Steve Luxenberg - Official Website

Reviews | Praise


“As Luxenberg slowly uncovers Annie's story, he realizes that by exposing one ghost, he exposes thousands. . . The author calls on his investigative reporting skills not just to uncover the facts, but to explore what happens when lies or omissions become truth, exposing the contradictions, contrasts and parallels that exist within every life, every relationship and every family. Beautifully complex, raw and revealing.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Beth told her son often that she loved him. Annie's Ghosts is his elegy in return, a poignant investigative exercise, full of empathy and sorrowful truth.”
—Barry Werth, The Washington Post (Best Books of 2009)

“The book’s first lines hint at the magic that Luxenberg will weave with his tale, a story as compelling as anything found in fiction. . . Annie’s Ghosts is a meticulous reporter’s journey to put all the pieces in their proper place. But it is with a storyteller’s panache that he leaves us breathless while he spins his tale.”
—Sienna Powers, January Magazine (Best Books of 2009)

 “… a fascinating family memoir and thrilling detective story…”
The Buffalo News

In moving and honest detail, Steve recounts the search he embarked on after his mother's death to uncover the mystery of his missing aunt, all the while trying to understand how and why his mother kept her a secret.”
—Susan Estrich, syndicated columnist

Annie's Ghosts…is a great non-fiction read for genealogists. Steve Luxenberg used the skills he learned as a news reporter to discover all he could about Annie [and the secret]…When you think you have the right family but it doesn't match what you have been told, how do you dig through the layers to find the truth?”
—Jan Alpert, president, National Genealogical Society, in the society’s newsletter

Annie’s Ghosts is an exhaustively researched, often moving testament to the ties that bind families together—including connections we aren’t even aware existed.”
—Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun

“Luxenberg dons many hats in this masterful piece of work; he is simultaneously a historian on Jewish immigration, a Holocaust researcher, an investigative reporter, a memoirist and always a grieving son.”
—Elaine Margolin, The Jerusalem Post

“Luxenberg pulls what he knows of his family's secret out of the closet and examines it in exacting detail . . . Those facts tell their own haunting story, not about 'ghosts' but of a girl named Annie, who was absent from her own life.”
—Diane Scharper, The Weekly Standard

“. . . an intriguing blend of personal memoir, historical narrative, and psychological probing, all engineered with sensitivity and grace—a book that is hard to put down and harder to forget. . .  It is, in the best sense, a true story that reads like a true story, and I hope many other readers will savor it as much as I did.”
—Benay Bubar, member

“His dual roles as reporter and son proved both blessing and curse; the journalist dug furiously for facts, while the son wondered if long-buried secrets were best kept that way… Part memoir, part mystery, part history of the mental health movement, Annie’s Ghosts is a fascinating account of a life lived in the shadows and a family beset by despair.”
—Allison Block, Booklist (starred review)

“It’s by turns a story of suspense and a meditation; a consideration of the ties that bind and blind and of secrets that beget more secrets; a deconstruction of the distortions that memories bestow on ‘truth’ . . . [a] compelling story of inherited guilt — and forgiveness.”
—Glenn C. Altschuler, The Forward

“Most books can be described in a word -- mystery, biography, memoir, history, travelogue. Steve Luxenberg's "Annie's Ghosts" is all of these and more… For me, the word to describe this book: Unforgettable.”
—Javan Kienzle, The Detroit Free Press

Annie’s Ghosts is a true life mystery.”
— Lisa Swanson Ellam, “The Faces of My Family” blog

“. . . the tale of his struggle to come as close to the truth as he could, as much as it is the story of his lost aunt.”


“Many American families have secret members, hidden away, forgotten, despised or feared. In telling Annie's story, the story of his mother, and the story of his path to discovery and attempts at understanding, Luxenberg brings to life what otherwise could seem like an extreme or isolated situation. Readable and compelling, emotional and just plain interesting, Annie's Ghosts is a tragic family saga that pushes the narrator to examine his role as a son versus that of a writer and asks readers to find some sympathy and understanding for a family damaged by secrets and lies, and yet still bound by love and hope.”
—Sarah Rachel Egleman,

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“Steve Luxenberg's hunt for the story of his hidden aunt is both a gripping detective story and a haunting memoir. It will leave you breathless.”
—Walter Isaacson, author of the biographies, Einstein: His Life and Universe and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Annie's Ghosts is perhaps the most honest, and one of the most remarkable books I have ever read… From mental institutions to the Holocaust, mother, father, childhood, its mysteries, sadness and joy—­it is one emotional ride.”
—Bob Woodward, investigative reporter and author of 15 books

“Invoking the precision and restraint of first-rate journalism, Steve Luxenberg peels back the skin of his own family and discovers much to love, much to consider and more than enough to shatter hearts. Unlike many who claim the mantle of the investigative reporter, this is the work of someone who understands that truth is fragile, complicated and elusive.”
—David Simon, creator of HBO’s The Wire

“It's the most human of dramas, the most dramatic of family secrets: by chance you learn something that changes forever how you see your mother, your family, yourself. I started reading within minutes of picking up this book, and was instantly mesmerized. It's a riveting detective story, a moving family saga, an enlightening if heartbreaking chapter in the history of America’s treatment of people born with what we now call special needs.”
—Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don't Understand and You're Wearing THAT? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation

“This is a memoir that pushes the journalistic envelope…Writing alternately as a son of a mother who died with a secret, a nephew who discovered an aunt he hadn't known existed, a brother trying to respect the wishes of his siblings, and a detective trying to crack a case, Luxenberg has written a fascinating personal story as well as a report on our communal response to the mentally ill.”
—Helen Epstein, author of Where She Came From and Children of the Holocaust

“Steve Luxenberg sleuths his family's hidden history with the skills of an investigative reporter, the instincts of a mystery writer, and the sympathy of a loving son. His rediscovery of one lost woman illuminates the shocking fate of thousands of Americans who disappeared just a generation ago.”
—Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches From the Unfinished Civil War

“Modern forensics and the unsealing of archives are enabling journalists to report stories once considered impossible. Steve Luxenberg, a gifted storyteller in possession of the full arsenal of journalistic tools, trains his sights on a private mystery: Why did his mother carry to the grave the secret that she had a sister? His discoveries reveal the hidden-in-plain-sight mid-century world of the terrible decisions facing a family crippled by an imperfect child… Luxenberg's beautiful book is in part the story of secrecy itself, when words carried mysterious power and wounds could not be healed through forgiveness.”
—Melissa Faye Greene, author of The Temple Bombing and Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster

“This is a book about secrets: family secrets, secrets as wounds, secrets that begin as tactics and end as shackles. . . We learn about lost worlds and a lost time, we learn about ourselves, and we learn about the universally wounding, shackling, echoing life of secrets.”
—Walter Reich, M.D., former director, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and George Washington University professor

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