Read W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919 by David Levering Lewis Online


This monumental biography--eight years in the research and writing--treats the early and middle phases of a long and intense career: a crucial fifty-year period that demonstrates how Du Bois changed forever the way Americans think about themselves. ...

Title : W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919
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ISBN : 9780805035681
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 752 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919 Reviews

  • Eric
    2019-03-22 00:35

    This is a biography that actually merits the “magisterial” among its blurbs, the kind of book that shows biography second only to the novel for difficulty of organization and effect. As epigraph to the first of the five volumes he would devote to the life of Henry James, Leon Edel quoted a line from his subject’s rare foray into biography (William Wetmore Story and His Friends, 1903):To live other people’s lives is nothing unless we live over their perceptions, live over the growth, the change, the varying intensity of the same—since it was by these things they themselves lived.Du Bois began his intellectual life in the 1870s, a prodigious New England preteen saving odd job money to buy Macaulay’s History of England on an installment plan—and died in 1963, a Pan-Africanist Marxist with a villa in Accra, capital of newly-independent Ghana, and a chauffeured limousine provided by the Soviet embassy. So yeah, Lewis had a lot of ground to cover, plenty of change “to live over.”Du Bois requires two +500 page volumes (this is the first) in which Lewis synchronizes his subject’s restless ninety-five years with an account of the turbulent modernity he inhabited and strove so variously to interpret. This book is full of fascinating microhistories. Every page is dense, chewy with a trenchant portrait or ideological summary or sketch of socio-political context; the history of the United States from Andrew Johnson to Lyndon Johnson, from the Civil War in which Du Bois’s father fought to the Vietnam War he predicted and denounced a decade in advance; imperialism, Gilded Age economics, race and class dynamics, assimilation and separatism, Eurocentrism and Afrocentrism, Bismarck and Négritude, German philosophy, Romantic Nationalism, and every stripe of social thought. In some people egoism is a revelation of spirit; Du Bois’ life is a political and intellectual history of the twentieth century. Things I learned, stuff I was prompted to recall, random notes:1. At Harvard Du Bois read The Critique of Pure Reason with Santayana—not under him, with him. Just hangin’ out. 2. At Harvard Du Bois was a star student of William James, who sent The Souls of Black Folk to Henry, who admired it and invited Du Bois to conclude his 1909 bicycle tour of the Lake District with a visit to Rye House. They never did meet. But James-Santayana is the missed friendship of American Letters.3. After former U.S. president Rutherford B. Hayes publicly questioned the relevance of higher education to blacks, the undergraduate Du Bois wrote him a stern letter in which he told Hayes that he “owed an apology to the Negro People.” This was particularly egregious of Hayes, who at the time was trustee of a black college fund, and particularly ballsy of Du Bois, whose application to that same fund—he wanted a doctorate from a German university; Herr doktor, the prestigious credential of the era—was pending. Hayes was impressed and Du Bois got his grant. Du Bois studied political economy at the University of Berlin, wrote a dissertation comparing the black American peasantry with the Eastern European variety; drank in beer gardens, romanced shop girls, hiked throughout Austra-Hungary, thrilled at Prussian military parades, and affected the upturned points of Wilhelmine mustache. 