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A remarkable history of First Lady Michelle Obama’s mixed ancestry, American Tapestry by Rachel L. Swarns is nothing less than a breathtaking and expansive portrait of America itself.
In this extraordinary feat of genealogical research—in the tradition of The Hemmingses of Monticello and Slaves in the Family—author Swarns, a respected Washington-based reporter for the New York Times, tells the fascinating and hitherto untold story of Ms. Obama’s black, white, and multiracial ancestors; a history that the First Lady herself did not know.
At once epic, provocative, and inspiring, American Tapestry is more than a true family saga; it is an illuminating mirror in which we may all see ourselves.
Rachel L. Swarns has been a reporter for the New York Times since 1995, reporting on domestic policy, the presidential campaigns of 2004 and 2008, the First Lady, and the modern American family. She has also worked for the New York Times in Russia, Cuba, and South Africa, where she served as the Johannesburg bureau chief. She lives in Washington, D.C.
Table of Contents
Prologue: The Mystery of Michelle Obama's Roots 1
Part I Migration
1 Phoebe, the Wanderer 19
2 St. Louis 29
3 Siren Song of the North 38
4 A Family Grows in Chicago 46
5 Exploding Dreams 60
6 A Child of the Jazz Age 72
7 A Man of Promise 77
8 Stumbling Backward 81
9 Love in Hard Times 87
10 Struggling and Striving 98
11 The Search for the Truth 111
Part II The Demise of Reconstruction and the Rise of Jim Crow
“Illuminating. . . . Unforgettable in its sweep and movingly told, American Tapestry has the power to reshape our understanding of the phrase ‘descended from slaves.’”
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
“The First Family becomes ever more fascinating—and ever more representative of the nation as a whole—in Rachel Swarns’s terrific investigation into the roots of Michelle Obama. . . . This is a most compelling read and more evidence for our interconnectedness as a people.”
Fergus M. Bordewich
“In this tour de force of biological sleuthing, Rachel L. Swarns explodes simplistic notions of life and love in the Old South.. . . . Swarns has bestowed upon all Americans a revelatory understanding of our shared racial heritage.”
“Rachel Swarns has not only excavated, with painstaking care, the family tree that is Michelle Obama’s, but, with great insight and beautiful prose, has revealed the complex, eye-opening, and disconcerting experiences that are America. This is a work of impressive historical imagination and deep cultural significance.”
“A grand, important book that shows how American bloodlines are rarely wholly black or purely white, neither one race nor another. Nowhere is that more true than in American Tapestry, an eloquent history of the First Lady’s family.”
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