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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, 1000 Sacred Places: The World's Most Extraordinary Spi

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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House, $30.00).  Isabel Wilkerson became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1994, when she was the Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times. Since then she has been researching this exhaustive new history of the relocation of blacks from the Jim Crow South to the North, an exodus that began in the early 1900s and continued until around 1970. 
    Wilkerson identifies New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles as “the three great receiving cities to which southern blacks fled,” pointing out that most of the African-Americans who came to Chicago and other Midwestern cities came from three states— Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas—via the Illinois Central Railroad.  Wilkerson structures her story by chronicling the lives of three individuals who migrated to the North including one from Mississippi to Chicago. Each person’s story creates a compelling narrative thread, one that covers life in the South before the migration, the actual journey itself and the new life in a northern city. A somewhat surprising reality that stands out is the extreme danger many blacks faced in the South if it became known that they were discontented and leaving; two of Wilkerson’s three protagonists literally sneaked off in the dead of night, fearing for their lives if their departure plans got out. 
    A major thesis of The Warmth of Other Suns is that “the Great Migration was an unrecognized immigration within this country. The participants bore the marks of immigrant behavior.” They also, of course, experienced in their new homes the prejudice and discrimination so often the lot of newcomers, and Wilkerson makes it clear that the de facto segregation of the northern cities could be as painful to the migrants as the more overt racism of their home towns. She stresses that the northern cities even developed what sociologists call “hypersegregation,” a separation of the races so complete that “blacks and whites rarely intersected outside of work.” By the twenty-first century, though, things had changed, and Wilkerson salutes Chicago for giving the nation its first African-American President, along with Michelle Obama, whose family came to Chicago during the Great Migration.
    Wilkerson has produced a fascinating and significant study of an important phenomenon of the American—and the Chicago—past. In the process, she has brought to life the experiences of these courageous African-Americans in an almost novelistic way.
 —Julie West Johnson

1000 Sacred Places: The World's Most Extraordinary Spiritual Sites by Christopher Engels (H.F. Ullmann, $29.99). Longing for an escape? Dive into 1000 Sacred Places by Christopher Engels, before planning your next journey. Travels that include sacred spaces offer a spiritual experience beyond the ordinary vacation.
   Engels studied theology and philosophy in Bonn and Kiel. He works as the pastor of a Protestant parish in Leverkusen, Germany. Through conversations and cooperation with a team of religion and culture scientists, Engels gathered a wealth of information and wrote this sophisticated and comprehensive perspective on holy places around the world. This is a gorgeous hardcover book with 950 full-color pages, in a chunky but handy 6 x 9 inch format.
   Sections between chapters are enhanced by Engel’s essays on sacred nature, mythology, culture and pilgrimage. One remarkable example is the author’s notes on Australian aborigines who recognize two eras; the present and Dreamtime, the era of earth’s creation. Places involved in the Dreamtime are sources of great spiritual power, and aborigines believe that the soul of the individual and the landscape are inseparably bound up together, and severing the connection means ending life. 1000 Sacred Places is color-coded by continent, showing the lifetime it would take to explore these sacred sites, in Europe, Asia and beyond.—Helen Gallagher

12 Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong (Borzoi Books/Knopf, $22.95). At the core of this book is “Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.” This book came to be after the author won a prestigious TED Prize ($100,000 and “One Wish to Change the World”). She worked with a variety of leaders of different faiths and religions to compose a Charter for Compassion, which calls for the restoration of “compassion to the heart of religious and moral life” in a “dangerously polarized” world. The result of her efforts is an extremely readable and enlightening book that not only provides the reader with a rich history of philosophy, poetry, and thought through the ages—but also provides plenty of practical resources for readers to enhance their own journeys. From learning about compassion, empathy, and mindfulness to putting what you learn into action, this book is a practical 12-step program. The rewards for living a more compassionate life include more creativity and peace in combination with less anxiety and suffering. While the concept is simple, the steps require a daily commitment with the ongoing goal of positive change…little by little.—Kathleen Welton

Published: April 10, 2011
Issue: 2011 Spring Issue