A New York Times Notable Book
Best Books of 2021: TIME, Smithsonian
New York Times Book Review • Editors’ Choice
A radical reckoning with the racial inequality of America’s past and present, by one of the country’s leading scholars of policing and mass incarceration
Between 1964 and 1972, the United States endured domestic violence on a scale not seen since the Civil War. During these eight years, Black residents responded to police brutality and systemic racism by throwing punches and Molotov cocktails at police officers, plundering local businesses and vandalizing exploitative institutions. Ever since, Americans have been living in a nation and national culture created, in part, by the extreme violence of this period.
In America on Fire, acclaimed professor Elizabeth Hinton draws on previously untapped sources to unravel this extraordinary history for the first time, arguing that we cannot understand the civil rights struggle without coming to terms with the astonishing violence, and hugely expanded policing regime, that followed it. A leading scholar of policing, Hinton underlines a crucial lesson in the book – that police violence precipitates community violence – and shows how it continues to escape policy makers, who respond by further criminalizing entire groups instead of addressing underlying socioeconomic causes.
Taking us from the uprising in Watts, Los Angeles in 1965 to the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Hinton’s urgent, eye-opening and much-anticipated America on Fire offers an unprecedented framework for understanding the crisis at the country’s heart.
About the author
Elizabeth Hinton is an associate professor of history, African American studies, and law at Yale University and Yale Law School. Author of the critically-acclaimed From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, she lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
- ‘[A] groundbreaking, deeply researched and profoundly heart-rending account of the origins of our national crisis of police violence against Black America … America on Fire is more than a brilliant guided tour through our nation’s morally ruinous past. It reveals the deep roots of the current movement to reject a system of law enforcement that defines as the problem the very people who continue to seek to liberate themselves from racial oppression.’Peniel E. Joseph, New York Times
- ‘Hinton compiles a breathtaking list of more than a thousand uprisings, far beyond those with which we are most familiar . . . Hinton is not just recovering Black resistance; she is also exposing a long, and ignored, history of white political violence, used to maintain the subordinated status of Black communities . . . Hinton systematically unravels the failures of police reform’Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor, The New Yorker
- ‘Not since Angela Davis’s 2003 book, Are Prisons Obsolete?, has a scholar so persuasively challenged our conventional understanding of the criminal legal system … Hinton tells this story with clarity, and her conclusions should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers’Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., Washington Post
- ‘[A] trenchant study … Illustrate[s] the origins and legacies of the rebellions that sprang from police incursions in Black life’Boston Globe
- ‘Hinton’s passionate, occasionally gritty approach is the opposite of a gauzy PBS series: she drills down into the granular, highlighting the courageous men and women who stood tall in a hail of bullets.’Oprah Daily, ‘Best Books to Pick Up This May’
- ‘Indispensable … Essential to any understanding of the state of the nation, and the way from here.’Jill Lepore, bestselling author of These Truths: A History of the United States