Browsing through a copy of the encyclopedia-style volume, African American Lives, is an exercise that never fails to inform and entertain. Turn to the "M" section, for example, and the two-page biography of Malcolm X is followed by an entry on a lesser known figure, Annie Turnbo Malone, a determined Illinois businesswoman who made a multimillion-dollar fortune in the 1920s with a hair-care products company. These two subjects are among 600 profiled here from slaves to contemporary sports heroes in a volume that was meticulously researched and compiled. Each entry contains fascinating bits of information that add to our understanding of the importance of race and class in America. Edited by scholars Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Higginbotham and distilled from a forthcoming eight-volume set intended primarily for libraries, this readable collection is a mosaic that offers a unique portrait of the African-American experience.

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