CW: as you might imagine, a lot
I don’t think anyone is going to read or not read this book based on reviews by this point. Either you are receptive to the ideas that Hannah-Jones is about to lay out for you in helpful detail and with inescapable logic, or you think that she’s a proto-terrorist set to destroy your dreams of a glorious America first hellscape. I mean, both sides amirite?
So I’ll instead focus on some of the takeaways I have on what reading this book was like and some advice on how to go about the project of doing so.
To start with the latter point—if you, like me, mostly (only) read fiction, then it’s important to remind yourself that fiction and non-fiction are not the same thing. I used to read my history textbooks end to end as a kid, so it’s not like this is a new phenomenon for me but nonetheless: this book is not a novel. It’s much closer to a textbook, and as such doesn’t lend itself well to reading like one would read a novel. Doing so, as I did, will leave you with an impression of repetition (not, mind you, that these ideas don’t bear repeating) instead of grace, and that’s doing the book a disservice.
Each chapter/section so to speak is structured like an essay, with a personal narrative that leads you through the themes selected. You don’t necessarily need to read them in order, especially if you have a general sense of the arc of history into which the various events stand. And again, if you’re reading this book you’re probably in that camp. Perhaps you don’t know all the instances in which white mobs destroyed Black centers of wealth and excellence, but if you have a generalized knowledge of Tulsa to LA (and, you know, beyond) I think you’ll be able to read essays in the order they appeal to you or are able to absorb.
Except, that is, the ending chapters, which deserve to be read after you’ve read and absorbed the prior chapters. Here’s where Hannah-Jones pulls the rug out from her readers and reveals the Grand Plan. You thought you were reading a book that reframes the past, but really what you were reading was a meticulous framework for the future that can blithely be summed up as: what’s your argument against reparations, then?
A final thought, which I had the pleasure of sharing during Zoomclub: as the pomp and circumstance around the death of QE2 settles down, the flowers strewn around Green Park are starting to rot in a beautiful way-too-on-the-nose metaphor for the British Royal Family. I find myself wishing that someone would write a similarly fiery but imminently readable story that highlights what I see as the clear parallels to the British Empire and its various colonies (such as my own homeland, India).