The Hairstons

The Hairstons : An American Family in Black and White

4.22 (325 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author)  , Read by 

Free delivery worldwide

Available. Dispatched from the UK in 2 business days

When will my order arrive?

Available. Expected delivery to the United States in 7-10 business days.

Not ordering to the United States? Click here.


As the country enters a new era of conversations around race and the enduring impact of slavery, The Hairstons traces the rise and fall of the largest slaveholding family in the Old South as its descendants--both black and white--grapple with the twisted legacy of their past.

Spanning two centuries of one family's history, The Hairstons tells the extraordinary story of the Hairston clan, once the wealthiest family in the Old South and the largest slaveholder in America. With several thousand black and white members, the Hairstons of today share a complex and compelling history: divided in the time of slavery, they have come to embrace their past as one family.

For seven years, journalist Henry Wiencek combed the far-reaching branches of the Hairston family tree to piece together a family history that involves the experiences of both plantation owners and their slaves. Crisscrossing the old plantation country of Virginia, North Carolina, and Mississippi, The Hairstons reconstructs the triumphant rise of the remarkable children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the enslaved as they fought to take their rightful place in mainstream America. It also follows the white descendants through the decline and fall of the Old South, and uncovers the hidden history of slavery's curse--and how that curse followed slaveholders for generations.

Expertly weaving stories of horror, tragedy, and heroism, The Hairstons addresses our nation's attempt to untangle the twisted legacy of the past, and provides a transcendent account of the human power to overcome.
show more

Product details

  • CD-Audio
  • 135 x 170 x 13mm | 68g
  • English
  • Unabridged
  • Unabridged
  • 1713560852
  • 9781713560852

Review quote

"One would have to be hard-hearted indeed not to be moved by the big story this book tells . . . or by the little stories it tells of individual Hairstons whose lives reveal so much about what it is to be an American . . . It is scrupulous and honest in all respects, and a powerful testament to what this country, at its best, can be." ―Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

"The Hairstons is an epic . . . Enthralling . . . creates a profound understanding of slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement. He uses documents, sometimes centuries old, to bring these Hairstons vividly to life." ―Howard Kissel, New York Daily News

"Not since Mary Chestnut's Civil War has nonfiction about the South been as compelling as fiction." ―Time

"This is a moving and timely story of that which separates and binds black and white America. The Hairstons helps us understand our common past and present." ―Julian Bond

"A look at the largest slaveholders in the South and black and white families they spawned. Once they ruled over a pre-Civil War kingdom that spanned 45 plantations spread out over four states and included 10,000 slaves. To keep it all intact, they did what European aristocracy did: they married their own. And as one might imagine, this created a huge and maddeningly complex genealogical configuration, hard to decipher, to say the least. Undaunted, Wiencek, who has written for Smithsonian and American Heritage magazines, has spent eight years unraveling the mystery of the Hairstons (pronounced Harston), said to be 'the largest family in America.' What Wiencek has turned up is nothing if not intriguing, including aspects which are worthy of further exploration . . . Amid these huge plantations, for example, are unacknowledged children of their masters who become enslaved butlers, servants, and housekeepers, or children who were forced to keep their mother's maiden name to disguise their heritage. . . [An] eerily fascinating account." ―Kirkus Reviews

"Wiencek's lovingly detailed history of the complicated relationships among the various strains of this huge, tragically divided Old South family has been called a metaphor for the nation, but a more accurate description would lie in the words of Robert Penn Warren, who said, 'The past is never past.'" ―The Dallas Morning News
show more

Rating details

325 ratings
4.22 out of 5 stars
5 44% (142)
4 38% (125)
3 15% (49)
2 1% (4)
1 2% (5)
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X