American Tapestry
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American Tapestry

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  143 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Michelle Obama's family saga is a remarkable, quintessentially American story—a journey from slavery to the White House in five generations. Yet, until now, little has been reported on the First Lady's roots. Prodigiously researched, American Tapestry traces the complex and fascinating tale of Michelle Obama's ancestors, a history that the First Lady did not even know hers...more
Unknown Binding, 400 pages
Published June 19th 2012 by Amistad
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Catherine
I gave this book 100 pages (okay, 98) before calling it quits. The author incessantly insinuated herself into the book by suggesting motivations and drawing conclusions where it was completely unnecessary to do so. I’m baffled – the book jacket mentions that Swarns has been a reporter for the New York Times for over 15 years. It seems like she should be skilled at telling a story while sticking to the facts.
Leslie
Local interest: Michelle Obama's great-great grandfather was biracial, the result of a white father and black slave mother. He settled in Birmingham, Alabama, and helped found two churches. His business in downtown Birmingham was one of the few that had both black and white customers.
Steven
I gave this book four stars for the genealogy content not for how it was presented. The author did a great job pulling together current research on the ancestry of Michelle Obama as well as making her own contribution through interviews and DNA testing.

I would have enjoyed the book more if it would have placed more emphasis on facts instead of speculation on why certain events happened. Also, there was a lot of repetition in the book and sometimes it seemed like a series of articles instead of...more
Jenny Brown
This book humanizes the otherwise often off-putting subject of Black History by bringing alife the life stories of the many otherwise ordinary people who were Michelle Obama's ancestors.

I loved the way the author used Mrs. Obama's celebrity and popularity to attract the attention of readers who might otherwise never read a book like this. (For example, Me.) And I was very glad that I had read it because I learned much about life in various different black communities through the past 150 years...more
Judith
The book is meant to be a history of the ancestors of Michelle Obama, black and white.

Such a good premise for a book and so poorly written and does not appear to have been edited at all.

The early pages promise us a history through geneology of the great-great-great-great grandparents of Michelle Robinson Obama through slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement right down to the White House. Somehow it never arrives. Although the writer has found names of ancestors at each l...more
Nick
This was a disappointment. I know that this is popular history and that, even though I am a professional historian, I need to just cut the author some slack. But It was really, really hard to do so. First of all, Swarns needed an editor, or just a copyeditor. There are a bunch of silly errors and repeated phrases that started to irk me after a while. Second, Swarns comes to some totally unwarranted conclusions about how people "felt" or what they "believed." The evidence just doesn't exist to su...more
mim
I'm interested in my own ancestry, which I can't find out much about so this book interested me a great deal. I enjoyed the way that the writer told the story. Since I've also recently become interested in reading about the American Civil War, this book gave me another aspect of it. I did get a bit confused with the people as the chapters moved along and it seemed that there was a bit of jumping around. All in all, I think that if you're interested in history, Civil War, black migration to the n...more
Charlene
According to GoodReads rating, 5 stars stands for amazing, not for perfect, and that is what I give this book that I had a hard time putting down.
It is a fascinating story -- lots of research, lots of thinking went into it. It is a popular history by a NY Times reporter who researched the many family lines of Michelle Obama, who met in Chicago in the very early years of the 20th century. I can quibble that I wish the author had told the story of each family, instead of trying to parse them out...more
Meg
Interesting book exploring Michelle Obama's multiracial ancestry. I am always intrigued by learning about how people lived and related to the color line at other times in American history, and how history shapes families - so this book was satisfying in that way. I also really enjoyed the parts exploring the range of reactions among both white and black descendents of Michelle Obama's ancestors - some were eager to learn the truth about whether they were related, while others did not want to kno...more
Rick Ludwig
The content of this book was fascinating and dealt with an important and often neglected subject, the genealogy of an African American Family, The writers information was well researched and well presented, and the first two thirds of the book was logically organized and very enlightening. The last portion of the book, contained some of the most intriguing information , but was rather difficult to follow, probably reflecting the difficulty involved with obtaining and confirming the information t...more
Brad Hodges
American Tapestry grew out of an article co-written by Rachel L. Swarms for the New York Times, in which First Lady Michelle Obama's family tree was researched. It was discovered that Ms. Obama had biracial heritage, and that a white woman named Joan Tribble, despite her family's misgivings, had a DNA test that confirmed that her ancestor, who owned Ms. Obama's great-great-great-grandmother, was the father of her child.

This slave's name was Melvinia, and she plays a major role in the book, which...more
Janniel
I wanted to like this book. I thought it would be a fascinating good read, full of history and human interest. I started reading, and then soon noticed that what was stressed over and over, was how this or that family member was pushed down by racism. That their history was lost because they had to migrate due to racism. I began to notice that hardly a page or paragraph went by without the mention of race or slavery. I started skipping through the pages, looking for something to settle on that w...more
Shelli McDowell
I enjoyed portions of this book, but overall I felt it was disappointing. I tend to love aything having to do with Michelle Obama, geneology, or historical fiction. But this was just poorly done. Some parts I found to be quite poignant, such as this passage on page 82:

"How does a marriage come undone? Sometimes it starts with a slow unraveling, with the fraying of the countless tiny threads that bind two people together. Or with wounds, as tiny as pinpricks, that fester instead of healing. There...more
Minyoung Lee
This book had so much potential to be great. We are talking about the ancestry of the delightful Michelle Obama, during a period of history that is utmost unique, layered, and fascinating. And while it was fun reading about all the different lives that lead up to Ms. Obama, and it is absolutely astonishing to really think how many people are actually involved in the roots leading to a single person, the author's writing in itself needed some serious re-editing.