4. Du Bois was labeled a “dangerous man” by another president, Teddy Roosevelt, for his “freewheeling, militant” editorship of the NAACP magazine, The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races (I love that subtitle; Du Bois ran plenty of pride-instilling Nubian images on the cover; my aunt has several sets of Sphinx-head bookends). When the Justice Department formed its Bureau of Investigation in 1908, Du Bois’ was an inaugural dossier, henceforth a rite of passage for African-American leaders. The white establishment was quite dismayed that by 1914 many American blacks had turned away from the earthy, humble, accommodating, vo-tech vice-principal Booker T. Washington, to listen at the feet of this “sociologist turned propagandist,” a colleague of Weber and Durkheim who could provoke like an old school Abolitionist, who had put aside brilliant historical work and foundational contributions to the new sociology to rake American pretentions up and down, in sermonic editorials of a grandly indignant style, a lynchable sass—“When it was not hurling thunderbolts, The Crisis dripped acid, issue after issue. Mordant observations and gratuitous asides filled its pages”—that needled even whites on the NAACP board and made Du Bois a hero to blacks, who named children, learned societies and even a brand of cigars after him. Du Bois died the night before the March on Washington; when Sidney Poitier and James Baldwin, standing around a hotel lobby, got the news that "the Old Man is dead," they didn't need to be told who he was. 5. Booker T. Washington’s power was a function of educational funding. In the absence of a federal Dept. of Education, national funding for higher education was in the hands of robber baron philanthropies. Washington had the philanthropic ear and whispered that blacks were rooted to the peasant soil of the south, uninterested in demanding rights that would upset the southern caste system, or in education beyond that of mechanics and menials, carpenters and cooks. Black liberal-arts colleges, like Du Bois’s alma mater Fisk and periodic hub Atlanta University, were left to wither on the vine; the trustees of the Rockefeller and Carnegie education monies wanted to see such institutions literally perish.6. Washington’s lackeydom extended throughout the black press—he attempted to disrupt the forming of NAACP, then a cutting-edge attempt at interracial civil rights action, by planting lurid news stories about the fraternization of black men and white women in the ranks of the new organization, a specter he thought sure to enrage popular sentiment. Washington could also advance or quash federal civil service appointments of blacks due to his pull with Republican administrations, and was a pretty smooth bureaucratic operator, buying off potential dissenters with plum posts; although to his credit he also secretly funded early legal efforts against the imposition of Jim Crow—secret because his white backers would not have been cool with that.7. At philanthropic conclaves Washington would warm up the crowd with “darkie jokes” and savage lampoons of citified “college negroes.” That ridicule still echoes. I wonder if he used a super-nerdy “white voice” when doing Du Bois.8. Washington is the quintessence of Uncle Tomism, a representative man of southern caste. Uncle Toms don’t like whites, as is commonly thought, but fear and distrust them, and so resort to obsequious accommodation as a way of staying out of the cross-hairs. They fawn and flatter but are extremely angry. Southern mores—backed up by the rope, the pyre, the castrating blade—exacted a degree of Tomism from all blacks, especially men. Washington’s relevance waned when it became clear that the progress of the race was in the north. His assault by a street tough while out whoring, and his incapacitation and slow death from what looked like syphilis, weakened his standing also. 9. Du Bois and Jack Johnson show pride and egoism in heroic, visionary dimensions. They exemplify unintimidated blackness at the post-emancipation high noon of white supremacy. The love of beat-downs and the poses of a frosty hauteur never looked so good. And both were sharp dressers. 10. Newly arrived, cash-strapped Vladimir Nabokov did a lot of peripatetic lecturing in the early 1940s, and was a great favorite at black colleges in the south. He always brought down the house by declaring Pushkin the striking example of what mankind can achieve when the races are allowed to freely mingle. In the fall of 1942 he met Du Bois and recorded his impression in a letter to Edmund Wilson: Celebrated Negro scholar and organizer. 70 years old, but looks 50. Dusky face, grizzled goatee, nice wrinkles, big ears—prodigiously like a White Russian General in mufti played sympathetically by Emil Jannings. Piebald hands. Brilliant talker, with an old-world touch. Très gentilhomme. Smokes special Turkish cigarettes. Charming and distinguished in other, more important, ways. Told me that when he went to England he was listed as “Colonel” on the Channel boat, because his name bore the addition “Col.” on his passport.

