[Wilkerson's] hard work, keen insight and passionate personal commitment make The Warmth of Other Suns a landmark piece of nonfiction ... a mesmerizing book that warrants comparison to The Promised Land, Nicholas Lemann’s study of the Great Migration’s early phase, and Common Ground, J. Anthony Lukas’s great, close-range look at racial strife in Boston ... Although the book contains its share of much rougher stories, it is these seemingly workaday ones that hit hardest. One interviewee’s remark that leaving the South 'was like getting unstuck from a magnet' best sets Ms. Wilkerson’s tone in a book sure to hold many surprises for readers of any race or experience ... does a superb job of capturing the way whole lives can be changed by small outrages, and the way those changes are neither irrevocable nor simple ... Her closeness with, and profound affection for, her subjects reflect her deep immersion in their stories and allow the reader to share that connection. It creates a wide swath of human drama. And it shapes a new understanding of why Southerners’ new lives in strife-torn cities far from home may not have been easier than the lives they left behind.
... a brilliant and stirring epic, the first book to cover the full half-century of the Great Migration ... Wilkerson combines impressive research with great narrative and literary power ... she humanizes history, giving it emotional and psychological depth. She is especially good at capturing the experiential sense of life in the poor South and of the migration itself. Few histories better convey the grueling repetition required to pick 100 pounds of cotton a day for 50 cents. She gets inside the heads the people she's writing about and gives readers a penetrating sense of what it felt like to be a part of the vast move north ... To her credit, Ms. Wilkerson refuses to romanticize the people whose stories she tells. She highlights their flaws and failures as well as their successes.
... [a] lush, expansive and harrowing history ... a formal distillation of that protracted chapter when black people in the South disappeared, often under the cover of night, frequently leaving their sharecropper's tools in the fields, their future plans and whereabouts a mystery to those they left behind ... epic in its reach and in its structure ... Told in a voice that echoes the magic cadences of Toni Morrison or the folk wisdom of Zora Neale Hurston's collected oral histories, Wilkerson's book pulls not just the expanse of the migration into focus but its overall impact on politics, literature, music, sports — in the nation and the world ... Wilkerson has rendered the Great Migration through a trio of voices —symbolic portraits as intricately etched as heirloom cameos ... For many this book will flesh out an under-reported chapter of American history, which was Wilkerson's goal. However, for a certain generation of African Americans, this book will stir a sense of relief — that these stories and rituals that so many migrants attempted to hand-carry in the hopes that they might take root — have now been set down between two covers and in such dignified fashion. Wilkerson has logged not just the dates and figures that make these stories fact and thus formal history, she's made indelible the fading music of these voices, the dance of their speech patterns, the intricate chemistry of folk cures and cornbread rendered from scratch ... What she's done with these oral histories is stow memory in amber.
... offered a long overdue account of an event in the United States that had a major impact on the cultural fabric of the country ... shows how hope can get people through the most intense situations, but action is required to make them something more than a dream. These actions will likely involve sacrifices – but they may not be in vain. Individual hopes can collectively change history.
... massive and masterly ... Based on more than a thousand interviews, written in broad imaginative strokes, this book, at 622 pages, is something of an anomaly in today’s shrinking world of nonfiction publishing: a narrative epic rigorous enough to impress all but the crankiest of scholars, yet so immensely readable as to land the author a future place on Oprah’s couch ... The book is not without problems, however. One is repetition...Another is omission ... Wilkerson has little to say about the following generation or its problems beyond a cheerful listing of politicians, athletes, musicians, writers and film stars ... Some historians, moreover, may question Wilkerson’s approach to her subject. She tends to privilege the migrants’ personal feelings over structural influences like the coming of the mechanical cotton picker, which pushed untold thousands of Southern blacks from the fields, or the intense demand for wartime factory labor, which pulled thousands more to manufacturing cities in the North. Wilkerson is well aware of these push-pull factors. She has simply chosen to treat them in a way that makes the most sense to her. What bound these migrants together, she explains, was both their need to escape the violent, humiliating confines of the segregationist South and their 'hopeful search for something better, any place but where they were. They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done. They left.'
... deeply affecting, finely crafted and heroic ... Wilkerson’s work, in other words, is more novelistic than documentary ... Wilkerson, somewhat too sketchily, considers postwar urban history—white flight, the closing of factories, the disappearance of industrial jobs ... The questions of social scientists (What is the structure of poverty?) and of policymakers (How can this be fixed?) are not Wilkerson’s questions ... This is narrative nonfiction, lyrical and tragic and fatalist. The story exposes; the story moves; the story ends. What Wilkerson urges, finally, isn’t argument at all; it’s compassion. Hush, and listen.
Wilkerson has taken what many would consider an indigestible chunk of history -- long and sometimes famously written about by earlier historians and sociologists -- and given us an extraordinarily palatable narrative ... Wilkerson’s personal histories both reflect and deftly illustrate an important part of American history that has only been discussed in clinical ways, sometimes quite famously ... builds upon purely academic works to make the migrant experience both accessible and emotionally compelling ... aluable knowledge as this country continues to navigate the tricky shoals of race.
... a broad and penetrating look at the Great Migration ... Wilkerson intersperses historical detail of the broader movement and the sparks that set off the civil rights era; challenging racial restrictions in the North and South; and the changing dynamics of race, class, geography, politics, and economics. A sweeping and stunning look at a watershed event in U.S. history.
... exceptional ... a fresh, rich book ... For all its impressive journalism, I suspect that the book’s real worth won’t be evident for a long time. It will change lives of a new generation, as did The World of Our Fathers by Irving Howe, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn or the transporting histories of William Manchester.
... finds a way to make this worthy yet familiar topic fresh and exciting by moving the focus from the general to the specific. Her decision to examine this incredible event through the eyes of three individuals and their families allows her to make gripping personal observations while providing readers with the broader details and analysis necessary to put the event into its proper perspective ... Wilkerson’s book is also about triumph and failure; it is a study in how this move not only changed the course of a country, but affected those who weren’t always doctors, lawyers or academics. As both its main figures and their relatives recall their past with a mixture of joy, wonder, satisfaction and occasionally sadness or regret, The Warmth Of Other Suns shows that memorable and poignant tales often come from people and places no one expects.
... majestic ... a monumental job of writing and reporting that lives up to its subtitle: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration ... Writing with a novelist's flair, Wilkinson is best re-creating the world left behind, from its daily indignities to the threat of violence that amounted to domestic terrorism. Although repetitive at times, the book takes disparate memories and shapes them into a lyrical narrative in a you-are-there style of writing ... The writing is more personal than most journalism or history. It's descriptive and analytical, making use of more scholarly studies ... None of her three main subjects lived long enough to see the book published, but I think they'd be proud, even if many of their memories were painful.
... magnificent, extensively researched ... Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
The author deftly intersperses their stories with short vignettes about other individuals and consistently provides the bigger picture without interrupting the flow of the narrative. While other fine books address many of the same themes, Wilkerson’s focus on the personal aspect lends her book a markedly different, more accessible tone. Her powerful storytelling style, as well, gives this decades-spanning history a welcome novelistic flavor ... An impressive take on the Great Migration, and a truly auspicious debut.