... absorbing ... Luxenberg’s history contains so many surprises, absurdities and ironies that it would be a shame to spoil the final chapters by revealing which justice ended up on which side ... Along with the court cases and the three lovingly researched lives, Luxenberg devotes many lively and illuminating pages to race and politics in New Orleans. That’s a lot for one book. Still, the subtitle of 'Separate' is misleading. Only the last section is about Plessy, and the book is not the story of 'America’s journey from slavery to segregation' ... The subtitle is also misleading because separate and unequal extended far beyond transportation and accommodations to education, employment, health care, credit, housing and criminal justice ... Segregation is not one story but many. Luxenberg has written his with energy, elegance and a heart aching for a world without it.
This modern treatment of the landmark 1896 case, which protected segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine, examines its long-lasting ramifications. Luxenberg gives a three-dimensional and almost novelistic treatment to the players involved, drawing on diaries, letters and archival research.
Luxenberg is a fine writer who tells this story in an engaging manner. To be sure, his apparent desire for novelistic effects sometimes gives the prose a purplish hue ... A more serious problem is the book’s structure, which undermines its narrative coherence. Most of Separate consists of alternating biographical chapters about Tourgée, Brown, Harlan and members of the Citizens’ Committee. This produces chronological confusion ... The biographical focus, moreover, leads to a relative neglect of the broader historical context. There is little discussion, for example, of the debates over the 14th Amendment when Congress approved it in 1866 or what exactly it was meant to accomplish ... The long biographical excursions are not only unnecessary but often of questionable relevance. They produce significant delay in getting to the actual case.