"Unto the Sons” is essentially a genealogical biography, focusing primarily on the Talese family, but also on the families that were incorporated into the clan through marriage. Gay Talese is a thorough researcher and a skilled writer. The book is interesting and at times compelling, but it is also unfocused and rambling.
Mr. Talese provides detailed explanations of many of the historic events that occurred while members of his family were simply living their lives. Of course, we are all effected by what goes on in the world, but so much of the historic material provided by Mr. Talese is not only available elsewhere, but can be found with more decisive analysis when it is removed from the context of a personal biographical work.
The author conducted numerous interviews with family members and used family diaries as a resource. However, the dialogue and narratives that he creates could not, in many instances, have been related in such detail through his sources. Consequently, the book is a mixture of non-fiction, fiction, and world history. Mr. Talese is talented enough to combine these literary styles, yet they cause some confusion because there is not a clear definition of what is fact and what is fantasy. I would have preferred reading more about the families and less about world events: more about actual family facts rather than invented dialogue and imagined emotional responses.
I take issue with the publishers, too. Simple maps, genealogical charts, and photographs would have provided greater clarity and considerable enhancement.
I enjoyed reading “Unto the Sons” and recommend it, but with some degree of warning.