memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree: How I Fought to Save Myself, My Sister, and Thousands of Girls Worldwide by Nice Leng’ete with Elizabeth Butler-Witter

Years ago, in my very early 20’s, I was introduced to the concept of female genital mutilation when my online book club read Do They Hear You When You Cry by Fauziwa Kassindja. Since then, I’ve read other books on the subject, and it never gets any less horrifying. Last summer, my library announced they would read The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree: How I Fought to Save Myself, My Sister, and Thousands of Girls Worldwide by Nice Leng’ete with Elizabeth Butler-Witter (Little, Brown and Company, 2021) as a book club selection. I’m still not going to in-person events, so I missed out on what I’m sure was an amazing discussion, but I definitely still wanted to read the book. That FGM hasn’t disappeared off this planet yet is a tragedy, but it’s a relief knowing there are still brave women (and men!) out there, fighting so hard against it.

Nice Leng’ete grew up in Kenya, a member of the Maasai tribe. Her parents were more progressive than most, and her father had a deep commitment to ensuring that his children were educated. Unfortunately, both of Nice’s parents died when Nice was still in early elementary school, and she and her sister were shipped off to an uncle who wasn’t much interested in raising his brother’s children. Education remained a priority for Nice, and she fought hard to be able to stay in school, but by the time she turned nine, her family began demanding that she undergo the ritual of female genital mutilation. Having seen these scenarios performed and knowing that its risks included infection and death – and especially knowing that having this done would mean early marriage, babies, and the end of her education – Nice refuses, even running away multiple times to escape the knife.

It’s not easy to avoid being mutilated; pressure is intense and Nice is nearly shunned by her family and her community for refusing (her sister is, unfortunately, not so lucky), but she holds fast and not only gets the education she deserves, she goes on to college and begins a career with a nonprofit, working to stop the practice of female genital mutilation around the world.

What a fascinating book! This is another easy read about a tough subject. It’s not as in-depth as, say, Do They Hear You When You Cry, but it’s definitely more accessible for younger readers and would make a fabulous read for the mature middle-to-high schooler looking to become better informed about issues that affect girls and women around the world. FGM is still happening, even in countries where it’s been banned, and Ms. Leng’ete makes an excellent case for why people like her – girls and women who know the community, who are intimately familiar with the communities – need to be at the forefront of demanding change. There are a lot of great lessons in this book about what amazing modern-day leadership looks like.

This is another book I read quickly, but it’ll stay with me. I’m in awe of Ms. Leng’ete’s bravery, and her commitment to becoming educated despite so many challenges. This is another book I’d love for my own daughter to read in the future.

Follow Nice Leng’ete on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease by Daisy Hernández

“You don’t know what you don’t know” is something we say often at my house, and I wonder a lot about how many things are out there that I don’t know about (this is why I’m so drawn to nonfiction! I want to know ALL THE THINGS). And when I learned about a book about a contagious disease that affects millions but that most people have never heard of, my curiosity was immediately piqued. And that’s how The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease by Daisy Hernández (Tin House Books, 2021) ended up on my TBR. And Ms. Hernández was right: I’d never once in my life heard of Chagas.

Daisy Hernández grew up with a sick aunt. Tía Dora had become sick by eating an apple, Daisy believed, until she was older and learned that her aunt, with whom her relationship was often contentious due to, among many things, the aunt’s homophobia, had been infected with Chagas disease after having been bitten by a kissing bug. Tía Dora suffered terribly throughout her life, and Daisy later learned that yet another aunt had died as well of Chagas in South America. What was the insect that had so troubled her family? Despite the phobia Daisy had developed of it, she set out to learn more.

As it turns out, kissing bugs are all over in South America and the southern US. “Every adult with Chagas is a child that wasn’t treated,” one doctor says, and it seems to be true. Many adults who are found to be infected (usually discovered when their blood donation is tested) aren’t symptomatic, though it can take years until symptoms (like heart failure) make themselves known; others begin showing symptoms early on, and no one is sure why. Several years ago, Zika was all over the news, but Chagas, which affects more Americans than Zika, hasn’t gotten a fraction of that kind of attention. With bravery, determination, and a deep-seated curiosity, Daisy Hernández has penned a part-memoir, part-scientific narrative that clues readers in to the dangers of Chagas (with climate change, kissing bugs are heading north – this is everyone’s problem) and the devastation they cause.