The most interesting story of the b...more
Katina
I'll start with the positive. I learned some new things about the Great Migration and the Civil War. The book included some other points of historical interest as well.

Unfortunately, these weren't enough to redeem the book from it's weaknesses. I picked it up on a whim from my library's recently inflated shelves of books that have anything to do with Romney or Obama. I thought, at first, that this might be a great way to scope out a possible Christmas present for some of my genealogically obses...more
Gloria
I just couldn't get into it. The genealogy was done by Megen Smolenyak, a well known genealogist, so I expected to enjoy the book. However the writing just didn't pull me into the story. It was written more like a dry history than a family story. The book was probably 2 or 3 times as long as it needed to be as it was filled in by information about other people who lived at the time and said things that might be similar to what the people in question might have felt.

In short, it was filled in wi...more
Annika Peter
The author uses the stories of Michelle Obama's ancestors to tell the story of the African-American experience in the South and Midwest over the past ~150 years. What I liked about this book was a) the impressive research the author did into Michelle Obama's roots, and b) how she uses that research to provide personal windows into significant epochs of American history. I learned a lot, and it personalized a lot of the hardships African-Americans have faced in a way that is hard to do in a forma...more
Elaine
A fascinating story not so well told. The author delves into Michelle Obama's slave and mixed-race origins and follows the migrations of her paternal and maternal forebears from Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama north through Kentucky and into Illinois. The problems with the story lie in its confusing timelines, occasional contradictions (a slave who "left no record of her existence" shows up later as having lived in several places), frequent and unnecessary repetition of information...more
Denise
I don't care for this new type of "imagined" history. (We can imagine what Melvinia was feeling, thinking, etc.). There is very little concrete evidence about the lives of most of Mrs. Obama's ancestor's in the historical record. This book attempts to help us understand what it would have been like for them by looking at the records that exist for others who lived in the same times and places. There was a lot of excellent and fascinating little-known history in this book. If the author had let t...more
Sherri
Nov 12, 2012 Sherri rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the first African American first family
Shelves: biography, history
I loved the story, and the intricate details of just exactly how Michelle Obama came to be. It is a bright reminder that if our ancestry didn't exist the way it does, none of us would be here, or at least not be who we are. Though none of us chooses our relatives, they are our forebears, and made their own marks on the world that led to today; good, bad, or indifferent.

My only complaint is how the book is organized. I don't have a chance to read for long periods of time all at once, and sometime...more
Linda
This book is a mix of American and Family history. At some times I felt like I was reading something that could have happened to many persons. At other times there were specifics on Michelle Obama's family. Overall worth reading. Put the family history in context.
Barbara
I listened to the audio version of American Tapestry and really enjoyed it. It explored Michelle Obama's genealogical history, which I found fascinating. Some reviewers have mentioned that it was hard to follow at times, but I didn't find that to be true at all. Perhaps it was because I was listening to the audio version. In any event, I found the book both interesting and inspirational. After discovering Family Finder through this book, I decided to have my own DNA tested. I'm hoping to find an...more
Marcia


I listened to the audiobook. I needed the genealogical table that is on the inside cover of the print copy in order to get a good picture of the four different family lines. The hook is, of course, the current first lady, but it could the story of any African American with roots in slavery. The author fills in with guesses because while the outline is clear and the historical challenges of the times are real, individual blacks had obstacles to documenting their lives. Ironically, bills and wills...more
Nikki
A fairly exhaustive genealogy of Michelle Obama's family, backed by some good research. There is sometimes a little too much "Oh, gee!" -- as in "Oh, gee! I didn't know that white slaveowners sometimes impregnated their slaves, did you?" "Oh, gee, I didn't know there were free black people before the Civil War, did you?" And, the constant jumping back and forth in chronology and between different parts of the family could become confusing. Since I read it on Kindle, it was hard to see the family...more
Gabi Coatsworth
This is an interesting topic and so I wish that it had been made more accessible to the average reader. The history o Michelle Obama's black and white ancestors is one that must surely resonate with many people in this country, but the author's disconnected stories and the way she jumps around in time, plus the repetitiveness of the information, makes it hard to keep reading. The book should have been about 40% shorter and maybe had one chapter per character, giving us their whole story in one p...more
Laura Cottam Sajbel
Rachel Swarns did an exhausting and thorough amount of research and made it pretty engaging. It took me forever to read, but the personal aspects of the history make the circumstances much more engaging than a typical geneaology.
Olivia
I highly recommend this book if you want to understand where Michelle Obama is coming from in a historical perspective. Her family tree embodies many of the interesting complexities/obstacles/heartbreaks of doing African-American geneaology... and also tells a lot of the stories common to many on the southside of Chicago. Loved, loved, loved this book!
Ginny
I thought this was a well-written book and gave me more understanding of the plight and disturbing lives of African-Americans in our country. Of course, I knew that before I started the book, but this did show it more clearly to me. The fact that the people were ancestors of First Lady Michelle Obama made it seem much more personal.
Maggie
This was a very enlightening book about the history of Michelle Obama's family. It made her history easy to read and understand, and my heart broke for some of her past family members and their struggles. I wish that Mrs. Obama could have allowed herself to be interviewed for this book, but I can understand why she didn't.
Rebecca
I liked all of the history although it was heartbreaking at times. I struggled with the authors writing style and think the book jumped around too much. Although this was about Michelle Obamas ancestors, it could have easily been any African Americans family story. I wish the author had focused on that a bit more.
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A Teacher's Guide to American Tapestry: Common-Core Aligned Teacher Materials and a Sample Chapter American Tapestry (Enhanced Edition): The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama (P.S.) 10 Common Core Essentials: Nonfiction: Selections from New and Classic Books for the English Language Arts Standards for Middle and High School

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