[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.