Book Review of How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith

336 pages

Published in 6/1/21 by Little, Brown, and Company

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Nonfiction / History / Social Justice

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*click on photos to view original source.

Poet and contributor to The Atlantic Clint Smith’s revealing, contemporary portrait of America as a slave owning nation

Beginning in his own hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader through an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks-those that are honest about the past and those that are not-that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves.

It is the story of the Monticello Plantation in Virginia, the estate where Thomas Jefferson wrote letters espousing the urgent need for liberty while enslaving over 400 people on the premises. It is the story of the Whitney Plantation, one of the only former plantations devoted to preserving the experience of the enslaved people whose lives and work sustained it. It is the story of Angola Prison in Louisiana, a former plantation named for the country from which most of its enslaved people arrived and which has since become one of the most gruesome maximum-security prisons in the world. And it is the story of Blandford Cemetery, the final resting place of tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers.

In a deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, How the Word Is Passed illustrates how some of our country’s most essential stories are hidden in plain view-whether in places we might drive by on our way to work, holidays such as Juneteenth, or entire neighborhoods—like downtown Manhattan—on which the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women and children has been deeply imprinted.

Informed by scholarship and brought alive by the story of people living today, Clint Smith’s debut work of nonfiction is a landmark work of reflection and insight that offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in understanding our country.”

“The sky above the Mississippi River stretched out like a song.”

As the whitest person to exist in America, I feel it is my responsibility to educate myself as much as I can on social justice issues that have taken place in the past and present. The goal, of course, is to prevent future issues from coming up. I like to share what I learn from what I read, and there’s a lot to unpack with this one.

I’ll start by discussing my reasoning behind my rating. I’m sure there are people throwing shade my way for not giving this five stars. First, just because someone doesn’t give an important book a five-star rating doesn’t make it any less important. There’s more to a book than the content that makes it a phenomenal read. Second, I shouldn’t have to explain myself. It didn’t hold my attention the entire time, there were naming off fact after fact, and I had to take a break from the book, sadly. If I rated books with decimals, it would be a 4.5. Anyway, let’s get to the review.

There was information I didn’t know about places I’ve learned about before. The Monticello Plantation is the best example. I remember learning about that in school, but not like I learned about it in this book. The tour guides want visitors to understand what kind of person Jefferson was in his entirety, but visitors were offended claiming they were trying to change history. There were also people who didn’t think slavery was a thing. I don’t know if they just deny it completely, really didn’t know, or they’re messing with the tour guides. That’s why educating yourself on the topic is important!

Yes, he contributed great things. Yes, he gave us the Declaration of Independence, and the university where I got my degree, but he also owned people. He owned ancestors of people I know. That’s reality. I think in order to really understand him, and to fully understand him, you have to grapple with slavery. You have to grapple with [physical] violence and psychological violence, and family separation. We would not be doing the story justice if we don’t tell those stories.

Niya Bates – Monticello’s director of African American History.

Smith also visits Angola Prison (Louisiana State Penitentiary). A location I have never heard of, but it’s so interesting (and horrifying) to learn about. The Red Hat Cell Block (restrictive and harsh housing in Angola Prison) holds cells that are 5 x 7 ft. It got extremely hot in there with no air. Prisoners would just lay on the cement floor in misery.

The execution bed was built by PRISONERS. They actually went on strike when they found out.

The guide would often pivot the conversation to bring positive light to the prison while Smith visited there. How could you even see this place in a positive light? It was nothing but horrifying, disgusting, and cruel. I’m happy that Smith discusses what the prison actually did.

There was talk about how women would kill their own children because they didn’t want them to grow up in the same situation. There’s a lot of talk about the Confederacy and the Lost Cause. You really just have to read it yourself to fully enjoy all the things you learn. I definitely won’t do the book justice from doing a WordPress blog review. Go read it for yourself!

About the Author

“Clint Smith is staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. Clint has received fellowships from New America, the Art For Justice Fund, Cave Canem, and the National Science Foundation. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review and elsewhere. He currently teaches writing and literature at the DC Central Detention Facility. His debut nonfiction book How the Word Is Passed, which explores how different historical sites reckon with—or fail to reckon with—their relationship to the history of slavery, will be published by Little, Brown in June 2021. He received his B.A. in English from Davidson College and his Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University.”

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Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

333 pages

Published 1/24/2012 by Crown Publishing Group


ISBN: 9780307352149

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Goodreads Synopsis:

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society. 

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.


So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multitasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way. It’s up to you to use that independence to good effect.

