American Tapestry


Michelle Obama’s family saga is a remarkable, quintessentially American story—a journey from slavery to the White House in five generations. In this prodigiously researched epic, New York Times correspondent Rachel L. Swarns traces that complex and fascinating tale—from the men who fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, to the mothers and fathers who endured the horrors of slavery and the indignities of segregation to build a better future for their children—uncovering details about Mrs. Obama’s black, white, and multiracial forebears that even the First Lady herself did not know.

Though an intimate family history, American Tapestry is also the collective chronicle of our changing nation, a beautifully rendered and singularly inspiring story with resonance for us all.

Critical acclaim

“One of the 100 Notable Books of 2012.”

– New York Times Book Review

“Riveting. . . . American Tapestry is not only the remarkable story of the first lady’s family, providing insight into some of the wonderful traits that have been passed down to her, but also a microcosm of this country’s story as well. . . .The real-life saga of struggle, survival, triumph and tragedy serves as an uplifting companion to Alex Haley’s Roots.”

– USA Today

“[A] meticulously researched and eloquently written real-life detective story.”

– Essence Magazine

“Swarns has unearthed and disseminated crucial American history here.”

– The Washington Post

“An engrossing book. . . . Swarns outlines the fascinating journeys taken by various ancestors of First Lady Michelle Obama—the people who, across the generations, helped make her who she is today.”

– Library Journal

“[A] meticulous, detailed investigation into Mrs. Obama’s family tree. . . . American Tapestry holds rewards.”

– Denver Post

“One of “the year’s outstanding books for public library collections”

– Booklist

“Tremendously moving. . . . Swarns provides numerous tales of heartbreak and achievement, many of which essentially make up the American story.”

– Kirkus Reviews

“[A] layered, scrupulously researched, and wrenching chronicle.”

– Publishers Weekly

“The First Family becomes ever more fascinating-and ever more representative of the nation as a whole-in Rachel Swarns’s terrific investigation into the roots of Michelle Obama. Reaching back to the Revolutionary War and moving up through the present with rich and illustrative detail, Swarns shows the ways in which Mrs. Obama’s family was touched by every major shift in the nation’s history.”

– Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University professor and host and executive producer of PBS’s Finding Your Roots

“Rachel Swarns has not only excavated, with painstaking care, the family tree that is Michelle Obama’s, but, with great insight and beautiful prose, has revealed the complex, eye-opening, and disconcerting experiences that are America. This is a work of impressive historical imagination and deep cultural significance.”

– Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Nation under Our Feet

“A grand, important book that shows how American bloodlines are rarely wholly black or purely white, neither one race nor another. Nowhere is that more true than in American Tapestry, an eloquent history of the First Lady’s family.”

– James McBride, author of the New York Times bestseller The Color of Water

“Tracing the ancestry of the first African-American First Lady from the time of slavery to the present, Swarns excavates the buried truth of mixed-race America. Unforgettable in its sweep and movingly told, American Tapestry has the power to reshape our understanding of the phrase ‘descended from slaves.’ This country has long been more multiracial, Swarns’ illuminating book makes clear, than many Americans-white or black-have cared to admit.”

– Janny Scott, author of the New York Times bestseller A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother

“In this tour de force of biological sleuthing, Rachel L. Swarns explodes simplistic notions of life and love in the Old South. She peels back accumulated layers of myth, bigotry, and pure wishful thinking to show us the rich intertwining of white and black families and bloodlines. More than adding fascinating depth to the First Lady’s personal family story, Swarns has bestowed upon all Americans a revelatory understanding of our shared racial heritage.”

– Fergus M. Bordewich, author of Bound for Canaan