PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Among the private drawings of the great Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer are two moving likenesses of African Europeans – so vivid and timeless you half expect them to look up and come to life ... As Olivette Otele shows in her fascinating book, there was nothing very exceptional about any of this. By the 16th century, the black presence in European life and culture took many forms, and there was a long history of Africans living on the continent ... Though this is a work of synthesis, it’s an unusually generous and densely layered one. Otele is not just concerned to tell the life stories of her protagonists, but also to follow their changing portrayals after death – as well as explaining how and why they’ve been differently interpreted by generations of previous scholars. To this end, she constantly toggles between different centuries and perspectives. This can seem awkward, but it underlines her central message: what we see in the past, as in the present, is constantly in flux. It depends on our priorities and presumptions. As she argues, providing multiple and more inclusive histories can empower people, and help discredit and dismantle racial injustice in the present.