W.E.B. Du Bois A Biography 1868-1963

David Levering Lewis

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

912 Pages



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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize (Volumes I & II)
Winner of the Bancroft Prize (Volume I)
Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize (Volume I)
National Book Award Finalist (Volumes I & II)
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist (Volume I)

David Levering Lewis has carved one volume out of his superlative two-volume biography of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, the premier architect of the civil rights movement in America, who set the standard for historical scholarship on this era. Du Bois was a towering and controversial personality, a fiercely proud individual blessed with the language of the poet and the impatience of the agitator. In his magisterial prose, Lewis chronicles Du Bois's long and storied career, detailing the momentous contributions to our national character that still echo today.


Praise for W.E.B. Du Bois

Praise for Volume I:

"A remarkable study . . . Mr. Lewis so vividly evokes the environments that shaped Du Bois that one almost participates in the life."—Waldo E. Martin, Jr., The New York Times Book Review

"An engrossing masterpiece . . . A dazzling feat of scholarship performed with Lewis's customary grace of style."—Nell Irvin Painter, The Washington Post Book World

"To say that Lewis's is the finest biography of Du Bois ever written hardly does justice to his performance. Until the publication of this superb new book, Du Bois's life had never received the treatment it deserves."—Eric Foner, The Nation

"A marvel of scholarship and discernement. David Levering Lewis's remarkable, stunningly detailed book reshapes our understanding of Du Bois at so many points as to instantly become the standard biography."—Martin Bauml Duberman

Praise for Volume II:

"Splendid . . . A landmark of American scholarship. Lewis develops the most convincing portrayal ever written of Du Bois."—Michael R. Winston, The Washington Post

"Monumental . . . A joy to read. A work of keen scholarship that will appeal to the general reader responsive to graceful, lucid prose by an author with an eye for ironic situations and complex emotions."—John Patrick Diggins, Los Angeles Times

"A stirring yet subtle portrait of a haughty intellectual colossus. Lewis again brings Du Bois to life with startling detail and judicious frankness."—Jack E. White, Time

"This second volume of Lewis's biography of Du Bois will undoubtedly become an instant classic and indispensable reading for anyone interested in the history of the twentieth century. The result of Lewis's prodigious research efforts is a magnificent reconstruction of the evolving contours of Du Bois's thought, his interactions with a host of black organizations and key political and intellectual figures, and his personal life."—Eric Amesen, Chicago Tribune

"I did not think it was possible for David Lewis to surpass what he had accomplished in the first volume of his Du Bois biography, but he has . . . He confirms the view of many of us who believe that he is the finest American historian plying his craft today."—John Hope Franklin, James B. Duke Professor of History Emeritus at Duke University

"A masterpiece of the biographer's craft. With this volume, David Levering Lewis has brought to magnificent completion his definitive biography of W.E.B. Du Bois. Lewis writes with consistent empathy, balance, and grace about one of the twentieth century's most complicated and controversial figures. A must-read for anyone seeking to understand the tortured history of race relations in the modern world."—David M. Kennedy, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History at Stanford University and author of Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize

"Lewis's two volumes make up one of the finest biographies that this country has produced."—George M. Fredrickson, The New York Review of Books

"In the opening pages of the second and final volume of Lewis' masterful biography of the great African American scholar, intellectual, writer, and leader, World War I has ended and Du Bois, at age 52, is hard at work as the distinguished founding editor of the vastly influential journal of opinion, The Crisis, which, as Lewis reminds the reader, had made Du Bois' name familiar in nearly every black household in the country. Furthermore, as most people believed at the time, both black and white, Du Bois was the NAACP. But just like earlier clashes with Booker T. Washington over their differing philosophies of black advancement, Du Bois now stood in conflict with Marcus Garvey, the back-to-Africa proponent. As for himself, Du Bois' international involvement in black issues took the form of participation in the Pan-African movement, which espoused the solidarity of all black people everywhere. As the reader witnesses, Du Bois didn't become any less inflexible in his principles and opinions as he got older. One of the most informative aspects of Lewis' highly perceptive account of this, the second half of Du Bois' life, is his discussion of Du Bois' reactions to and participation in the Harlem Renaissance, the black arts movement centered in Harlem from the 1920s to the 1940s. As time passed, Du Bois became a 'walking institution,' but he also gravitated toward communism, officially joining the Communist Party late in his life—in fact, on his way to spend his last days away from the U.S. in the African country of Ghana. Lewis does not neglect his subject's personal life, and the result is a well-rounded picture of an extremely consequential figure."—Brad Hooper, Booklist

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Read an Excerpt


Postlude to The Future

The announcement of W.E.B. Du Bois's death came just after Odetta finished singing, a mighty trumpet of a voice that had accompanied the nonviolent civil rights movement from early days. Roy Wilkins, executive...

Read the full excerpt


  • David Levering Lewis

  • David Levering Lewis is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the two-volume biography of W. E. B. Du Bois. He has been awarded numerous prizes and fellowships, including a MacArthur Fellowship. Twice a finalist for the National Book Award, Lewis lives in Manhattan and Stanfordville, New York, with his wife.