  • John
    2019-03-24 00:34

    I didn’t appreciate this book at first. I found Lewis’s style a little too wordy. But Du Bois was a giant – of ideas and study, appetites, activity and accomplishment – and in these hands he’s found expression equal to his engulfing vitality. It’s small wonder both volumes won the Pulitzer. And here’s one reason why: From his exegesis on DuBois's classic "The Souls of Black Folk"- “Had Du Bois left double consciousness in this epiphenomenal limbo – as a sort of non-ego or psychic negative pole –the partial legacy of Souls would have been perpetual, devastated psychic passivity. But Du Bois intended the divided self to be a phenomenon that was spiritually and socially evolving –one that would define itself through struggle and attain “self-conscious manhood” through “strife”. The German influences are unmistakable with their suggestion of materializing spirit and dialectical struggle, the whole surging process coming to concretion in das Volk – a mighty nation with a unique soul. It is as though the voices of Schopenhauer and Sojourner Truth were blended”. Further. “Du Bois’s concept of racial twoness at the beginning of the twentieth century was profoundly radical. With millions of Europeans arriving from religious and cultural backgrounds strikingly dissimilar to earlier immigrant infusions……..Du Bois was a decade ahead of the generation of mainstream younger artists and writers who would express their disenchantment with the Anglo-Saxon cultural paradigm by celebrating immigrants and workers, mounting scandal raising art shows, launching iconoclastic little magazines, and clamoring for social revolution.”Dope. And let the church say Amen.

  • Sara
    2019-04-19 02:57

    Du Bois was always a name I had heard of and wanted to learn more of his life. This first volume of this epic bio was truly a fascinating book. I had no idea of the animosity that existed between Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and how this complex relationship helped form modern racial theory for good and bad. Also, I never knew how African Americans were so impacted by World War I in ways that affected their livelihoods globally, both by racism at home and abroad. (Now, on to the second volume!)

  • Pete
    2019-03-21 02:50

    When Wikipedia featured their article on the Lynching of Jesse Washington it reminded me that I had read Du Bois' classic The Souls of Black Folk and the Pulitzer prize-winning biography of its author's early years quite a few years ago. Both of these books are foundational readings bringing to light the struggle of black's in America after the civil war. Many would rate these books with 5 stars and perhaps I should as well. However, I haven’t done so primarily because I had all but forgotten reading them some five years ago and thus not having the lasting impression that a top rated book should have.

  • John
    2019-04-16 05:03

    This book is a bear! The detail is beyond anything I could have imagined. I wasn't up to the challenge and had to put it down halfway through. Really great discussion on the tensions between the Washington camp and those in DuBois's. It is hard to imagine this is ONLY part 1.

  • Rosemary
    2019-03-29 23:46

    I found it really fascinating and tremendously sad with regard to the way African Americans have been treated ever since their ancestors were taken from their homelands. W.E.B. Du Bois was an incredibly gifted man who worked tirelessly to help his people achieve real equality and died just before the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s was passed. We fool ourselves as Americans that our nation was founded on principles of freedom and liberty -- it was, but only if you were white, male and well to do. Definitely worth reading.

  • Zach
    2019-04-02 07:46

    I finally got around to this book given to me by my high school history teacher on graduation just in time for Black History Month. I knew very little about DuBois prior to reading these 600 pages on only the first half of his life. The biography covered a difficult time in America's history (1868-1919) that I hadn't covered before. This is a meticulously researched book that's dense at times, but still quite an enjoyable read.

  • Karen Mead
    2019-03-27 01:02

    I hope my local library has part II, because as thick as this book is, I felt kind of unfulfilled when I came to the end and ran out out of proper Du Bois mayhem.Fascinating biography of a real social justice pioneer, but keep in mind that you will probably need to have a dictionary handy while you read this; Lewis has a huge vocabulary, and he puts in quite a few recondite terms that you don't see that much. I probably ended up looking about 20 words,at the very least.

  • Jerome Strong
    2019-04-16 00:48

    Lewis leaves no rock unturned in his biography of this great pillar of the academy. DuBois is undoubtedly one of America's foremost scholars.

  • Doris Raines
    2019-03-21 02:34

    This. Is. A. Brilliant. Book .

