The Invisible Line by Daniel J. Sharfstein and the TLC Book Tour

The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White

About The Invisible Line

• Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (February 17, 2011)

A multigenerational saga of three American families crossing the racial divide, written by one of our most accomplished historians of race and the law.
In America, race is a riddle. The stories we tell about our past have calcified into the fiction that we are neatly divided into black or white. It is only with the widespread availability of DNA testing and the boom in genealogical research that the frequency with which individuals and entire families crossed the color line has become clear.
In this sweeping history, Daniel J. Sharfstein unravels the stories of three extraordinary families from different eras of American history to represent the complexity of race in America and to force us to rethink our basic assumptions about who we are. The Gibsons were wealthy landowners in the South Carolina backcountry who became white in the 1760s, ascending to the heights of the Southern elite and, ultimately, to the United States Senate. The Spencers were hardscrabble farmers in the hills of eastern Kentucky, joining an isolated Appalachian community in the 1840s and for the better part of a century hovering on the line between white and black. The Walls were fixtures of the rising black middle class in post-Civil War Washington, D.C., only to give up everything they had fought for to become white at the dawn of the twentieth century. Together, their interwoven and intersecting stories uncover a forgotten America in which the rules of race were something to be believed, but not necessarily obeyed.
Defining their identities first as people of color and later as whites, the families provide a lens for understanding how people thought about and experienced race and how these ideas and experiences evolved-how the very meaning of black and white changed-over time. The Invisible Line will cut through centuries of myth and amnesia and poisonous racial politics and change how we talk about race, racism, and civil rights.

My take on the book: Wow this is a very insight full book about the black and white race issues.  This book is no light beach read.  If you want to get a historical lesson on black and white this is the one for you.  The author, Daniel J. Sharfstein, is a clear expert in this field of study.   My head is still spinning at all the facts, myths and mixture of both that he shared in this book.

This book is centered around 3 families and how they passed through that Invisible line from black to white to white to black.  I honestly feel as though I have always lived my life in a bubble to not have known about this part of our American History.  This book is non fiction but it is written in such a way that you think you are reading a historical fiction book. I wanted to think that this was fiction and that some of these issues are not true, but they are.  He made a point that we all have branches of black in our family line.  After reading this, I can see where he is coming from.  I personally do not know of any but again, I'm judging that by skin color and there is much more to it.

The book takes you through the lives of three family back to plantation owners, farmers and pre-civil war era. I loved the geneology charts and photos of the involved families.  The photos are what made the book real in my eyes.  This book would make a great gift for anyone who loves reading about civil war, race issue, American History and historical fiction. 


About Daniel Sharfstein

Daniel J. Sharfstein is an associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University. Sharfstein graduated from Yale Law School and from Harvard College, summa cum laude in History and Literature and Afro-American Studies.  He has been awarded fellowships in legal history from Harvard, New York University, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Sharfstein has written for the Yale Law Journal, New York Times, Economist, Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Legal Affairs.
 Thanks to TLC Book tours for including me in on this tour by sending me a book to read and review.  My own tasty thoughts & opinions are stated here. I hope you check out what other TLC Book Tour bloggers are saying about this book! I'm off to do that now, myself!


  1. This looks interesting. I'm always intrigued by each new take on race and other cultural divisions from different points. Because everyone has such a different experience from his or her friends and collegues, each account is worth reading. Thanks for the review!

  2. I didn't realize this book included photos! Pictures really make history come alive for me.

    Thanks for being on the tour - sounds like this one was a very educational read.


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