I have a lot to say about this book, but I’ll try to make it as brief as I can for sanity’s sake. This book covers topics ranging from Tony Robbins (“motivational” speaker) to the amygdala (a part of the brain). Cain included different cultures and their views on American culture. There are examples of different relationship dynamics—familial and otherwise. This isn’t a stab at extroverts or any other type of personality. There’s not even one type on introvert! I consider myself an introvert, but I didn’t fit in with every category she listed off.

Whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, each side has its struggles. Friends, family, and my boyfriend have gotten mad at me for not wanting to socialize, canceling plans, wanting to go home after I do go out. It’s not that I’m lazy and don’t want to do those things. Some people don’t understand if they don’t face those same issues. BUT there is a balancing act that needs to happen within a relationship. There needs to be some give and take. Just respect each other and help each other grow to be the best they can be.

Cain also discusses a few different theories:

  • Situationism: This just means that people change because of situations they experience rather than the traits they possess.
  • Free Trait Theory: As humans we will act out of character sometimes in order to be ourselves the rest of the time.

Of course, I immediately Googled both of those when they were being discussed in the book. Psychology and philosophy are two of my favorite subjects to learn about. I took a college philosophy class in high school and immediately fell in love. This book was heaven for me from start to finish.

There are so many well-known figures that she mentions including Rosa Parks, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Tony Robbins, Dr. Seuss, and many others. I loved that she was able to relate the topic to people we may have looked up to and who we thought were always comfortable being social human beings. She also includes experiences she has put herself into. She has gotten into some weird situations.

I think my favorite part of the whole book was the end. She includes a section about children. I wasn’t really expecting that, but now that I work at a library, I see and hear a lot of the situations she brings up in the novel. A lot of people don’t see children as human beings with emotions. Parents often see their quiet child as having some sort of problem that needs fixed. Obviously, it is scary to see your child be an introvert. I’m not a parent, but I could see how that might cause for concern. That’s why communication and support are key. Sometimes, like she explains in the book, they just need something in their life that they love—hobbies, sports, a different school, etc. They don’t always need a therapist or medicine. Respect your kids. Don’t act like they don’t know anything. Don’t treat them like dogs. Love and support them as much as you can.

Introversion is not a problem. It shouldn’t be considered a bad personality type. They are human just like everyone else. Their brain doesn’t necessarily go through the same processes, but they still get to the same answer. It’s okay to be introverted, extroverted, and everything in between.

I would highly recommend you pick this up if you’re looking for good nonfiction. Obviously, just like any book, it probably won’t work for everyone. I think you should at least give it a try. It’ll definitely stick with me.

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Book Review: Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson

247 pages

Published October 8th, 2019 by W. W. Norton Company

ISBN: 9781324003311

Genre: Nonfiction—Science

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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This book is just a behind-the-scenes look into the letters/emails the Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, receives/received over the years. This covers a wide variety of topics from aliens to the World Trade Center (9/11/01). His opinionated and humorous responses make it easier to understand why he is so well known / loved as an educator. There are 101 letters that will make you feel every kind of emotion!


“But one must always recognize the difference between knowing that something is true, knowing that something is not true, and not knowing one way or another.”

I loved this book with every fiber of my being. Whenever I put it down I wanted to pick it right back up. I laughed, cried, learned something new (quite a few new things actually), and I got angry at some of the letters he received. I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. The day I finished it I went to BAM, bought a copy, and tabbed it. I also picked up Astrophysics for People in a Hurry from the library.

I absolutely love how honest he is, but he does it in an educated manner. I didn’t feel like he ever placed someone below him. He does go off a little bit at the end, but I think it was pretty much intentional considering the topic is: Rebuttals. He explains everything very well to the point that I didn’t struggle to understand. Science has never been a strong subject for me, but reading this has opened my eyes. There are so many routes to take if you enter the science field—IT’S WILD.

He has a strong love for his family—wife, children, mother, and father. He supports them and loves them to no end. He wants to see his children succeed and he talks very highly of his father. He is so proud to call them his family. It makes me grin ear to ear.

If you want to get a good chuckle, pick this up and read the letter to him about Pluto. It’s from a third-grader who lives in Florida. It’s honestly the cutest thing, and I hope that Tyson got a good chuckle out of it when he read it.

If you want to cry, read the letter called Farewell by Morg Staley, or read about Tyson’s experience on 9/11. Both of those are heartbreaking. If you are sensitive to 9/11 stories I suggest you skip that part.

“I think we should all work hard to ensure that substance matters more than labels—that’s the society I strive to live in.”

I do believe that Tyson has become a figure I look up to. He is smart, well mannered, compassionate, knows / understands what he believes in, and doesn’t take any crap. I feel like I would read anything he writes. I recommend this if you’re looking for something quick to get through, but you also want to feel productive. You’ll learn about so many views / experiences. It’s truly incredible what people go through / believe.

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