When I picked this up, I was a little hesitant. I had just finished a fairly heavy book and wasn’t sure I could handle any intense scientific reading at this point, but Ms. Hernández deftly combines her research with her family’s story. Instead of being bogged down by this, I blew through it in a day. The effects of Chagas are difficult to read about; Tía Dora’s suffering is detailed throughout the book and it’s not pretty, but it’s less shocking than the fact that even with all the medical and science writing I’ve done throughout my life, Chagas had never once appeared in any of it. How does this affect so many people and yet no one talks about it?

The Kissing Bug combines the best of open, honest memoir writing with science writing that is simple enough for even the most science-phobic brain to grasp (I *really* wasn’t much of a science person growing up; it’s only being married to a molecular biologist and getting a daily lecture on All Things Science that has helped me appreciate it more). I appreciated Ms. Hernández’s admissions of how terrifying it was for her to research and write about the very thing that killed her aunts and devastated her family so deeply; knowing how tough it was for her to be out in the field with researchers, collecting kissing bugs in the dark, bending over microscopes to peer at T. cruzi, added another layer of humanity to her story. I’m honestly not sure I could’ve gone on this journey if I were her. Mad respect.

The Kissing Bug is an easy read about a tough subject, and one that desperately needs this kind of light shone upon it. Highly recommended.

Visit Daisy Hernández’s website here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Chosen: A Memoir of Stolen Boyhood by Stephen Mills

Trigger warning: this review will contain mention of childhood sexual assault. If this is a subject that’s too painful for you to read about, be kind to yourself and skip this review. I wish you peace.

I received a notification of a new Twitter follower one day not long ago and was delighted to find an author named Stephen Mills had followed me. One of his recent tweets made it clear that he was also Jewish (WOOHOO!), so I followed him back and added his book to my TBR. And when Chosen: A Memoir of Stolen Boyhood (Metropolitan Books, 2022) showed up on NetGalley, I requested it. I know I read a lot of emotionally heavy books, but it’s because I believe so much that these are the stories that deserve to be heard the most; these are the topics that need to be at the forefront of our discussions; these are what everyone should understand a little more about. And Chosen is no exception to that rule.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Stephen Mills, and Metropolitan Books for offering me a copy of Chosen in exchange for an honest review.

Stephen Mills was thirteen, the son of a father who had passed away when he was very young, growing up in an emotionally unhealthy blended family, when the director of his summer camp began spending more time with him. Longing for positive attention and approval (and aren’t we all?), Stephen falls into his trap, and soon Dan is molesting him regularly. Not only is Stephen deeply confused about what’s happening to him, his trauma is furthered by Dan’s weaseling his way into every aspect of his life. His family loves him and has no qualms about sending the young teen on solo trips and foreign vacations with Dan, and without the words to describe what’s going on, Stephen is powerless to stop the abuse.

It’s not until college when the trauma begins destroying his life. Still unable to speak about the abuse, Stephen turns to drugs, to religion, to foreign travel, in order to ease his pain, but nothing helps, and the darkness begins to pull him in. As society begins to wake up to the pervasiveness of childhood sexual abuse, Stephen is finally able to understand the root of his anguish…only to discover that those with the power to change things still don’t give anywhere near enough of a damn.

Chosen is a painful, heartfelt memoir that doesn’t hold back on raw emotion. Mr. Mills doesn’t shy away from the physical acts perpetrated against him, nor does he sugarcoat the depth of his suffering that the abuse caused. ‘Soul murder,’ Oprah Winfrey has called childhood sexual abuse, and it’s clear from this memoir, from how much Stephen suffered as an adult from the trauma foisted upon him as a child, how accurate this phrase is.

