It is not without flaws, which I will come back to, but on the whole it is a wide-ranging, landmark summary of the Black experience in America: searing, rich in unfamiliar detail, exploring every aspect of slavery and its continuing legacy, in which being white or Black affects everything from how you fare in courts and hospitals and schools to the odds that your neighborhood will be bulldozed for a freeway. The book’s editors, knowing that they were heading into a minefield, clearly trod with extraordinary care. They added more than 1,000 endnotes, and in their acknowledgments thank a roster of peer reviewers so long and distinguished as to make any writer of history envious ... The contributors have flair ... Part of the book’s depth lies in the way it offers unexpected links between past and present ... Again and again, The 1619 Project brings the past to life in fresh ways ... Several times, a 1619 Project writer makes a bold assertion that departs so far from conventional wisdom that it sounds exaggerated. And then comes a zinger that proves the author’s point ... In a few ways The 1619 Project falls short. Hannah-Jones, for instance, still makes too much of Abraham Lincoln’s flirtation with the idea of colonization, or encouraging Black Americans to go to Africa ... A broader issue in the book is that, with a few exceptions, such as Muhammad’s excellent article about the brutal world of sugar cultivation, the reader can too easily leave with the impression that the heritage of slavery is uniquely American. It’s not ... A final point: I wish the book had included more about the allies of Black Americans who fought against slavery or its ongoing aftermath. It barely mentions the Underground Railroad ... Despite what demagogues claim, honoring the story told in The 1619 Project and rectifying the great wrongs in it need not threaten or diminish anyone else’s experience, for they are all strands of a larger American story. Whether that fragile cloth holds together today, in the face of blatant defiance of election results and the rule of law, depends on our respect for every strand in the weave.
The new book is much, much longer than the magazine version, and easier to read, despite its heft. Timeline pages provide a necessary chronological anchor for the essays, which move backward and forward in time ... Poetry and fiction runs throughout the book and is inspired by the events in the timeline cards, providing more grounding in the 'dates and names' of the history—a neat trick, given the essays’ thematic nature; it might otherwise be easy to get lost. The magazine’s shorter sidebar essays appear to have been cut, or, in some cases, absorbed or adapted into the longer essays, which makes things much more pleasingly symmetrical ... If I have a quibble with this mosaic of a book, which achieves the impossible on so many levels—moving from argument to fiction to argument, from theme to theme, and backward and forward in time, so smoothly—it’s the amount of 2020 in it.
For any lover of American history or letters, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story is a visionary work that casts a sweeping, introspective gaze over what many have aptly termed the country's original sin: the moment in 1619, one year before the Mayflower arrived, when a ship docked at the colony of Virginia to deliver 20 to 30 enslaved people from Africa. While many books have addressed enslavement and its repercussions, few, if any, have done so in such an imaginative, all-encompassing way, incorporating history, journalism, fiction, poetry and photography to show the cataclysmic repercussions of that pivotal moment ... A superb expansion ... The sheer breadth of this book is refreshing and illuminating, challenging each and every reader to confront America's past, present and future.
The book is vulnerable to further criticism for these bold claims, but anyone who reads closely what these pages reveal cannot deny their validity ... restores people erased from the national narrative, offering a motivating, if sobering, origin story we need to understand if we are ever going to truly achieve 'liberty and justice for all.'
... expands on the groundbreaking work with added nuance and new contributions by poets like Tracy K. Smith, writers including Kiese Laymon, and historians such as Anthea Butler ... this work asks readers to deeply consider who is allowed to shape the collective memory ... Like the magazine version of the 1619 Project, this invaluable book sets itself apart by reframing readers’ understanding of U.S. history, past and present.
... a book that softens some of the edges of the prior magazine collection but also transcends its original mission as a historical corrective, informing readers what they now must do or else risk personal complicity in the painful story they have just been told ... What might an assiduous reader conclude from all this? That 1619 is a thought experiment, or a metaphor, or the nation’s true origin, but definitely not its founding, yet possibly its inception, or just one origin story among many — but still the truer one? For all the controversy the project has elicited, this muddle over the starting point is an argument that the 1619 Project is also having with itselt ... There is an almost relentless coherence to the new book..The approach is slightly formulaic but no less effective for its formula ... both instructive and uneven ... soliciting feedback on your work from people you’ve selected is not quite what it means to undergo an independent peer review process ... It would be comforting if history always came with a policy road map, a detailed agenda that quickly placed us on its right side. Still, the 1619 Project’s activist turn need not necessarily affect how one regards the American origin story it presents.
Readers will discover something new and redefining on every page as long-concealed incidents and individuals, causes and effects are brought to light by Hannah-Jones and 17 other vital thinkers and clarion writers, including Carol Anderson, Ibram X. Kendi, Tiya Miles, and Bryan Stevenson, each of whom sharpens our understanding of the dire influence of anti-Black racism on everything from the American Revolution to the Black church, Motown, health care, Trumpism, how infrastructure enforces racial inequality, the unrelenting financial struggle in Black families and communities, and how Black Americans fighting for equality decade after decade have preserved our democracy. The revelations are horrific and empowering ... This visionary, meticulously produced, profound, and bedrock-shifting testament belongs in every library and on every reading list.
Those readers open to fresh and startling interpretations of history will find this book a comprehensive education ... A much-needed book that stakes a solid place in a battlefield of ideas over America’s past and present.
Hannah-Jones and an impressive cast of historians, journalists, poets, novelists, and cultural critics deliver a sweeping study of the 'unparalleled impact' of African slavery on American society ... a bracing and vital reconsideration of American history.