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Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises

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Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than twenty books including the international bestseller Men Explain Things to Me. Called “the voice of the resistance” by the New York Times, she has emerged as an essential guide to our times, through incisive commentary on feminism, violence, ecology, hope, and everything in between.

In this powerful and wide-ranging collection of essays, Solnit turns her attention to the war at home. This is a war, she says, “with so many casualties that we should call it by its true name, this war with so many dead by police, by violent ex-husbands and partners and lovers, by people pursuing power and profit at the point of a gun or just shooting first and figuring out who they hit later.” To get to the root of these American crises, she contends that “to acknowledge this state of war is to admit the need for peace,” countering the despair of our age with a dose of solidarity, creativity, and hope.

The loneliness of Donald Trump --
Coda (July 16, 2018) --
Milestones in misogyny --
Twenty million missing storytellers --
Ideology of isolation --
Naïve cynicism --
Facing the furies --
Preaching to the choir --
Climate change is violence --
Blood on the foundation --
Death by gentrification: the killing of Alex Nieto and the savaging of San Francisco --
No way in, no way out --
Bird in a cage: visiting Jarvis Masters on death row --
Coda: case dismissed --
The monument wars --
Eight million ways to belong --
The light from Standing Rock --
Break the story --
Hope in grief --
In praise of indirect consequences

188 pages, Paperback

First published September 4, 2018

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About the author

Rebecca Solnit

100 books6,897 followers
Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than twenty books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering  and walking, hope and disaster, including Call Them By Their True Names (Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction), Cinderella LiberatorMen Explain Things to Me, The Mother of All Questions, and Hope in the Dark, and co-creator of the City of Women map, all published by Haymarket Books; a trilogy of atlases of American cities, The Faraway NearbyA Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in DisasterA Field Guide to Getting LostWanderlust: A History of Walking, and River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (for which she received a Guggenheim, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award). Her forthcoming memoir, Recollections of My Nonexistence, is scheduled to release in March, 2020. A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a columnist at the Guardian and a regular contributor to Literary Hub.

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Profile Image for s.penkevich.
967 reviews6,856 followers
November 3, 2020
Hope is a belief that what we do might matter, an understanding that the future is not yet written.

A common theme flowing through her 2018 collection Call Them By Their True Names is the way we are diverted from addressing the real problems that plague us. Through intentional misdirection through rhetoric and victim blaming, those in power assert their control by removing the avenues to speak out against them in order to keep people divided. Solnit argues, as the title implies, that we must call out injustice and that naming it is the first step to dispelling it. Much how Rumplestiltskin was defeated by discovering his name, injustice hides behind rhetoric that keeps us from naming it directly. ‘Once we call it by name,’ she writes, ‘we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values.’ These essays, divided in four sections, are rather varied but seem to generally revolve around common themes of social and political oppression such as climate change, gentrification, misogyny to name a few. From essays on ‘the bloody way California entered the United States’ and suppressing voices to those on prison and Standing Rock, Rebecca Solnit delivers insight after insight in crystal clear exposition and musings.

In the fall of 2017, we began to consider anew how violence, hate, and discrimination push people out, and how the stories we have are haunted by the ghosts of the stories we never got.

The revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality’ says Rebecca Solnit to conclude her essay on the climate crisis. This line has really resonated with me and reminded me of our responsibility when engaging with rhetoric. Rhetoric has become a way we sweep unseemly elements such as violence and misogyny under the social rug, weaponized more and more by the way all of life is commodified and reissued for marketing purposes. Even ange ‘has become a kind of commodity, a product target-marketed to specific audiences,’ as Solnit points out in the essay Facing the Furies. Those in positions of power are granted the ability to reshape and reframe the rhetoric, which is a method of silencing or at least putting those opposed to them on unequal, ever changing footing where we must first wade through the bad-faith rhetoric before we can even address the actual problem at hand. Think of how rhetoric of 'civility' is used as a major goal-setting while putting comfort over accountability and justice, or how certain political groups/terms use language that does not actually correlate to the results of their policies. Rhetoric is a weapon and we must be equipped to combat it.
The provocation of anger is essential to government by manipulation, and the angriest people are often the most credulous, willing to snatch up without scrutiny whatever feeds their fire.

Think of post-9/11 when any argument against imperialism or critique of the military--even Black Water--was dismissed as “unpatriotic” and made you an enemy of the State, Solnit reminds us. However, much of the last portion of this book has hope and an optimistic reminder that there are ways to combat the control of rhetoric and the onslaught of oppressions. We have to stand together though. While we may seem more divided, we are also unafraid to speak out against our own leaders and can find a choir to sing out with. Solnit cites a study that ‘only around 3.5 percent of a population was needed to successfully resist or even topple a regime nonviolently.’ If that isn’t hopeful I don’t know what is. For this reason she spends much of her time talking about ways of effectively communicating and, in one essay, promotes the notion of ‘preaching to the choir’ because when done right ‘it galvanizes them to act.

Returning to language, she discusses how ‘the term preaching to the choir dismisses both the emotional and intellectual value of talk.’ We are constantly under societal pressures that seek to divide people instead of bring them together, as well as framing of issues that redirects our criticisms towards those with no power as a way of shielding those who misuse it. ‘When we talk about violence, we almost always talk about violence from below, not above.’ In this way we’ve orchestrated massive policing, homelessness and prison issues while ‘if you’re tremendously wealthy, you can practice industrial-scale violence’. Many of the essays touch upon the effects of big tech moving into and gentrifying the San Francisco area, which has created a massive wealth disparity and resulted in homelessness as well as violence. One of the better essays in the collection, Death by Gentrification, looks at the murder by police of Alex Nieto--a 28 year old shot by cops while eating a burrito in a public park--and violence against nonwhite and poor folk as a side-effect of the gentrification process.

