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“This all feels so complicated. If I harbored any delusion that solutions would become readily apparent, today's conversation nailed that coffin securely shut. I stare into the eyes of a woman in an ancient portrait hanging on the wall. Her high collar appears to choke her, which may explain the stern expression on her face. Her eyes bore back into mine. 'Who are you?' I whisper. 'What was it with you people?'”

 — Inheriting the Trade

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What People Are Saying

Contents of this page

Critical acclaim for Inheriting the Trade
Critical acclaim for the Brilliance Audio book
What readers are saying
From the book jacket
Critical Acclaim for the film Traces of the Trade

Critical acclaim for Inheriting the Trade

“I cannot recommend it highly enough. The book is terrific.”

— Harry Smith, anchor, The Early Show, CBS

“His conclusions will be controversial, but DeWolf’s intimate confrontation with white America’s ‘unearned privilege’ sears the conscience.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Heartily recommended for public, high school, and college libraries, especially those seeking literature examining different perspectives about racism, slavery, and economic history.”

— Emily-Jane Dawson, Library Journal

“…an eye-opening volume. It not only dispels myths about slavery but also shows how that history haunts this country to this day.”

— Katie Schneider, The Oregonian

“Wise words from a man whose children and grandchildren inherit here a chapter of their history marked by understanding, contrition and graceful renewal.”

— Mary Donnarumma Sharnick, America Magazine

“…it takes an honest man to write such words and think such thoughts.”

— Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor

“This is an honest, insightful, and significant book that will help equip those of us who are consciously working for racial justice…”

— Anne Stewart, At the Crossroads

“DeWolf’s transformational journey is recounted in this moving, intimate and brutally honest memoir, which is compelling on its own, but should likewise serve as a fitting companion book to the family’s [filmed documentary] Traces of the Trade...”

— Kam Williams, News Blaze

“It’s quite a book and what a history lesson for a lot of people; highly recommended.”

— Chet Curtis, The Chet Curtis Report, New England Cable News

“This is a heckuva story…”

— Cliff Kelley, WVON, Chicago

“…powerful...” “Although the book serves as a behind-the-scenes look at the film, it also offers something the film does not: a long deep look at one man’s interior journey.”

— Paul Davis, The Providence Journal

Critical acclaim for the Brilliance Audio book

“DeWolf’s reading is concise and firm, never wavering as he relates the tragic tale or distancing himself from its weighty reality. Offering believable, sympathetic characters throughout, DeWolf seems a seasoned narrative professional and never falls into self-indulgence, doing this amazing story justice.”

Publisher’s Weekly

“…brutally honest account of his experience.” “Author-read, DeWolf does an excellent job, surprising this listener with his African and Cuban accents as well as the intensity and emotions he brings to the narrative before, during and after the trip.”

— Sue Rosenzweig, Encyclopedia.com

What readers are saying

The following are excerpts of comments received by Tom DeWolf:

“[Inheriting the Trade] is really good. Not because it solves anything, but because it gives us a glimpse of the enormity of the mess we're in and a sense we need to learn to live in the discomfort of it together.”

Reader from California

“I thought [Inheriting the Trade] was wonderful from the very beginning… Then the last parts blew me away… It is really a tale of transformation, though from the very beginning you were open to self-reflection in a way that was very unusual. Thank you very much for your self and your extraordinary book.”

Reader from Massachusetts

“You stated the current government of the US should apologize for the slave trade, yet you personally disqualify yourself as not being alive when it took place.....nice loophole.... Why should any current US government official, who was also NOT around during the slave trade apologize? You Jackass!!”

BookTV (C-SPAN2) viewer

“You have written something rare and fine. You have written truth.”

Reader from Virginia

“Words fall short of how I feel right now, you have captured something remarkable.”

Reader from Oregon

“[Tom DeWolf] spoke to how the hierarchy was established, not in an intellectual kind of way, but in a very real, tangible way for me and exploded it. While listening to him, I finally felt seen for the first time. I don't know if that makes any sense. Hearing a white person open up about the dealings of his ancestors and accept responsibility, in part, for the state of race relations in the U.S. overwhelmed me. I hadn't realized how much baggage I carried because of that and the true extent of how racism has affected me and continues to affect me.”

Attendee at a bookstore reading

“If the DeWolf family was worried about their good family name being sullied, they can rest easy. This book is unreadable.”