As difficult as the subject is, Stephen Mills’s writing flows like the most enjoyable novel. His honest prose is open, accessible, inviting the reader to share his pain for a while, to walk in his shoes and gain just a hint of understanding about what he’s been through. It’s a story of pain, but also one of courage, and ultimately, a demand for change. We have got to do better. More listening to kids, better treatment for survivors, and a never-ending commitment to keeping the monsters who hurt them away from any children whatsoever for all time. We can do better, and we should have started doing better a long time ago. Chosen is proof of that. Stephen Mills was failed over and over again by so many adults in his life, and while he’s written an amazing book that shares his pain and trauma in the most eloquent of ways, I truly wish he hadn’t had to.

If you love someone who has suffered childhood sexual abuse, Chosen by Stephen Mills should be on your reading list in order to better understand that loved one, what they’ve faced in trying to heal, and what they’re up against in seeking justice. And if you don’t know anyone who’s been traumatized this way, Chosen should also be on your list – because yes, you do; they just haven’t told you.

May Stephen Mills experience continued healing throughout his life, and may justice well up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream for all survivors.  

Chosen is available now at all major retailers.

Visit Stephen Mills’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Reivew: Golem Girl: A Memoir by Riva Lehrer

I was going through my email a few weeks ago when I came across one from the Jewish Women’s Archive. They hold a few virtual author talks every now and then, and I’ve attended quite a few, all of which have been fabulous. The email was announcing the newest round, and one of the books sounded familiar. I looked it up on Goodreads, and sure enough, it was on my TBR! I picked up Golem Girl: A Memoir by Riva Lehrer (One World, 2020) from the library the next day and immersed myself in the world of art and disability activism.

Riva Lehrer was born in 1958. Her mother, a former researcher, recognizes her infant daughter’s spina bifida immediately. At this point in history, infants with disabilities like these aren’t expected to survive. Most are institutionalized, but Riva’s mother is sure she can care for her daughter’s complex medical needs. Riva becomes among the first of her generation with spina bifida to live to adulthood.

That doesn’t mean her life is easy. Everyone around her, including her family, defines her by her disability and by their own standards for her, constantly telling her that she’ll never have a romantic partner (she’s given a hysterectomy at age 15, ostensibly due to cysts, but disabled people were routinely sterilized at this point in history), she’ll never live alone, she’ll never hold down a real job. But she forges ahead anyway, living out her life as an artist, a queer person, whose disability affords a unique perspective of the world. Riva Lehrer’s art is displayed throughout the pages, offering the reader a journey through her career and the empowering way she views her friends and colleagues with disabilities.

This is a fabulous memoir (and it’s so beautifully Jewish!). Riva has lived a complex, fascinating life, and I wish I could sit down with her and hear more stories. She’s been through so many surgeries and medical procedures, and her success has obviously been hard-won; how could it not be in such an ableist society?

There are so many gems scattered throughout this book that provide such insight into what Ms. Lehrer’s life has been like, and what the world was like and how it’s changed (and how it hasn’t…) for those with disabilities. From the stories of her earliest days growing up in a hospital, to the way her parents and her teachers spoke to and about her, the dawning realization of her queerness and what that meant for her life, the casual mention of her countertop coming up to her mid-chest (the world really isn’t built for those whose bodies differ from the standard issue), her writing paints a very clear picture of a woman who has definitely struggled, but who has forged ahead despite not only the obstacles her health has presented, but those placed in front of her by both society and the people who loved her.

I really enjoyed this and was sad that it ended. Fascinating fact: I figured out about halfway through this book that Ms. Lehrer works (at least sometimes) in the same (very large!) building my husband does. I love when my reading life and real life collides. : )

Visit Riva Lehrer’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home by Lauren Kessler

The American criminal justice system is a subject that fascinates and horrifies me endlessly; it has ever since I learned about the existence of for-profit prisons in my very early twenties. Since then, I’ve read quite a few books on prison and the court system, and when I saw Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home by Lauren Kessler (Sourcebooks, 2022) on NetGalley, I knew that was a book I needed to read. Huge thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks (of whom I’ve long been a fan!) for approving my request in exchange for an honest review.

