The writing is clear and straightforward, and the variety and quality of sources is outstanding. In fact, one of the few flaws in this book, and I'm being nitpicky here, is that some passages resemble a literature review in an academic paper. That said, this isn't a book that invites the start of an argument about the role of racism in shaping this country; this is a book that cuts to the root of racism, traces it from slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation and brings it all the way to today with unblinking honesty and facts. The result is a hard-hitting narrative that exposes the rotten core of this country, a core that has been affected by bigotry and xenophobia every step of the way ... The amount of statistics, sources, and attention to detail in American Poison is superb. Porter pays attention not only to events but also to what they meant ... From welfare to anti-lynching laws, there's nothing Porter refuses to tackle, and that makes American Poison an uncomfortable read — and one that should happen in every school in the country ... American Poison is a devastating, brutally honest, wonderfully researched read. It is also necessary and incredibly timely.
This liberal astigmatism — our belief that history is a story of racial progress, and our faith in our own empathy — makes Eduardo Porter’s American Poison a tough read. It is a learned, well-written but relentless survey of social science studies on the racial polarization, animosity and social fragmentation of American life. A black or Hispanic American reader is likely to finish Porter’s summary of the evidence and say, 'So what else is new?' For a white liberal, the book leaves many an illusion in tatters ... Porter is at his strongest when he points out the tragic irony of a white working class, decimated by deindustrialization and wasted by substance abuse, focusing their hatreds on minorities and turning against the very social programs — Obamacare, for example — that might actually help them ... Porter treats racial hatred as a fixed dose of poison coursing through the veins of the public and neglects politics ... Porter’s pessimism is a bracing wake-up call for liberal readers and may confirm the darkest fears of many a black and Hispanic reader. Yet it is not the first passionate polemic to damage its impact by overstating its case ... This book came out around the start of the pandemic emergency, and so it is unfair to criticize Porter for failing to anticipate the all but universal cry right now for an effective 'apparatus of government.' Even so, Porter’s jeremiad makes it impossible to understand the equally tenacious history of American progressive government ... The point here is not to retreat into complacent liberal banalities, but to observe that a story of American race relations that makes no attempt to account for the unending battle to lift its hateful curse ends up being no kind of story at all.
Economics journalist Porter packs an enormous amount of information into this powerful treatise ... Rather than harp on the known history of racism’s origins...Porter looks hard at the twentieth century, especially the post-civil rights era, to consider how all the things done to eradicate, or even mitigate, racism have been woefully insufficient. With a scintillating rhythm and pointed language, the author exposes all the ways in which racism has infected everything from unions to welfare to education and immigration policy. With whipsaw precision, he lays down historical evidence, academic studies, and political decisions to support his thesis, taking readers through a kaleidoscope of modern history which points to one irrefutable truth: racism is holding America back. The potency of Porter’s argument is bolstered by his impressive source list and straightforward prose. American Poison is a work for our times from a writer who has found his subject.