Welcome to the first book review posted on this blog! To kick things off, I’ve adapted one of my Goodreads reviews from last year into a slightly longer, more readable form. I’m preparing to write more reviews and I’m looking forward to what’s to come.
Title: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
**1/2 – 2.5 stars
I was looking forward to reading Hayes’ work. He’s an eloquent MSNBC commentator, and I was curious to see if his on-screen persona could translate to the written word. Seeing as I am a general reader of nonfiction on race, policing, the US criminal justice system, urban policy, and civil rights, I was definitely excited when I saw this at my library.
My verdict: Unfortunately, Hayes sacrifices depth and quality research for breadth and mass market appeal (boosted somewhat, I’m sure, by the 2016 election). This book is a concise, rambling piece that seems to touch on many hot-button racial and justice issues (for example, poverty and eviction, the War on Drugs, gentrification, university sexual assault crises, and police shootings) without delving very much into each one or connecting the dots between them. His thesis, which is that treatment of African-Americans in the American criminal justice system amounts to colonization predicated on white fear of disorder, seems hazy. It became lost in scattered statistics, personal anecdotes, and tangents into semi-relevant territory. While journalists and pundits often conceive of and write works differently than academics, theorists, or policy experts, the lack of structure here made it difficult to fully comprehend (even though the writing was fairly straightforward). The book could’ve benefited significantly from chapter headings or, at the least, subsection titles.
Ultimately, A Colony in a Nation tries to be too many things without successfully pulling any of them off. While I can see Hayes’ passion and voice coming through the tangle of thoughts he presented here, and the subject matter is timely and important, his postulations about the Colony and the Nation weren’t groundbreaking. Instead, they felt rushed, incomplete, and overly simplistic. I would only recommend this if you’re looking for a white man’s take on racial justice packaged nicely in a concise, palatable work aimed directly at your standard MSNBC viewer. This isn’t to say that there is no substance here – but if you’re looking for original analysis, look elsewhere.
Recommendations for impactful works on these subjects that are worthy of your time:
- Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
- Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me or his newest essay compilation We Were Eight Years in Power
- Matthew Desmond’s Evicted
- Mitchell Duneier’s Sidewalk (the most academic among these, fair warning)
- Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy
Have any of y’all read this, or Chris Hayes’ other major work Twilight of the Elites? What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Let me know!