  • Bette
    2019-03-30 03:33


  • Nicholas Lefevre
    2019-04-15 02:59

    This is the first volume of a two volume biography. Both volumes won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.Remember that my ratings are personal, not reflecting objective merit but rather my personal reaction. Objectively this is a stunningly detailed and well-researched biography of a fascinating man. As a graduated textbook it would be all one needs on the subject.Du Bois was an intellectual giant excelling from his earliest days as a school boy, at Fiske, and at Harvard. His career was marked more by what he wrote than what he did. Yes, he was crucial to the NAACP and other national and international organizations, but mostly as a researcher and intellectual force. Unfortunately, for a non-academic that does not make for a gripping yarn. It does illuminate the competing threads of the black leadership, the DuBois and Booker Washington camps. Further, I knew relatively little about the emerging black intelligentsia of the post-civil war period. It was really my introduction to civil rights in this period. I just wish I hadn't had to wade through so much academia.

  • Eric
    2019-04-02 00:01

    Although it only encompasses the first fifty years in the life of W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the founders of the NAACP, it is so crammed with information that you will be overwhelmed to remember all the names and places. Also, have a dictionary handy.

  • David Withun
    2019-04-03 07:01

    My review:

  • Thomas Rush
    2019-03-24 07:55

    When one thinks of the scope of American History, there are few names that stand out. Chief among them is a man by the name of William Edward Burghardt DuBois, better known as W.E.B. DuBois. For nearly all of his life, wherever DuBois attended an academic institution, he excelled at the highest levels. Though he was reared in a predominately White town in Massachusetts, his academic gifts were so apparent that the White residents got together and secured funds to send him to college since his single mother was too indigent to do so. Despite the White residents "liberalism," they weren't liberal enough to send him across state, though his academic record qualified him, to enter Harvard. In the eyes of the White townsmen, he was still, "just a Negro," so color prejudice prevented him from attending the school of his choice. So, instead DuBois was sent South to attend the historically Black institution of Fisk University, where he excelled. DuBois, ever the supremely persistent, confident, ambitious person that he was, turned right around and took his behind to his unfinished business of graduating from Harvard, where he was allowed to enter as a junior, and ultimately graduated. He went on to graduate school in Germany, at a time when the University of Berlin was considered several levels above the level of Harvard. Imagine going to Germany, having to speak an unknown foreign tongue, then having to perform in that foreign tongue at what is considered the highest levels of academic life--that is what DuBois did, and once again, he excelled. He did so well, that his fellowship was cut off "because he was receiving (in the eyes of the White Gatekeepers) an education that was too high for a Negro." Oh well, guess what? DuBois would have to settle and compromise. So all he did was become the first African-American to get his PHD in History from Harvard. Some compromise, huh? He would go on to use all of his intellectual gifts to push for full representation for Black People as human beings, in every area of American life. He advocated that we should be allowed to pursue and move in directions wherever our talents took us. He debated this issue with Booker T. Washington who was mainly interested in "Industrial Education." DuBois wound up writing one of the masterpieces in American literary History with his "Souls Of Black Folks." This book, a book filled with cultural and emotional pride, was inspiration for another book called "Reality's Pen: Reflections On Family, History & Culture" by Thomas D. Rush. "Reality's Pen" has several relevant quotations from DuBois, and for anyone who enjoys his life's work, "Reality's Pen" is a treat. Everyone that ever knew DuBois praised him for the supreme loftiness of his intellect. Clearly, if all of DuBois documents were put in one place, they would certainly fill a small library. He was a pioneering sociologist, a productive Historian, a pioneering founder of the NAACP, and articulated, at some point in his life, nearly every conceivable liberation ideology that can be imagined for Black Americans to pursue our human and civil rights. One writer, Arnold Rampersad, in reviewing the life work of DuBois, wrote in his book "The Art & Imagination Of W.E.B. DuBois" the following: "By the time I finished reading the last of his many volumes of history, sociology, biography, autobiography, journalism, and fiction, I knew that I had been privileged to learn from the preeminent mind in black American intellectual history, and most likely, the preeminent mind among all Americans who have pondered the myriad consequences to the nation of its centuries of slavery, segregation and racism." (pg. vi). He goes on to wonder why DuBois would suffer the academic fate from American academia of neglect and insouciance. Throughout his life, DuBois fought tooth and nail against White Supremacy, NEVER accepting it and confidently holding himself, and his people, above the insanity of inferiority, and the equal of any and all human beings. As one Black journalist said of him in this volume of Levering-Lewis', "They could not look at him and call me inferior." (Pg. 3) This book is meticulously researched and written from a sympathetic, sagacious angle, capturing the vast comprehensiveness and brilliance of one of the greatest intellects that America has ever produced. Everything in this book captures the summary of DuBios' life, inherent in the previous quotation by Arnold Rampersad. For those of us with deep respect for DuBois, this volume of Levering-Lewis' 2 volume biography is like a gift from Heaven. There will probably never be a more meticulously written biography of DuBois' life, especially by someone who cares as deeply about DuBois and who writes from such a deep, personal understanding of him. All-in-all, this is an outstanding work written at the highest level of interpretation and scholarship. It is simply a job well done. This book is a gift to the ages and I am thankful for it.