Lauren Kessler has been teaching writing to prisoners for years. So much has been written about prisoners while they’re in prison; she wondered what happened after they left. How easy was it for them to rebuild lives? What made the difference between those who succeeded and those who ended up behind bars again? Ms. Kessler set out to follow six prisoners: five who had reached the end of their sentences and were returning to the free world, and one who was attempting to use the court system in order to shorten his sentence. All would face significant challenges.

There’s Arnoldo, who spent 19 years in prison but who used that time to grow into the man he knew he could be; Leah, with two children in the foster care system and an addiction to meth; Vicki, addicted to heroin and meth and with a long history of paper crimes (credit card fraud, identity theft, etc); Sterling, a juvenile offender who grew into a thoughtful leader while in prison and who is trying to have his sentence overturned; Trevor, whose sentence is overturned and who finds himself forming a life with his prison penpal; Catherine, imprisoned since her youth and released at 30, entering a world she’s never known as an adult; and Dave, who spent 34 years behind bars and who doesn’t understand anything about today’s fast-paced, tech-dominated society.

Lauren Kessler combines deeply emotional narrative with hard-hitting facts and statistics about the desultory state of the American criminal justice system. Free is replete with examples, from both academic studies and the devastating real-life effects, of what prison does to the people who spend time there, and how all of society is affected when punishment triumphs over rehabilitation. When 95% of prisoners will one day leave prison and return back to our society, shouldn’t we care more about how people are treated inside? Shouldn’t we be pushing more for rehabilitation over dehumanizing punishment, avoiding the learned helplessness that happens to so many prisoners and which serves absolutely no one? Lauren Kessler will have you reconsidering everything you’ve ever thought about what happens after the judge’s sentence takes place.

Free is a heartfelt plea for a more just society, a more just court system, and a world that seeks to understand and help rather than punish and discard. It’s a remarkable book that I cannot recommend highly enough, and that left me wanting to read everything Lauren Kessler has ever written. What a wonderful, thought-provoking book this is.

Visit Lauren Kessler’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Outsmart Waste: The Modern Idea of Garbage and How to Think Our Way Out of It by Tom Szaky

Part of the reason I’ve been reading about trash and sustainability lately has been because of some of the material I’ve been covering with my daughter now that we’re homeschooling. I’m doing my best to raise a responsible kid who cares about the planet and who isn’t going to junk it up, to the best of her abilities. And it’s on me to provide a good example of what that looks like. I recently signed up for TerraCycle and became aware of some of their local drop-off points for certain items (link is for the US, but you can switch it to match your country, they’re everywhere!), and I learned that their founder has written several books. Why yes, I DID want to read them! Luckily, my library had a copy of Outsmart Waste: The Modern Idea of Garbage and How to Think Our Way Out of It by Tom Szaky (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014). At 168 pages, it’s a quick read and one that will inspire you, however much you’re already doing, to do more.

Tom Szaky started out creating worm tea fertilizer in recycled soda bottles, but his business soon expanded into recycling those items that you usually just throw away because your local recycling company won’t take them: toothpaste tubes, juice pouches, toothbrushes, potato chip bags. Dirty diapers. Cigarette butts. There’s a use for everything out there, if only we look hard enough to find it. We don’t have to be messing up our planet the way we are; the fact that we are is a choice, mostly driven by economics. Tom Szaky wants you to understand this, and he wants you to work with him to change this.

Changing the way we think about garbage is the first step, and Outsmart Waste will set you on that path. If we can shake up our mindset in order to mimic nature just a little bit more, we could see some real change. Things could improve. That may mean a shifting of priorities, possibly retraining for some of us, but in order to assure a healthy, sustainable future, it’s eventually going to be necessary. Why not make this shift when we’re doing it by choice, rather than be forced by a ticking clock?

This is a quick read, and a brilliant book that’s capable of shifting mindsets. I’m not sure if it’s possible to read this without drastically reconsidering everything about how you live. We can all do better, and Tom Szaky is here to cheer us on.

Follow Tom Szaky on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes

I realize I read about a lot of niche subjects, but garbage might just be the nichiest (what? It’s a word if I want it to be a word). Reading about the trash we create, the mess we’ve made of the world, and the people devoting their lives to cleaning it all up serves as a reminder to me of the work I need to be doing in order to make things better. If you’re beginning to realize that ‘there’s no such thing as away,’ that things don’t just disappear when you toss them in the trash, that everything you buy has consequences for the planet, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes (Avery, 2012) might need to go from your TBR to your brain.

