Book Review: Dying of Whiteness by Jonathan Metzl

Overall Impressions

I grew up in the rust belt in a politically conservative atmosphere, but now I live in Seattle and am fairly liberal. I struggle to understand my roots, especially after the 2016 election of Donald Trump. I just didn't get it... how could people that claim to be good vote for someone who, at least to me, represents everything bad? So I set out to educate myself and try to understand where they were coming from and how they arrived at their conclusions - because even though I came from there, I just couldn't understand it (and talking to my family about it was too painful and did more harm than good).

Hence, I did the cowardly thing and read some books, some of which I finished before I started doing book reviews (Hillbilly Elegy and Glass House) and so I'm not reviewing them here now - but I did pick up Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland by Johnathan Metzl. I had listened to the author on a few television shows and podcasts, and he seemed to have done is research and was well spoken, so I gave it a shot.

Honestly, I struggled to finish it. The content was incredibly detailed - the author really did do his homework, but I think he struggled to bring it down to what his audience (I'm assuming that well-to-do educated white liberals were his intended audience) could handle. I'll get into that later.

The Good

The data is all there and understanding the high level points he's trying to make is easy - and it also confirmed much of what I already figured was the truth but without my own data to back it up.

The Bad

The author is really really really smart and studied this subject - to the point where he's a college professor on these topics. The problem is that he's too smart and probably has no trouble keeping track of lots of variables in his head at the same time - and not only am I not as smart as he is, but I'm not familar with the data - which made comprehending his style of writing to be incredibly difficult. I couldn't read a paragraph, let alone a whole page or a chapter, without having to stop and reiterate what it said and usually go back and read it again, carefully parsing each clause and diagraming it in my head to get what he was trying to say.

And not that it was a long book, but it made it a very long read.

Before you judge me and my reading comprehension any more than I have already done, there are sections where he's interviewing people and so the text is completely conversational. I could follow that stuff just fine - but then he'd dive back into analysis and I'd just have to suck it up and go back at it.

Final Thoughts

Like I said, it was a tough read, but ultimately did help me understand some of the issues with which I was struggling. I still don't fully understand (and probably never will) how Trump got elected or continues to enjoy the support that he has, but it did help me to begin understand the mentality behind how people can make choices that are against their best interests in general.

It's tough to give this book just a single rating, but out of 5 I'm going to give it a 2. It was a fight to get through, and even though the author was incredibly prepared to write a book on this topic, he didn't execute it at a level that was approachable.