  • Elliot Ratzman
    2019-04-14 05:01

    The great DuBois died at 95, so this biography traces his first fifty years. This was an excellent tutorial on the life and political machine of Booker T. Washington and his accommodation with the white South. DuBois almost receives a PhD in Economics from Berlin, settling for a PhD in History from Harvard. We follow his scholarship—such as his study of black life in Philly—as it breaks new ground in many social scientific disciplines. His observations about colonialism, the legacy of Reconstruction and American race manners were ahead of their time, writing 3 or so classics before he’s 50. We also meet the fascinating turn-of-the-century liberal-left characters who help found the NAACP: patrician publisher Oswald Garrison Villard, reformer Mary Ovington, Equanimeous German-Jew Joel Spingarn, and a cadre of DuBois loyalists. Unable to secure a good teaching position DuBois becomes editor of The Crisis where his influential essays also give the white leaders of the NAACP lots of tsuris.

  • Michael
    2019-04-18 02:03

    This is an extremely well-researched and detailed biography of DuBois, a man about whom I knew little before starting the book. It covers his life from birth, detailing his education, work as a social scientist and then as the editor of The Crisis, during the earlier days of the NAACP. There is a careful examination of his relationships with other civil rights leaders of the times, most particularly his rivalry with Booker T. Washington. There is something to learn on every page and the book is fascinating in many respects. The level of detail does slow the book down at times, as it could be pretty dense, but the level of research and the scholarly writing makes it well worth reading. The book only covered the years up to 1919, but there is much in it that is relevant today. One has to admire those who fought for equal rights during times when doing so posed a risk to life and limb. The descriptions of America's racist past reminds us what has changed and what still needs to be changed before we have a truly equal society.

  • Ahonsi
    2019-03-27 05:42

    The book didn't become interesting, to me, until it began delving into the Washington/Du Bois difference of opinion. This means that the book was essentially a bore for roughly 300 or so pages. Another criticism I have is the author's penchant for using ten-dollar words -- it was annoying. Nonetheless, I plan on reading the second installment in due time.

  • jacky
    2019-03-30 03:00

    I read parts of this book for a research project for my American History course Junior year of high school. I didn't enjoy this project and didn't do fabulous on it either, so I'm thinking I didn't like or understand much of what I read.

  • Colleen
    2019-04-02 00:55

    It was very in depth, well researched and well written. I should have liked a more personal look, more about his family life, but that might be attributable to the way he lived his life rather than the biographer's choices. His mission was his life.

  • Samuel Weikel
    2019-04-01 07:02

    its a very interesting book how he changed the world a little bit to be treated equal .all men shoild be treated equal .

  • Sara
    2019-03-20 06:44

    2001 pulitzer-biography

  • Steve
    2019-04-19 03:35

    I found this book fascinating! I would've given a higher rating if it didn't read so much like a textbook.