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American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise

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A sweeping examination of how American racism has broken the country's social compact, eroded America's common goods, and damaged the lives of every American--and a heartfelt look at how these deep wounds might begin to heal. Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States is losing ground across nearly every indicator of social health. Its race problem, argues A sweeping examination of how American racism has broken the country's social compact, eroded America's common goods, and damaged the lives of every American--and a heartfelt look at how these deep wounds might begin to heal. Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States is losing ground across nearly every indicator of social health. Its race problem, argues Eduardo Porter, is largely to blame. In American Poison, the New York Times veteran shows how racial animus has stunted the development of nearly every institution crucial for a healthy society, including organized labor, public education, and the social safety net. The consequences are profound and are only growing graver with time. Leading us through history and across America--from FDR's New Deal through Bill Clinton's welfare reform to Donald Trump's retrograde and divisive policies--Porter pieces together how racial hostility has blocked American social cohesion at every turn, producing a nation that fails not only its black and brown citizens but white Americans as well. American Poison is at once a broad, rigorous argument, and a profound cri de coeur. Even as it uncovers our most tenacious national pathology, it points the way toward hope, illuminating the ways in which, as the nation becomes increasingly diverse, it may well be possible to construct a new understanding of racial identity--and a more cohesive society on top of it.


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A sweeping examination of how American racism has broken the country's social compact, eroded America's common goods, and damaged the lives of every American--and a heartfelt look at how these deep wounds might begin to heal. Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States is losing ground across nearly every indicator of social health. Its race problem, argues A sweeping examination of how American racism has broken the country's social compact, eroded America's common goods, and damaged the lives of every American--and a heartfelt look at how these deep wounds might begin to heal. Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States is losing ground across nearly every indicator of social health. Its race problem, argues Eduardo Porter, is largely to blame. In American Poison, the New York Times veteran shows how racial animus has stunted the development of nearly every institution crucial for a healthy society, including organized labor, public education, and the social safety net. The consequences are profound and are only growing graver with time. Leading us through history and across America--from FDR's New Deal through Bill Clinton's welfare reform to Donald Trump's retrograde and divisive policies--Porter pieces together how racial hostility has blocked American social cohesion at every turn, producing a nation that fails not only its black and brown citizens but white Americans as well. American Poison is at once a broad, rigorous argument, and a profound cri de coeur. Even as it uncovers our most tenacious national pathology, it points the way toward hope, illuminating the ways in which, as the nation becomes increasingly diverse, it may well be possible to construct a new understanding of racial identity--and a more cohesive society on top of it.

30 review for American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chris Africa

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book has a lot of great history in it, and it is stuffed with illuminating statistics. I couldn’t find anything to disagree with. Despite the collection of this information into chapters, I felt that it was a bit rambling. Also, I was continually doing math to make the comparisons the author wanted me to understand, which intruded on my ability to just read. I pulled this quote as one example: “In 1960, the Census Bureau divided the metropolitan United States into 22,688 census tracts, or nei This book has a lot of great history in it, and it is stuffed with illuminating statistics. I couldn’t find anything to disagree with. Despite the collection of this information into chapters, I felt that it was a bit rambling. Also, I was continually doing math to make the comparisons the author wanted me to understand, which intruded on my ability to just read. I pulled this quote as one example: “In 1960, the Census Bureau divided the metropolitan United States into 22,688 census tracts, or neighborhoods. More than one in five had zero black residents. In the half a century since then, the number of census tracts tripled to 72,531. The number of zero-black tracts declined to 424.” So in order to fully understand the magnitude of this change, you’re going to have to do math at one end end or the other. I’m not opposed to a little calculation now and then, but it feels like Porter took great pains to ensure that every set of comparative statistics requires the reader to do the math. Frankly, I think the book could have benefitted from some figures. Some disparities can be highlighted visually in a way that makes them more impactful than another paragraph of text. I read the Kindle version of the book, so maybe the print version is different, but there are no citations. If you want to read more about the context of a particular statistic or study - or just verify facts - you’re going to have to dig through every book in the bibliography to find the source. Overall, a lot of great research was done here, and I applaud the author’s work.

  2. 5 out of 5

    John Spiller

    Well-written, well-reasoned, but ultimately a little disappointing. Porter posits that the US has perhaps the weakest social safety net of Western industrialized nations due to racism and xenophobia. In his zeal to support his arguments with facts, though, Porter's narrative becomes tangled in the studies and statistics he presents. The resolution of the issues he offers in his conclusion seemed more like a hopeful shrug.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susan Flieder

    Such an important and well-researched book to help explain how our seemingly wonderful country has ended up where we have - leaving so many disadvantaged Americans without a safety net solely because having one would have required us to include those with black and brown skin. The rich get richer while the poor become destitute. I was hoping that the author would have recommendations for going forward, but it seemed as if he felt as hopeless as I do given the trajectory of things these days, now Such an important and well-researched book to help explain how our seemingly wonderful country has ended up where we have - leaving so many disadvantaged Americans without a safety net solely because having one would have required us to include those with black and brown skin. The rich get richer while the poor become destitute. I was hoping that the author would have recommendations for going forward, but it seemed as if he felt as hopeless as I do given the trajectory of things these days, now complicated with the economic and health consequences of our country's failure to act quickly and decisively at the start of, or even now during, the current health crisis.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Miguel

    Reading through this I didn’t encounter any moments of disagreement with the author regarding race in the US – at the same time there weren’t too many new pieces of history uncovered or ideas introduced. Still, it’s a pretty solid work and would be great recommendation for a young person around grade 10 and up. For others familiar with the topics discussed there’s not a huge amount of new data here. 3 or 4 star.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bill Bryan

    Very Insightful

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aloysius

    A dark and sobering look at how racism screws over just about every attempt to form a functioning safety net in the United States.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Luke Hayslip

    A bit dry, but fascinating and scary subject material.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Erricka Hager

  9. 5 out of 5

    deeksha jonnalagadda

  10. 5 out of 5

    Elliotte

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bernadette Dvorscak

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lance Eaton

  13. 5 out of 5

    Curlie525

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Craddock

  15. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

  16. 5 out of 5

    Madalene

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matt Tikkanen

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex Dowd

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mike Stevens

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Moyer

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kristina Aziz

  22. 4 out of 5

    Knopf Books

  23. 4 out of 5

    Will Rogers

  24. 4 out of 5

    Vera Zu

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sanjaay Babu

  26. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Hines

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mark Danzig

  28. 5 out of 5

    niticon

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Astorga

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Diehl

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