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Down the Up Staircase: Book summary and reviews of Down the Up Staircase by Bruce D. Haynes

Down the Up Staircase

Three Generations of a Harlem Family

by Bruce D. Haynes

Down the Up Staircase by Bruce D. Haynes X
Down the Up Staircase by Bruce D. Haynes
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  • Published in USA  Apr 2017
    224 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

Down the Up Staircase traces the social history of Harlem through the lens of one family across three generations, connecting their journey to the historical and social forces that transformed Harlem.

Sociologist Bruce D. Haynes and coauthor Syma Solovitch capture the tides of change that pushed blacks forward through the twentieth century - the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, the early civil rights victories, the Black Power and Black Arts movements - and the many social forces that ravaged black communities, including Haynes's own. As an authority on race and urban communities, Haynes brings unique sociological insights to the American mobility saga and the tenuous nature of status and success among the black middle class.

In many ways, Haynes's family defied the odds. All four great-grandparents on his father's side owned land in the South as early as 1880. His grandfather, George Edmund Haynes, was the founder of the National Urban League and a protégé of the eminent black sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois; his grandmother, a noted children's author of the Harlem Renaissance and a prominent social scientist. Yet these early advances and gains provided little anchor to the succeeding generations. This story is told against the backdrop of a crumbling three-story brownstone in Sugar Hill that once hosted Harlem Renaissance elites and later became an embodiment of the family's rise and demise. Down the Up Staircase is a stirring portrait of this family, each generation walking a tightrope, one misstep from free fall.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. A candid and profoundly personal contribution to America's racial history." - Kirkus

"Like Harlem's story, the memoir is bittersweet, painting a full and complicated picture of black upper-class life over generations." - Publishers Weekly

"Bruce Haynes' story is a classic American tale - which combines the big themes of history with the gritty reality of a single family's extraordinary story." - The New Yorker

"This fast-paced book will likely be consumed by readers in one sitting, but its powerful and poignant stories will linger in the mind long afterwards." - George Lipsitz

"Haynes channels W. E. B. Du Bois to provide a rich sociological portrait of his "talented tenth" family. The lively writing conveys both universal family dramas of social mobility (up and down) as well as the particular context of Harlem across the twentieth century. A great read!" - Dalton Conley

"An utterly captivating work that shows off Haynes's brilliant sociological imagination on every page." - Mitchell Duneier

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Reader Reviews

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Lisa S

Enlightening and enjoyable!
When I looked at the cover and subtitle, I figured this book would informative, historical, and sociological. But this slice of personal, social, and racial history is a 3-D literary roller coaster ride! What an enjoyable experience it was to read a book comprised of hundreds of personal, family, historical, and news stories, tracking the impact of post-slavery America on 3 generations of a (striving to remain) upper-middle class family in Harlem. Revealed is a traumatic and precarious world filled with love and sacrifice, trauma, death and dysfunction, perseverance, social connections, and good and bad fortune, all combined with a delicious, elaborate and humorous writing style! It’s hard to imagine that today’s students who didn’t live through the '50s, '60s or '70s will be quite as riveted by this book (as I was) but they will learn about black history, the Urban League, the major players like Haynes, DuBois, Booker T Washington, MLK, Malcolm X, how the Black Muslim movement started, the economic ups and downs of Harlem, several political eras, the mental health and religious worlds, the drug world up close and personal, urban reality, and more. Readers will experience a handful of very emotional experiences of various real people. Remarkably, this book reads like fiction yet it is about real people whose unique day to day, decade, and lifetime challenges are at once heartbreaking and heroic. A must read!!!

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Author Information

Bruce D. Haynes

Bruce D. Haynes (1960- ) was born in Harlem, New York, to a family of social workers. After receiving his doctorate (CUNY 1995) he taught sociology and African-American Studies at Yale University (1995-2001). He joined the faculty of the University of California, Davis in 2001 where he is currently Associate Professor of Sociology. Currently, Haynes is contracted with New York University Press for a book about Black Jews in America.

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