Author: Mychal Denzel Smith
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: Really thoughtful look at the American self-conception vs reality, but I had a hard time slowing down and engaging with it.
Stakes is High is one of the first books I’ve read on racism and other structural inequality in the US that post-dates Trump’s election. It sounds as though that election is part of what drove Smith to write this book. The election certainly fits into the compelling framework he’s developed here, contrasting the American dream with the historical reality of the US. He makes a strong argument that dreams are valuable as something to aspire to, but can prevent us from correcting our flaws when we act as though those dreams are already true.
This book was impressively well written. The author makes a lot of good points, passionately and clearly, about problems in our society. He ties all of these problems back to his examination of flaws in the ‘American Dream’, inaccuracies in the way we imagine the US to be. These are complex ideas that the author made easy to follow. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that writing can actually be too concise and approachable for me. If I don’t have to work at reading at all, it can make it harder for me to fully engage my brain. These essays are written very clearly and concisely. They’re pretty short and the font and margins are large. I also already agree with the author, so it was very easy for me to nod along and breeze through this book. I think I may actually prefer a book that makes me slow down a little to fully absorb an author’s points. Although this was a problem for me, I think the clarity and accessibility of this book could be a strength for other readers. It would make this a good starting point for someone who is just beginning to read about racism in the US.
Something that made this book work less well for me is that I have been reading a lot of books on racism in the US already. Enough so that many of the facts and even specific anecdotes in this book weren’t new to me. There were still several places where the author’s perspective felt like a flash of insight, allowing me to understand US history and the present in a way I hadn’t before. I was surprised to find this book included a section on feminism that was especially good. I’ve not read a lot on feminist theory, so much of this section was new to me. Overall, this was a really informative, insightful book. However, the overlap of content with books I’ve already read and the fact that I had a hard time slowing down and digging into it kept this from replacing Fathoms as my current favorite for the Kirkus Prize win.