What happens when we throw things away? What exactly goes on in a landfill? (Sometimes it’s not much. People have unearthed 50-year-old hot dogs and heads of lettuce, looking pretty much fresh.) What exactly is all of this doing to the planet, and how much longer can this continue? Edward Humes has thrown the switch on the floodlights that illuminate the mess we’ve made, the dangerous situations we’ve created, and the people working to both take care of them and to make them better.

Because there are better ways, and Mr. Humes shows not only people who have chosen careers dedicated to improving how we deal with trash, but showcases people who have restructured their lives so that they create much, much less of it. While the book occasionally wanders into the technical, Garbology is a wake-up call and an inspirational manifesto for all.

This was a bit of a slow read for me, simply because I was trying to take it all in. We’ve really made a mess of things, when the ocean can be described as ‘plastic chowder’ by scientists who study this sort of thing. It’s all super depressing, but…it could be better. We could do better, and this book points that out over and over again. Garbology isn’t Pollyanna-ish in nature, but knowledge really is power, and it provides the reader with the important knowledge we need about the what, how, and why of our garbage, and how we can clean things up.

There’s a lot to think about here, and I guarantee that, if you read this, you’ll be thinking about and looking at your trash differently. I refused a plastic bag this week after finishing this book, and I’m going to try to keep that habit up (I got distracted in another line and didn’t think about saying I didn’t need bags until it was too late). I’m thinking more about how I can reuse other parts of my trash (recycling is good, but it really should be more of a last resort; there’s a reason why reduce and reuse come first!), and I’ve located some TerraCycle drop-off locations in my area so I can collect the harder-to-recycle items, like toothpaste tubes, for them.

Garbology might change you – and that’s a good thing. Our planet desperately needs that.

Visit Edward Humes’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living by Kris Bordessa

When you know better, you do better, and who doesn’t want to do better when it comes to the way we care for ourselves and the planet? I’m always trying to improve the way we live our lives, to lessen our carbon footprint and green things up, so that’s how Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living by Kris Bordessa (National Geographic Society, 2020) ended up on my TBR. Kris Bordessa runs the popular website and blog Attainable Sustainable, so I was curious to see what her book offered.

Packed between these colorful covers is a primer on the why and how-to of homesteading-up your life. Whether it’s getting the chemicals out of your products, greening up your daily actions, farming up your yard, or simply moving towards a slower, more DIY-style of living, Kris Bordessa offers lessons on it all. Keeping chickens and goats, making soap, getting your macramé on, or baking bread: you can do it all with the help of this gorgeously-photographed book.

If you’re looking for the inspiration you need to make your life a little better, you really can’t go wrong with this book. First off, it’s absolutely beautiful! The photographs on every page are utterly stunning and will have you wanting to rearrange your life so it looks as though it comes straight out of this book. Second, the projects in here all feel doable (okay, maybe not keeping goats if you live in a high-rise Manhattan apartment; check with your landlord before bringing home farm animals, friends). There’s everything from the small, like sourdough, to the large, like tapping maple trees to make your own syrup. Choose the level that’s right for you, and fantasize about the rest (even if you know you’d make a horrifically anxious chicken farmer, you can still look at the pictures *waves*).

The world is a pretty scary place right now, and this book offers a little bit of control back in your life. Why not expand your DIY skills and feast your eyes on some much-needed beauty with Attainable Sustainable?

Visit Kris Bordessa’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

On Rosh Hashanah this year, my synagogue held its services at a time when I wasn’t able to attend, so I took a virtual field trip to New York’s Central Synagogue (services there are amazing and thoughtful and insightful, and the music is absolutely incredible). Giving a Dvar Torah that day was Qian Julie Wang, whose words moved me. It was only after she spoke that a member of the clergy let the congregation know that Ms. Wang had a book coming out. I looked it up immediately and added Beautiful Country (Doubleday Books, 2021) to my TBR. My library had it, but up until my last trip, it was always checked out. It makes me happy to know that so many local people were reading it; it’s an incredibly moving memoir.

