Reviews for His Name Is George Floyd (Pulitzer Prize Winner): One Mans Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice

by Robert Samuels

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

We saw him die. We say his name. Yet how well do we know George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis police custody inspired a cataclysmic racial reckoning? This gripping oral history offers a behind-the-scenes look at the man, his loved ones and community, and the aftermath of his horrific death. Perry, as he was known to his family, was a complicated man, a dreamer with demons and unfulfilled ambitions who was deeply loved. Samuels and Olorunnipa enlarge on the poster image by introducing us to people whose lives were changed by encountering Floyd: family members, friends, teachers, lovers, co-workers, and the traumatized witnesses to his murder. Watching global protests for racial justice, Floyd’s younger brother, Philonise, begins to question a lifetime of passive acceptance. Floyd’s white girlfriend, Courteney, has a racial epiphany when Floyd and her student Daunte Wright are killed by police within a year. There are the officials who tried to minimize or exploit Floyd’s killing, the cynical phone call from President Trump, the defense strategy highlighting Floyd’s drug use and "deploying the racist trope of Black men being too wild to contain.” Derek Chauvin was convicted, but support for Black Lives Matter has waned, and Philonise wonders if the soul-searching made any difference. A wrenching chronicle of one of the most devastating events of our time.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Ongoing attention to police violence and racial injustice and the media attention sure to surround this vital and illuminating work make it a must-have.

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

An intimate look at the life of the Black man whose murder sparked worldwide protests and a reinvigoration of the movement for racial justice. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died beneath the knee of White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The video of the killing made Floyd “a global icon for racial justice,” write Washington Post journalists Samuels and Olorunnipa. Through painstaking research and more than 400 interviews, the authors sought to learn, “Who was George Floyd? And what was it like to live in his America?” As a child, Floyd dreamed of making a name for himself. “He was young, poor, and Black in America—a recipe for irrelevance in a society that tended to push boys like him onto its margins,” write the authors. “But he assured everyone around him that, someday, he would make a lasting impact.” As an adult, Floyd faced challenges related to addiction, mental health, education, employment, poverty, and criminal activity. Samuels and Olorunnipa trace more than 300 years of American history and Floyd’s family history, placing his death within the context of the systemic racism that shaped his life. The authors got haircuts from Floyd’s barber, visited the communities he called home, and talked to his extended family, friends, lovers, teachers, and acquaintances “to help the world to see Perry [as Floyd was known] as they saw him.” Writing with cogency and compassion, the authors free Floyd from the realm of iconography, restoring his humanity. In these powerful pages, he emerges as a sensitive man with ambitions, successes, and failures. Both his loving nature and his despair are palpable, conveyed in heartbreaking detail. The recounting of his death is devastating to read, and the aftermath, despite his killer’s conviction, is somber. Sadly, the congressional police reform bill named for Floyd remains unpassed. A brilliant biography, history book, and searing indictment of this country’s ongoing failure to eradicate systemic racism. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal
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Award-winning Washington Post journalists Samuels and Olorunnipa's illuminating biography of George Floyd offers a devastating look into America's systemic racism and militaristic policing. Narrator Dion Graham masterfully places listeners center stage during Floyd's life and murder. Meeting the always hopeful, very fallible, but sweet-natured Floyd and his ancestors, and learning about the ways they were victimized across generations is gut-wrenching. The background of Derek Chauvin and his family is presented in stark and disturbing contrast. Painting a full picture of how Floyd met his unnecessary death, the authors describe the family's beginnings, living in poverty in North Carolina, then optimistically moving to Houston, where they endured Texas's brutal and racist laws. Finally, they examine the reality of racism and policing under the veneer of a "liberal" Minneapolis. The conclusion follows resolute protesters throughout the country, the family's determination to change laws, and the trial, including those who bravely testified. Graham skillfully introduces a widely diverse cast and seamlessly transitions between chapters. He even injects moments of gentle humor. Graham gives a stunning performance here, including of Floyd's last heartbreaking minutes. VERDICT The authors present Floyd empathetically, but honestly, including his weaknesses and flaws. Audio transports listeners into Floyd's world, making his story even more immediate.—Susan G. Baird

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Washington Post journalists Samuels and Olorunnipa bring impressive credentials to their biography of George Floyd. Samuels, a national political enterprise reporter, is a multi-prize finalist for his own reporting and a Polk and Peabody Prize winner for team reporting at the Post, while Nigerian American Olorunnipa is a political enterprise and investigations reporter who has covered the White House, has filed from multiple countries as part of the presidential press corps, and also serves as an on-air contributor to CNN. Here they examine how systemic racism shaped Floyd's life, moving from his family's North Carolina roots, to the ongoing issues he faced in housing, education, health care, criminal justice, and policing, to the story of his death and how it brought about a global demand for change.

Publishers Weekly
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Washington Post reporters Samuels and Olorunnipa deliver an impeccably researched biography of George Floyd, whose 2020 murder by Minneapolis police sparked nationwide protests. After recounting the events leading up to Floyd’s death, the authors rewind to his early years in Houston’s segregated Third Ward in the 1970s and ’80s. Recruited to play football at Texas A&M–Kingsville, Floyd became the first in his family to attend a four-year college, but struggled to meet the academic requirements and eventually dropped out. Back in the Third Ward, he got sucked into the drug trade and spent more than a decade in and out of prison before moving to Minneapolis for a fresh start. Interwoven with the biographical details are incisive sketches of the political and historical events that have shaped life for Floyd’s family and other Black Americans. Recounting how Floyd’s great-great-grandfather was forced to sell his landholdings in early 1900s North Carolina, the authors note that “between 1910 and 1997, Black farmers lost control of more than 90 percent of their farmlands.” Elsewhere, Samuels and Olorunnipa discuss the war on drugs, school segregation, redlining, and more. This multifaceted and exceptionally informative account is both a moving testament to Floyd and a devastating indictment of America’s racial inequities. Agent: Karen Brailsford, Aevitas Creative Management. (May)