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The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk - W.E.B. Du Bois, Terri Hume Oliver, Henry Louis Gates  Jr.

Note: this is "no rating," not "zero stars."


This is actually quite a short essay collection, clocking in at 164 pages in my edition; those hundreds of additional pages are all made up of supplemental materials and literary criticism. I would consider myself someone who loves to read about writing - hence spending time on book sites - but I don't set out to spend more time reading about a text than reading the text itself. And the pomposity of academic criticism makes it difficult to get through, so in the end, I just read Du Bois's text and skimmed a couple of the other pieces.

But that total page count (374 in my edition) is more representative of how long this book will take you, because the writing is dense. They just don't write like this anymore. If Du Bois was alive today, the only way he could get this type of work published would be blogging. But this book was apparently a great success when published, despite not being nearly so easily digestible as we expect today. And it is still quite influential; I finally had to read it because I kept seeing it quoted around in other works. As it turns out, Du Bois's description of the psychological effects of belonging to a scorned minority group apply to quite a lot of people in addition to African-Americans.

There's a lot to recommend this book, from a historical perspective and for its insight into people in general and into race relations in the U.S. It's an interesting work to read more than 100 years after its publication, because on one page you'll think, "Wow, seriously? At least we solved thatproblem," and on the next, "Hmm, that hasn't really changed much at all."

I have a bias for narratives, so my favorite piece was the one short story, "Of the Coming of John." My least favorite pieces were the ones that chronicled the author's observations after spending a short amount of time in some rural place, or that expound at length at an issue that seems obvious today (arguing that black students should be able to attend either liberal arts colleges or trade schools depending on aptitude, vs. Booker T. Washington's campaign to build only trade schools). It's all educational, but some pieces are certainly more interesting than others. I do recommend it - despite being a classic it is still timely - but you'll need some patience. I'm sorry not to have read this in school, since the classroom seems like the ideal setting for it.