Lines of descent

Lines of descent

Lines of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the emergence of identity

by Kwame Anthony Appiah

Harvard University Press (Inbooks), $18.95 hb, 235 pp, 9780674724914

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868–1963) forged one of the most remarkable careers of his generation. Starting in the 1890s, often considered the nadir of race relations in the United States, he became the first black man to hold a Harvard bachelor’s degree; emerged as Booker T. Washington’s most eloquent opponent on the issue of segregation; published pioneering work across many genres, including The Souls of Black Folk (1903); and after founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) went on to become the dominant voice of the Pan-African movement.

In this short but nuanced study, Kwame Anthony Appiah argues persuasively that it was Du Bois’s two fellowship-funded years amid the exciting intellectual milieu of the University of Berlin, over 1892–94, that most profoundly shaped his thinking on the issues he would wrestle with throughout his career.

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Luke Horton

Luke Horton is a Melbourne-based writer and bookseller. He recently completed a PhD in history at the University of Melbourne and his literary journalism has appeared in various publications.