A devastatingly important read.



A veteran journalist and scholar reveals the long-ranging impacts of environmental racism on black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities.

In this heart-wrenching exposé, the author of Medical Apartheid (2007) zeroes in on the “chemical Armageddon” that has “preferentially affected” black, Indigenous, and Latinx peoples with “chemicals known or strongly suspected to lower intelligence.” To frame her thorough study, Washington (Infectious Madness: The Surprising Science of How We "Catch" Mental Illness, 2016, etc.) uses the flawed metric of IQ scores. Though she acknowledges their faulty premise and biased administration, she uses them to describe cognitive impacts because the scores serve as “a predictor of success in school, social settings, work achievements, and lifetime earnings.” Citing cases around the United States, Washington clearly presents her research on the expansive effects of toxins, heavy metals, and even drugs that are disproportionately funneled into marginalized communities of color: lead contamination in Baltimore and Flint, where the “water’s lead levels were so high that it fell into the EPA’s classification for hazardous waste”; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) poisoning in Anniston, Alabama (“a PCB concentration of just 5 parts per billion in a pregnant mother’s blood can have adverse effects on a developing fetal brain”), and the forced implantation of the toxic Norplant (“a surgically inserted contraceptive that can be removed only by a physician and lasts for five years”) in black and Latin women. Along with many other well-documented examples, these injustices reveal a chilling reality: Marginalized people of color face not only rampant public health impacts, but also societal blame for their plight. The author also offers “steps that individuals can take to fight for a less toxic environment,” uplifting the grassroots environmental justice organizing of black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. She also provides a helpful glossary and long list of “Known Chemical Brain Drainers.” The book falls short only in its lack of a discussion of ableism and its role in marginalizing those with altered cognitive development.

A devastatingly important read.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-50943-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown Spark

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2019

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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