Double Agents in Exile

UNTO THE SONS by Gay Talese; Knopf; 635 pages; $25

Every American family, scholars agree, originally came from somewhere else. No wonder that questing for one's origins, personal or ethnic, has become a booming subgenre of the book biz. This sprawling, elegantly written example of the type is by a previous chronicler of the New York Times (The Kingdom and the Power) and the sexual revolution (Thy Neighbor's Wife). Unto the Sons is only marginally autobiographical; in larger measure it is the story of the great wave of Italian immigration that began around the turn of the century, as filtered through...

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