Henry Louis Gates’ Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008 spans nearly 500 years in as many pages. So, it’s understandable if reading about the Middle Passage, post-Civil War Reconstruction, and the Rodney King riots might get exhausting. There’s also the fact that Gates wrote his tome free of any centralized argument. While such an approach is likely the best for the brutal and multilayered story that is the history of African-American life, it places the onus of interpretation on the reader. But one should expect a formidable challenge from Gates, who’s renowned for his literary criticism and currently serves as director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Fortunately, Life Upon These Shores also boasts a wonderfully extensive number of visual accompaniments: The included maps, cartoons, and photographs might say as much about the African diaspora in America as Gates’ prose.

Gates reads and signs his book at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose Bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.