Timely, depressing, engrossing reportage on an issue that can’t receive too much attention.

DEATH IN MUD LICK

A COAL COUNTRY FIGHT AGAINST THE DRUG COMPANIES THAT DELIVERED THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC

A Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter delivers his entry in the (sadly) growing literature about the opioid epidemic ravaging the country.

As a reporter at the small-circulation Charleston Gazette-Mail in Charleston, West Virginia, Eyre won the Pulitzer for his writing on the huge shipments of opioids entering his region and how opioid manufacturers, wholesale distributors, and unethical doctors and pharmacists combined to put fatal doses of the dangerous painkillers into the hands of desperate patients. There have been numerous recent books about the opioid crisis—readers can’t go wrong with Sam Quinones’ Dreamland, Beth Macy’s Dopesick, or Chris McGreal’s American Overdose—and Eyre covers some of the same ground. However, what distinguishes his book is the author’s emphasis on the massive but nearly anonymous wholesale distributors Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson, among others. Those companies shipped millions of pills to small-town pharmacies that never could have needed such volumes; for instance Kermit, which has a population of less than 400 and was “drowning in prescription painkillers.” Eyre clearly explains how the Drug Enforcement Administration and the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy could have ameliorated the flood of pills but did nothing. Another powerful actor who enabled the epidemic was West Virginia’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, a Republican politician who lied about his involvement and failed to recuse himself while his wife received payment from Cardinal Health as a lobbyist. While battling for disclosures via freedom of information lawsuits in the courts, Eyre located numerous victims of the indiscriminate pill shipments, including many users who had buried multiple family members and friends after they overdosed. Unsurprisingly, his accounts of his interactions with them are disturbing, moving, and heart-wrenching. Portions of the narrative feature first-person narration, as the author illuminates how time-consuming, budget-busting investigative journalism functions despite circumstances that mitigate against it. The drama ratchets up as Eyre battles early-onset Parkinson’s disease.

Timely, depressing, engrossing reportage on an issue that can’t receive too much attention.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0531-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

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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