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.