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How the Word Is Passed

PEN award, 2022

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Audiobook Downloadable / ISBN-13: 9780349701233

Price: £19.99


‘A beautifully readable reminder of how much of our urgent, collective history resounds in places all around us that have been hidden in plain sight.’ Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish)

Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks – those that are honest about the past and those that are not – that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping America’s collective history.

It is the story of the Monticello Plantation in Virginia, the estate where Thomas Jefferson wrote letters espousing the urgent need for liberty while enslaving more than four hundred people. It is the story of the Whitney Plantation, one of the only former plantations devoted to preserving the experience of the enslaved people whose lives and work sustained it. It is the story of Angola, a former plantation-turned-maximum-security prison in Louisiana that is filled with Black men who work across the 18,000-acre land for virtually no pay. And it is the story of Blandford Cemetery, the final resting place of tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers.

A deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, How the Word Is Passed illustrates how some of America’s most essential stories are hidden in plain view – whether in places we might drive by on our way to work, holidays such as Juneteenth or entire neighbourhoods like downtown Manhattan, where the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women and children has been deeply imprinted.

How the Word is Passed is a landmark book that offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in making sense of the United States. Chosen as a book of the year by President Barack Obama, The Economist, Time, The New York Times and more, fans of Brit(ish) and Natives will be utterly captivated.

What readers are saying about How the Word is Passed:

How the Word Is Passed frees history, frees humanity to reckon honestly with the legacy of slavery. We need this book.’ Ibram X. Kendi, Number One New York Times bestselling author

‘An extraordinary contribution to the way we understand ourselves.’ Julian Lucas, New York Times Book Review

‘The detail and depth of the storytelling is vivid and visceral, making history present and real.’ Hope Wabuke, NPR

‘This isn’t just a work of history, it’s an intimate, active exploration of how we’re still constructing and distorting our history.” Ron Charles, The Washington Post

‘In re-examining neighbourhoods, holidays and quotidian sites, Smith forces us to reconsider what we think we know about American history.’ Time

‘A history of slavery in this country unlike anything you’ve read before.’ Entertainment Weekly

‘A beautifully written, evocative, and timely meditation on the way slavery is commemorated in the United States.’ Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author


A beautifully readable reminder of how much of our urgent, collective history resounds in places all around us that have been hidden in plain sight. Clint Smith chips away at their disguise with lyricism and grace
Afua Hirsch
By blending journalistic inquiry with historical insights and poetic descriptions, the author turns a complex and traumatic subject - racism and the legacy of slavery in America - into a beautiful, insightful and even enjoyable journey
The Economics Best Books of 2021