A well-rendered, incisive exploration of “a history of serial dispossession and imperial violence.”



A Harvard professor of history and African American studies posits that studying the history of St. Louis can help explain more than 200 years of racism and exploitation in the U.S.

“This book,” writes Johnson, a Missouri native, “traces the history of empire and racial capitalism through a series of stages, beginning with the fur trade in the early nineteenth century and following all the way down to payday lending, tax abatement, for-profit policing, and mass incarceration in our own times.” In a narrative of unrelenting, justified outrage grounded in impressive scholarship, Johnson proceeds mostly chronologically. He begins in early-19th-century St. Louis, a city that served as a base for a violent white-dominated government and military, which murdered Native Americans in massive numbers, with impunity, while driving them away from their long-established homelands. After the eradication of Native communities, they turned their violent intentions toward black communities. Many of those black residents had lived in metropolitan St. Louis for generations; tens of thousands more had arrived from the Deep South hoping to escape the aftermath of slavery. Instead, they encountered a slavery of sorts based on low-wage employment; segregated, substandard housing, transportation, and schooling; and frequent emotional and physical violence. Johnson explains the nature of structural racism, including how it flows naturally from rampant capitalism. Although occasional passages qualify as theoretical—and may only appeal to fellow historians—every chapter includes searing, unforgettable examples. White men often portrayed as heroes are shown by Johnson to be bigots, including Lewis and Clark and Thomas Hart Benton, but the author also exposes plenty of unsavory characters who will be unknown to readers without a familiarity with St. Louis history. Johnson offers plenty of evidence from the current century, as well, including the police murder of Michael Brown in the suburb of Ferguson. The epilogue offers hope, however minimal, that residents can imagine “new ways to live in the city, to connect with and care for one another, to be human.”

A well-rendered, incisive exploration of “a history of serial dispossession and imperial violence.”

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-465-06426-7

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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