Qian Julie Wang’s family lived in China until coming to America, a country whose Chinese name translates to ‘beautiful country,’ when she is seven. But this country, as Qian Julie is quick to learn, is anything but beautiful to her and her parents. Their family is undocumented and lives in constant fear of being deported back to China. Her parents, educated professionals back in their home country, work low-wage jobs in terrible conditions in places that also occasionally employ young Qian Julie. Their living conditions are less than ideal, and hunger, followed by malnutrition, is Qian Julie’s constant companion. She goes without medical care, without proper clothing, in order to save money.

The stress takes its toll on the family, and each member reacts in different ways. Living in the shadows costs the family greatly, and while they survive, it comes at a cost. Beautiful Country will leave the reader wondering exactly what’s so beautiful about the American dream after all, marveling over the strength of immigrants, and weeping over what we put them through for no good reason.

This is a heartbreaking book. My daughter is the same age Ms. Wang was when she came to this country, and the images of a seven-year-old girl so hungry all the time broke me. There is ZERO reason for anyone in this country to go hungry, but so many of us keep voting for politicians who believe in punishing people for existing. Ms. Wang’s mother suffered greatly before finally getting medical care, due to fear of being deported, and, just…I don’t understand why the entire world is so insistent on maintaining this illusion of borders and rules instead of just caring for each other. Why are we so intent on hurting each other?

This isn’t the easiest book to read, emotionally, but it’s an incredibly important one in understanding the undocumented immigrant experience. To be so alone in a country that makes it clear every day how little they value you, despite not only the services you’re providing to help the country run but also your inherent worth as a human being is so incredibly painful and Ms. Wang paints a picture of desperation tinged, somehow, with wonder. That she isn’t filled with bitterness and rage toward the US is nothing short of a miracle; I’m not sure I would have that much grace in me.

Beautiful Country is an incredible story of a young girl’s struggle to survive in a country that refused to extend a hand to her and her family, that would rather punish her for existing than help her flourish and develop her many talents. And yet she persisted. Highly recommended.

Visit Qian Julie Wang’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

There has been an amazing crop of history books the past few years that reckon with a lot of the ugly parts of American history, and slavery and racism have been high on the list of subjects covered. I’ve read a bunch of them, with more on my list (I try to space them out; my brain tends to burn out if I read too much on one subject at any one time). How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith (Little, Brown and Company, 2021) is one of the best ones, and it left me not only wanting to learn more, but to read more from Clint Smith.

Author Clint Smith travels around the US and even beyond its borders, in search of the history that continues to bleed from the past and stain the present. Slavery has touched all of American history, no matter how much some groups want to pretend it barely existed or wasn’t a big deal, and Mr. Smith shines a light on much of the history those groups would rather we forget about: Thomas Jefferson’s fathering six children with Sally Heming, his teenage slave; the plantations that dotted the South and were veritable small cities of enslaved people living in hideous conditions while the owner lived in luxury; the plantation-turned-prison that highlights exactly how far we haven’t come (they give tours of Death Row?!?!!?!??).

This isn’t the dry history textbook you read in school. Clint Smith’s voice absolutely shines through, giving this book and the subject the personal, more emotional touch that it deserves. He travels all over the US and even to Africa, where he traces the origins of the slave trade and the scars it left on that continent as well (something I hadn’t yet encountered in writing before, and which made me think). This is history writing at its finest.

The subject matter alone is enough to make anyone with more than one brain cell scream; it’s difficult to read about such horrific injustice, injustice that continues today in different (and not-so-different) forms, without being overcome with rage that people can be so disgusting to each other. But Clint Smith tempers that rage with his calm observances and insight; the people he interviews provide thoughtful commentary and sharp observations on the way the past still affects our present.

This is an amazing, intelligent, perfectly-written book on history that some of the loudest groups out there would like for you to forget exists. Read it for that, but read it more because it’s an incredible piece of writing that will stretch your worldview and make you better-informed about history that the US continues to grapple with every day.

Visit Clint Smith’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.