Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Nonfiction Review: The Souls of Black Folk

For Nonfiction November, even my audiobooks were nonfiction! I listened to The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, a historical and literary classic written in 1903 that I got free last summer from SYNC. It's a very thoughtful collection of essays that provides a glimpse into history from the perspective of African Americans.

Du Bois was an African-American man who graduated from Harvard in 1895, a feat in itself at that time and the first Black man to do so, and was a renowned historian and sociologist. This famous tome both shares some of Du Bois' personal experiences and reviews a portion of U.S. history with respect to African-Americans. It's a collection of 15 essays he wrote during his illustrious career; he helped to create the field of sociology. His historical essays cover periods from post-Civil War era to his own present, laying bare the truths of racism. Du Bois' famous line, "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line," was written over a century ago but still feels relevant. Some of the essays are more personal, sharing stories of his childhood, as an intelligent Black boy who struggled to get the education he wanted, struggled to fit in when he did go on to further education, and struggled even more to fit into his community when he returned home. He also shares stories of working as a teacher to poor Black children as a new college graduate and of his later tragic experiences in fatherhood.

Coincidentally, at the same time I was listening to The Souls of Black Folk, I was also reading White Trash by Nancy Isenberg in print. This meant I was reading/hearing about the same periods of history--for instance, the post-Civil War era--from two different perspectives: that of Blacks, both freemen and freed slaves, and of poor, rural whites. It was fascinating to fit these different points of view together, as all are a far different story of U.S. history than what I learned in school! I especially liked DuBois' personal essays, sharing his own first-person experiences and providing an intimate historical perspective. I enjoyed this collection very much and learned a lot, and it feels especially important to read it at this moment in time.

Blackstone Audio

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. This is a different narrator than the one I listened to, but it is from the same audio production company.


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  1. I haven't read this book and feel like it's one that I should.