 conference on the Societal Impact of Spaceflight. There, he championed the use of social history to interpret that impact.

Social history was once derided as “pots and pans” history, he said. Instead, it should be harnessed to tell the story of NASA employees who used “their equal status within a federal institution to reshape local institutions and conceptions of race.” The Warmth of Other Suns unlocked the way to do that for me. It takes the stories of the millions…

As a storyteller myself, I deeply appreciated Wilkerson’s approach to this incredibly researched saga of the great migration of African Americans from the Deep South to the promised land of the North and West from 1915 to 1970.

I thought I knew the effects of Jim Crow on formerly enslaved people. I thought I knew that discrimination and inequality continued to persist even in “free states.”

Wilkerson interwove the very personal stories of three different families suffering the insidious daily suppression of personhood under Jim Crow. As I began to understand the courage it took to uproot everything and join…

I'd heard about this book for years and finally picked it up at a bookstore when I did a signing. It is amazing! This is the story of The Great Migration, how Blacks in the South slowly made their way north between roughly 1915 and 1970.

"Stories" is more accurate since each person made their own decision and their own way—though the author wisely focused, for the most part, on three very different people, why and how and what they found when they moved.

And "escaped" is more accurate since plantation owners often went to fatal lengths to prevent the…

Wilkerson embeds us with some of the millions of Black men and women who fled the Jim Crow South between 1915 and 1970, describing communities abandoned and hopes realized or disappointed. Robert Foster left his Louisiana town for Southern California, where he navigated new forms of racism to establish himself as a surgeon and prominent social figure. Ida Mae Gladney took her family from Mississippi to Chicago, where lodging, segregation, and “mind-numbing labor” scarcely improved on that of the South. But it was in Chicago that Ida Mae was first able to vote. Through the lives of people like these,…

From Laura's list on giving human faces to history.

On November 6, 2011, I went to see an interview of Isabel Wilkerson. I had never heard of her before, but I loved the publicized summary of her new book that told the story of the great migration of 6 million Black people from the South to the North and West. I loved the fact that she told this amazing historical story through the experiences of 3 different people from 3 different states, who migrated to 3 unique regions of the country. 

During the interview, I learned that this brilliant Black female scholar devoted 15 years of research to this…

There has been no more searing account of the indignities and humiliations, the powerlessness and sheer terror that marked Black life in the American South in the early twentieth century than The Warmth of Other Suns; no other book has so powerfully recorded the litany of injustices that led millions to embark on the journey north that became known as the Great Migration. But the life-giving, beating heart of this book lies in the narratives that Isabel Wilkerson offers of three participants in that migration – Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster. Like…

From Matthew's list on books that read like novels.

Former New York Times correspondent Isabel Wilkerson spent a decade reporting this exquisitely written book, which traces the broad arc of the migration that brought six million blacks from the rural South to the industrial North between 1915 and 1970, and reconstructs in novelistic detail how it shaped the lives of three migrants. By the end of its more than 600 pages, you come to know her three subjects—former sharecropper Ida Mae Gladney of Chicago, Harlem striver George Starling and Los Angeles surgeon Robert Foster—intimately, and to understood both the dreams that drove their relocation and the poignant personal toll…

From Mark's list on the great Black migration.

This is just a must-read book of history. Wilkerson brilliantly tells the story of the Great Migration through the lens of three individuals. It is such an important chapter of American history that has long been overlooked. Over six million African Americans moved from the south to the north. It was a huge upheaval in the cities and towns all across the country—and how it happened, how it reshaped the country, how it had lasting effects on so many lives is painstakingly told here. But it is also a great and compelling read. I love non-fiction that reads like this,…

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