The events of the past decade have forced us to reckon with who we are and who we want to be. We have been invested in a set of beliefs about our American identity: our exceptionalism, the inevitable rightness of our path, the promise that hard work and determination will carry us to freedom. But in Stakes Is High, Mychal Denzel Smith confronts the shortcomings of these stories -- and with the American Dream itself -- and calls on us to live up to the principles we profess but fail to realize.
... small but indispensable ... America’s troubled times require action, to be sure. But that action begins with imagining oneself differently. This often requires more words, not fewer, which makes writers like Smith a precious resource for ethical reflection ... The book is dotted with tight, eloquent passages ... Smith’s book is about [...] remembering and achieving more productive and revolutionary exercises of the imagination. It begins in dismay and grapples with fear. But it engages this moment with intelligence and courage, and invites its readers to do the same.
Journalist Smith (Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, 2016) takes on the failure and possibility of the American dream in this slim, impactful book. While Stakes Is High begins with Donald Trump’s election, Smith makes it clear that Trump is a symptom of a bigger disease: the belief in an America whose ideals set it apart from other countries, an America in which hard work ensures success, an America that offers liberty and justice for all. ... Stakes Is High is a polemic in the best sense of the word, holding up a mirror to America in the hope that a clear-eyed glimpse of its failings will assist in the never-ending struggle to bring about the righteous nation it has always aspired to be.
A young Black man surveys the landscape and finds America a poisonous, broken place—but perhaps not irretrievably so ... the author is sharply self-aware ('Sometimes, reader, I write ‘you’ when I’m too afraid to admit my own failures'), and he would seem to expect his reader to approach his fine-honed argument with the same seriousness. Doing so is well worth the effort. An urgent and provocative work that deserves the broadest possible audience.