The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States

Basic. Apr. 2020. 528p. ISBN 9780465064267. $30. HIST
In this latest work, Johnson (River of Dark Dreams) examines St. Louis as a case study for a compelling reinterpretation of American history. From appropriation of Native American lands by Europeans to 21st-century police violence, the city’s history is viewed through the lens of racial capitalism, described by Johnson as white supremacy plus empire, extraction, and exploitation. Johnson explains how, in the history of St. Louis, racial capitalism is evident in the violent resistance to biracial labor organizing in the early 20th century, in midcentury zoning laws and restrictive covenants that enforced residential segregation, and in more recent corporate tax incentives that decimated state and local government budgets. Though presented chronologically, Johnson effectively traces the continuous threads that run through this history, comparing 19th-century Indian removal to 1960s urban renewal, and an antebellum murder of a free Black woman to the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson.
VERDICT Although focused primarily on the history of St. Louis and surrounding areas, this well researched and thoroughly documented work is too important to be dismissed as a strictly regional history. Highly recommended for all readers interested in American history.

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