The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Title: The New Jim Crow
Author: Michelle Alexander
Genre: Nonfiction / sociology / criminology

Rating: 5/5

Goodreads | Powell’s



This book has been on my radar for a couple years, and I was finally induced to read it by my race & ethnic relations class. And I am glad, because it is pretty great. I want to get a copy of this book for basically everyone I know.

I’m actually on my second read through it right now, reading it aloud to Peter. This book has a lot going for it. For one thing, it is a very smooth read. It flows well. Unlike many authors who tackle complex subjects in an academic or “elevated” way, Michelle Alexander’s prose is like silk. It is highly readable, very engaging, and still packs a punch. The content is also great. She builds a solid case that the criminal justice system has created/perpetuated the racial caste system of the United States, weaving in historical accounts of colonial America, Reconstruction, quotes from politicians, a look at the data, and acute analysis. The book is a slim volume but has quite a bit of depth. Alexander touches on many important subjects that are well sourced and I’ve added many of the books she references to my “recommended / especially interested” wishlist.

Like so often when I read a book that I like, I find myself in a place of not having much on which to comment. The whole thing was solid, and I was impressed with the argument she put together and the seeming ease with which she navigated it. Her contention with affirmative action (that it’s basically just cosmetic and functions to legitimate the system and thus constitutes a racial bribe that people of color should hand back) was one I’ve never heard before and I’m still trying to get myself to a consensus on how I feel about that. In any case, it a very small part of the book and not even close to being a central argument. I highly recommend this one.

Relatedly, John Oliver did a pretty decent piece on prisons a couple weeks back:


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