Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning is subtitled “The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” and sure enough, that’s what it is, an epic, centuries-spanning intellectual history of (especially) anti-Black racism.

The book is organized around examining the ideas and times of five historical figures—Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Angela Davis. It can sometimes get a bit loose in this framing, because there are things that Kendi needs to introduce that those people weren’t involved with, but as an organizing structure, it does keep the scope focused.

I’m not going to sit here and recap the book’s arguments or analyses, because that’s what the book’s for. What I will say is that Kendi lays his analytical framework out clearly, makes a compelling case for his arguments, and draws a clear intellectual through-line through five hundred years of European colonialist and then American history. This is a scholarly book (by which I mean, for calibration, there are 45 pages of endnotes citing sources), but is absolutely accessible enough to find a popular audience.

Which, obviously, it has, winning a whole boatload of awards and topping bestseller lists. So yeah, my recommendation isn’t really needed here, but all the same: Highly recommended, essential reading for anyone who wants to actually understand American history.


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