A simultaneously enlightening and disturbing look at working-class lives in America’s heartland.



A Midwestern town struggles to survive in the aftermath of an economic disaster.

Based on three years of probing interviews, Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post journalist Goldstein makes her literary debut with an engrossing investigation of Janesville, Wisconsin, where General Motors, the town’s major employer, closed its plant in 2008. Like Barbara Ehrenreich and George Packer, Goldstein reveals the shattering consequences of the plant’s closing through an evenhanded portrayal of workers, educators, business and community leaders, and politicians—notably, Paul Ryan, a Janesville native who swept into town periodically. Like other politicians, Ryan made promises that proved empty. In 2012, Janesville voters chose Barack Obama over their native son. In 2016, when Wisconsin broke with its Democratic tradition and voted Republican, 52 percent of voters in Janesville’s county supported Hillary Clinton. Janesville exemplifies the plight of many cities after sustaining industry leaves. Unemployment rose to 13 percent, and many former GM workers opted for federally subsidized job training. Yet such training, Goldstein discovered, rarely leads to solid employment. The head of the local community college, deluged with new students, found them shockingly deficient in skills: she designed a “boot camp” for students who did not know how to turn on a computer and a student success course for those with poor study skills. Many dropped out in frustration; some opted for any part-time work they could find; and the few who persisted often faced lack of job opportunities. Families struggled to pay mortgages for houses quickly becoming devalued, and they faced daunting medical costs without health coverage. Business leaders stepped in with optimistic reform measures, but their self-congratulatory work had little effect. Those in social services, repeatedly disappointed and disillusioned by lack of government interest, did manage to devise effective support strategies. The author saw the growing divide of two Janesvilles whose views were evident in the election, recall, and triumph of the anti-union governor, Scott Walker. Although by 2013, the town had recovered to some extent, most workers earned far below their former wages.

A simultaneously enlightening and disturbing look at working-class lives in America’s heartland.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0223-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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