Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, by Ibram X. Kendi, Keisha N. Blain
This is not a page turner, and you need to pick when you are mentally able to listen to and process the passages. There are pieces, especially the poems, that you should read by themselves and leave time afterwords to think about it. There are pieces that you almost need to have read to you because they are so hard to read, especially with some of the current events.
For those that have done a lot of reading on African American history, this does cover some previously covered ground, it also goes beyond most of the other texts I've read, delving into the intersectionality of some issues as well.
Am disappointed the used the same trite myth that Pilgrims were seeking religious freedom. That is not true, they could have practiced freely, they could also have gone to somewhere closer to home like the Netherlands. However, the reason why they went was as a money making venture, not religious. Not sure that is worth taking away a star, but it is a point to consider.
This book, in contrast, felt like a much more approachable and holistic approach to African American history in the United States. The book was divided into 5 year sections, with a poem after every 40 years. Most of the stories were non-fiction, but some addressed LGTBQ perspectives, some looked at music, and many looked at women’s perspectives of the time period. The result was that the book not only felt much more digestible, but I also felt like I got a much better perspective of African American’s experiences throughout our country.
One thing I really liked about this book was that the contributors were often masters of their perspectives. Many university professors who taught a certain time period wrote short excerpts for those time periods. Especially in the modern section, authors like Alicia Garza wrote the section on Black Lives Matters. The book felt like a Master Class of African American perspective, and was thoroughly enriching all the way through.
asamandalouise's review against another edition
I strongly recommend the Audible version of this book. Exceptionally read by all of the narrators. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of individuals who made significant impacts on history--individuals who, in many cases, I hadn't heard of until I read this book. If you are an individual committed to social justice and who cares deeply for the future progress of this nation, you must read this book.
ldgraca's review against another edition
nadia's review against another edition
I listened to the audiobook, and while I've heard others praise this edition highly — and it was awesome to hear so many different Black voices — I just don't think this format was the right one for me to take in this material. Admittedly, I wasn't in the best mood while listening to most of it — which definitely didn't help given the subject matter — but I struggled to focus and gel with some of the chapters, especially a lot of the earlier ones.
I go back and forth between thinking the book was incredible because of its breadth and variety and thinking it was trying to pack in almost too much that I've left it not really remembering any details, which is what I went into the book hoping for. Again, this could be because I listened to the book as opposed to reading the words from a page.
I was a big fan of the structure — 10 parts spanning 40 years and each chapter spanning 5 — and it was fascinating travelling bit by bit from the 17th Century all the way to the present day. I also appreciated the occasional poems mixed in with the essays!
I think I might have preferred a series of books in a very similar style, but with some of the essays going more in depth, and perhaps them having a little bit more of a narrative thread through them.
All in all, a book that's definitely worth your time! My rating is heavily based on my personal enjoyment in the moment.
Note: Around 75% in, there's a chapter on Zora Neale Hurston. I skipped most of it for fear of spoilers of Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Graphic: Slavery, Violence, Colonisation, Racism, Death, Murder, and War