What You Don’t Know Will Make a Whole New World: A Memoir

What You Don’t Know Will Make a Whole New World: A Memoir
Paperback, 5.5 x 8.5, 224 pages.
ISBN: 9781597146081.

By Dorothy Lazard

A Best Book of the Year, Oakland Public Library

Finalist for the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award – Autobiography & Memoir

Dorothy Lazard grew up in the Bay Area of the 1960s and ’70s, surrounded by an expansive network of family, and hungry for knowledge. Here in her first book, she vividly tells the story of her journey to becoming “queen of my own nerdy domain.” Today Lazard is celebrated for her distinguished career as a librarian and public historian, and in these pages she connects her early intellectual pursuits—including a formative encounter with Alex Haley—to the career that made her a community pillar. As she traces her trajectory to adulthood, she also explores her personal experiences connected to the Summer of Love, the murder of Emmett Till, the flourishing of the Black Arts Movement, and the redevelopment of Oakland. As she writes with honesty about the tragedies she faced in her youth—including the loss of both parents—Lazard’s memoir remains triumphant, animated by curiosity, careful reflection, and deep enthusiasm for life.


"Lazard was a beloved and stalwart librarian in Oakland. In this memoir, she recalls the Bay Area of the 1960s and 1970s, where she grew up. She also explores formative experiences and connections, the nuances of family, and her own curiosity and lust for life." Alta Journal
“In clear, calm, resolute prose, Lazard recounts the onslaught of urgent issues overpowering her Bay Area childhood […] Yet the constant wonder of What You Don’t Know is that almost never resorts to bitterness, vengefulness or despair as she seeks tools for pushing ahead. Her yearning to know, learn, understand and become remains powerful and creative, often against spectacular odds. […] What You Don’t Know will inspire for its grace, zest and courage.” Joan Frank, San Francisco Chronicle
"Lazard’s journey to becoming an empowered Black woman with 'a place in this country' is a distinguished, uplifting story." Lou Fancher, East Bay Express
"Lazard refers to her narrative as 'my recovery mission to retrieve a time in my life that marked me more deeply than any other,' and she succeeds handily, thanks to rigorous scene-building and memorable characterizations of her family. This is a powerful account." Publishers Weekly
"A coming-of-age memoir takes readers to the Bay Area of the late 1960s and ’70s. [...] Lazard’s story may exemplify a cultural awakening experienced by many of her Black peers, but it is also intensely individual, shaped as much by her own family circumstances as by the world around her. [...] Compelling and memorable." Kirkus Reviews
"Themes of self-discovery and finding one’s place are a text constant in What You Don’t Know Will Make a Whole New World, a moving memoir about the enduring power of words." Dontaná McPherson-Joseph, Foreword Reviews
"The book focuses on [Lazard's] childhood and adolescence, as she shuttled from school to school, searching for her place in the world. It was a time of momentous change for Black people, and Lazard chronicles those upheavals and realizations with a clear, unsentimental view. A beautifully written memoir, full of heart and soul." Anara Guard, Chicago Review of Books
"In her stirring memoir, former Oakland librarian and public historian Dorothy Lazard underscores the power of witnessing history through a personal lens." Hannah Bae, San Francisco Chronicle
+ Show all reviews
Categories Memoir | New Releases

About the Author

Dorothy Lazard

Dorothy Lazard

Dorothy Lazard was born in St. Louis and grew up in San Francisco and Oakland. A librarian for forty years, she joined the staff of the Oakland Public Library in 2000. From 2009 until her retirement in 2021, she was the head librarian of OPL’s Oakland History Center, where she encouraged people of all ages and backgrounds to explore local history. Lazard was the 2023 recipient of the Oscar Lewis Award in Western History from the Book Club of California. She lives in Oakland. Photo by Gene Dominique.

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