Amazon.com reader review

“This book covers issues that most whites prefer to avoid, and it does so in a cogent, readable, and revealing way. I loved how it got me thinking, and opened my eyes in a non-threatening but persistent way to how different kinds of isms -- racism, classism, sexism -- pervade our lives.”

Another Amazon.com reader review

“I just watched Tom Dewolf on C-Span and he may have freed me from a great deal of bitterness. On the question of slavery and its aftermath, I had grown to think all white people were shameless on this subject. Dewolf has left me with hope that there may be a few whites who see the errors of their ancestors. More than that, I can concentrate on how my bitterness and frustration also add to the problem.”

BookTV (C-SPAN2) viewer from Oklahoma

“I came away most impressed by [Inheriting the Trade’s] spiritual content, particularly by the gradual development of the conclusion that had the most impact on me - that if we remember our ancestry and history with pride, we must remember the shame as well. I can't stop talking about it, and I'm drowning my book club with pleas to have us read it.”

Reader from Rhode Island

“I got your book and managed to read it within the first week. Thank you so very much for writing such an important book and writing it so well. It was uncomfortable, messy, honest, painful, beautiful, troubling and hopeful. It was so moving to me. You wrote so well, so openly, so deeply, so personally, so boldly.”

Reader from Washington State

“I was very fortunate to just catch your presentation about your book and journey on C-Span. Thank you for your excellent work and perspective and observations on racism and the slave trade. We are definitely better off than we were thirty years ago but we still have a long way to go.”

BookTV (C-SPAN2) viewer from Louisiana

From the book jacket

“Tom DeWolf’s deeply personal story, of his own journey as well as his family’s, is required reading for anyone interested in reconciliation. Healing from our historic wounds, that continue to separate us, requires us to walk this road together.”

Myrlie Evers-Williams, civil rights leader, chairman emeritus of the NAACP (1995-98), and author of The Autobiography of Medgar Evers, Watch Me Fly, and For Us The Living

Inheriting the Trade is a candid, powerful and insightful book about  how one family dealt with the infamous slave trade. This book is jarring in its candor, and revealing in its honest assessment of slavery and the Dewolf family. We must read important books like this one,  if we dare to appreciate every aspect of our history, and as the Dewolf family does, dare to change our judgments about the wretched history of slavery.”

Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and Executive Director, The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice

“[Inheriting the Trade is] like a slow-motion mash-up, a first-person view from within one of the country's founding families as it splinters, then puts itself back together again.”

Edward Ball, author of the National Book Award winner, Slaves in the Family

“Exploring the links between a grand Rhode Island mansion and dungeons in Ghana, Tom DeWolf traces the infernal trade that gave his family, and this country, great wealth and power. His journey into the past forces painful questions to the surface, and illuminates our present.”

Henry Wiencek, Winner of the National Book Critics' Circle Award and author of An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America

“In ongoing efforts to promote racial reconciliation, this contemporary white family’s journey stands out. It represents the kind of honesty and courage that is so urgently needed to forge new ways of talking and thinking about the legacy of slavery in American life.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, author of On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-first Century

“Thomas DeWolf’s personal journey into his family’s long hidden slave trading past is a compelling invitation to explore how our country and many institutions, including churches, benefited from this dark chapter. Such exploration is essential if we are to move forward to a place of repair and racial reconciliation.”

Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold, 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

Critical Acclaim for Traces of the Trade

“A far-reaching personal documentary examination of the slave trade. . . . The implications of the film are devastating.”

— Stephen Holden, The New York Times

“A moving film.”

— Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal, PBS

“In this year, the bicentennial of the federal abolishment of the slave trade, all Browne is asking is for people to think, talk and, perhaps, even acknowledge.

— Annett John-Hall, Philadelphia Inquirer

“In a most unusual way, PBS is about to remind us of an anniversary this nation should never have experienced — and should not be allowed to forget. . . . Traces of the Trade is a stark reminder of how far this nation has come — and the distance it must yet go. . .”

— DeWayne Wickham, Gannett News Service

“Powerful is an inadequate word to describe the impact of Katrina Browne's Traces of the Trade. . . . [Her] clear-headed film represents an intense and searing call for national dialogue.”

— Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter

      Inheriting the Trade, by Thomas Norman DeWolf, is published by Beacon Press. Copyright 2007.