How the Word Is Passed - Clint Smith

How the Word Is Passed

By Clint Smith

  • Release Date: 2021-06-01
  • Genre: History
Score: 4.5
From 184 Ratings


This “important and timely” (Drew Faust, Harvard Magazine) #1 New York Times bestseller examines the legacy of slavery in America—and how both history and memory continue to shape our everyday lives.

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 our nation's collective history, and ourselves.

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 our country'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 neighborhoods like downtown Manhattan, where the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women, and children has been deeply imprinted.

Informed by scholarship and brought to life by the story of people living today, Smith's debut work of nonfiction is a landmark of reflection and insight that offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in making sense of our country and how it has come to be.

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

Winner of the Stowe Prize 

Winner of 2022 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism 

A New York Times 10 Best Books of 2021 


  • An important and necessary read

    By simpleisprofound
    I cannot adequately put into words how important and necessary this book is. It has changed me. Hard truths do not mean we don’t face them and learn from them. Thank you Clint Smith for this needed work and discourse.
  • How the word is passed

    By Bethany Panda
    My first 5 star book review. Excellent book, supremely educational in a tone that understandable and personal. A must read for anyone interested in American History.
  • Exploring History

    By Berkeley rad
    Reading this book is like a journey into the United States and a journey into our past. Each chapter recounts a visit to a particular place with a special connection to the history of slavery. It feels like I am there too, the authors travel companion, with how descriptive and powerful his writing is. Interjected within the narrative of the visit is the history and background. Usually I find history to be dense and uninviting but this writing was captivating and smooth.
  • Loved this book

    By jahbringganja
    I could not put this book down. Clint Smith gave me so much to think about in terms of US history and white people’s resistance to accept our history. Thank you Mr. Smith for writing such a beautiful and insightful book.
  • Eye-opening

    By ewilli2954
    Right from the beginning Clint Smith caught me as a reader. His descriptions and language make the words of history real. I couldn’t stop reading and it opened up my eyes to a history I was never taught and I know my children were never taught. I firmly believe that unless we as a nation confront our past ,regardless of how painful it is, we will never learn from the past.