A history of the rise and lasting impact of Black liberation groups in America, as seen through the Shakurs, one of the movement's most prominent and fiercely creative families, home to Tupac and Assata, and a powerful incubator for today's activism, scholarship, and artistry.
Magnificent ... Uniquely intimate ... Writing as a historian and storyteller, Holley never lets us lose sight of the complex tapestry of movements that marked the era ... Holley also, without any hint of hagiography, recasts familiar tales about Tupac’s troubled career by fitting them with the experiences of his radical predecessors, including their revolutionary actions but also their paranoia, suspicions of friends and fears of failure ... The greatest triumph of An Amerikan Family is the way Holley expertly blends archival research — including court documents, congressional transcripts, FBI records and newspaper clippings — with oral history to tell human stories that are at once exceptional and recognizable.
Reading the book, one searches for some other emergent nation, one imagined by generations of Black revolutionaries, solid in its constitution and aims: safety, dignity and self-determination for Black people ... The Panther 21 trial is the book’s opening subject, and it sets a standard for drama that seems impossible to sustain. But the cast of characters expands, and somehow each one the reader encounters is as compelling as the last ... This is a dizzying and expansive clan to write about, and the book reflects that dizziness at times. Holley introduces key figures and then returns to them later in ways that sometimes make it difficult to discern how much influence they had on the events discussed ... Not presented as a definitive family biography, yet it succeeds in depicting as revealing and inclusive a portrait of the Shakurs as we have seen. For all the intimacy and richness of detail provided by Holley’s admirable archival work and interviews, there is room for more engagement with the ideas and arguments the Shakurs advanced ... The ideas the Shakurs advanced remain as relevant as ever, but An Amerikan Family offers no romantic assurance that the Shakurs’ legacy in politics or music will live on exactly as they intended. Instead, it provides readers with a visceral and unsanitized account of the Black liberation struggle as a material and often lawless battle between the American government and Black people who refuse to be trampled upon.
All of this could have been framed as the story of a mythological family turned into national symbols. But Holley has so much ground to cover and so many plates to juggle that he mostly focuses on how the family survived gunshots, unjust trials, and COINTELPRO spying and conspiracy ... An Amerikan Family is living history, and conducting more interviews with living sources would have made it a richer book. But as it is, Holley presents a teeming narrative. Details may astonish readers, but the plot feels right at home in the season of Black Lives Matter and the reemergence of white nationalism.