But for all the essays on violence and Donald Trump, what stands out most in this collection is hope. Hope for those who come together and do better, hope for the journalists who speak to power, and hope for social movements that build upon each other. The final essay is particularly powerful and reminds us that change is a process. ‘Actions often ripple far beyond their immediate objective,’ Solnit writes, ‘and remembering this is a reason to live by principal and act in the hope that what you do matters, even when results are unlikely to be immediate or obvious.’ She writes of how Gandhi had been inspired by women who had protested for the right to vote and lost, and then how later Gandhi inspired Martin Luther King Jr., who inspires us all today. She mentions how, at the time, less than a quarter of Americans supported the Freedom march for the Civil Rights Movement, but now it is a celebrated moment in history. Ideas grow and inspire others, which slowly builds like a snowball rolling down a snowy mountain picking up more mass and momentum until it is an unstoppable force. Much has been made recently about how political yard signs work in this way--even if your candidate is thought to be unpopular, seeing others support them gives you the courage to support them louder.

The vision of a better future doesn’t have to deny the crimes and sufferings of the present; it matters because of them.

This is the sort of hope I’d like to believe in. You matter. Your ideas matter and so do your efforts. Even if you fail, it paves the way for the future to pick up where you left off. While this collection of essays is indeed uneven and only loosely sorted together, it is a brilliant picture of a period in time when, despite all the violence and oppression, people are still having hope. The essays get into some really great points, though I would love to see them expanded upon. She cites many other great thinkers and writers, however, so each essay works as a good starting point to explore a wealth of information should you choose to seek it out. Solnit is amazing, I’ve always appreciated her and this book is no exception.


Ideas are contagious, emotions are contagious, hope is contagious, courage is contagious. When we embody these qualities, or their opposites, we convey them to others.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
March 17, 2020
Uneven in quality, Rebecca Solnit's latest work examines a broad array of American crises through the lens of a single theme: the power of calling injustices by their true names. Call Them by Their True Names addresses a wider range of subjects than Solnit's previous two Haymarket-released collections. Whereas the essays of Men Explain Things to Me and The Mother of All Questions focused mostly on the many forms of gendered violence, these essays consider everything from the threats posed by climate change to the gentrification of San Francisco to Trump’s erosion of democracy. The 166-page collection of 18 essays, though, never feels scattered. The best of the essays are stellar, but many read as interesting sketches toward longer meditations.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,521 reviews9,008 followers
October 4, 2018
Another great essay collection from a leading feminist writer. In Call Them by Their True Names, Rebecca Solnit takes aim at the Trump administration and its racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. She addresses an impressive array of topics, including gentrification, environmental justice, speaking truth to power, and more. When I read her work, I can tell she has dedicated her life to these progressive causes and to writing about them. The depth of her travel and reporting communicates a courageous dedication to her subject matter. When Solnit gets it right, she really gets it right - she can make strong intellectual points in the most poignant and resonant of ways. For example, a passage about politics and storytelling:

"Politics is how we tell the stories we live by: how we decide if we value the health and well-being of children, or not; the autonomy of women's bodies and equality of our lives, or not; if we protect the Dreamers who came here as small children, or not; if we act on climate change, or not. Voting is far from the only way, but is a key way we shape the national narrative. We choose a story about who and what matters; we act on that story to rearrange the world around it - and then there are tax cuts to billionaires and children kicked off of federal land protected and support for universities. We live inside what, during postmodernism's heyday, we'd call master narratives - so there's always a question of who's telling the story, who is in charge of the narrative, and what happens if that changes."

I also appreciated the connections Solnit makes in these essays. She draws parallels between "tight-lipped masculinity" and the fear of penetration engendered by xenophobia, between the idea of "preaching to the choir" and the consequences of voter suppression, and more. She has such a brilliant mind. The only reason I give this book four stars instead of five is because at times I felt Solnit overlooked her own privilege as a white woman, such as by only providing surface-level commentary on white women's complicity in Trump's election in "Milestones in Misogyny" or when she ignored the pulsating fear of the most marginalized (e.g., immigrants) under the Trump administration in "Hope in Grief." Overall, though, another amazing set of essays by Solnit, even though I still wait for one that matches the glory of The Mother of All Questions . I always appreciate Solnit's focus on taking action, and I wanted to end this review with another quote about politics and how we view those with more justice-oriented ideas:

"Objective is a fiction that there is some neutral ground, some political no man's land you can hang out in, you and the mainstream media. Even what you deem worthy to report and whom you quote is a political decision. We tend to treat people on the fringe as ideologues and those in the center as neutral, as though the decision not to own a car is political and the decision to own one is not, as though to support a war is neutral and to oppose it is not. There is no apolitical, no sidelines, no neutral ground; we're all engaged."
Profile Image for Meike.
1,592 reviews2,821 followers
June 1, 2019
(Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises - now available in German)
It's certainly not like everything in Europe is just sunshine and butterflies, but what is happening in the US right now has reached a level of insanity that is pretty hard to comprehend from over here. So when I started Solnit's book, I was afraid that she would proceed to state the obvious failings of the orange menace, and frankly, there is quite a lot in this essay collection that re-iterates issues that every self-respecting citizen of a democratic state should be aware of. But there are two aspects that make reading this book worthwhile: Solnit concentrates on the manipulative potential of language, and she adds some well-researched texts about the concrete effects of policies that salute those people who spoke truth to power.

To use language to distract and mislead is of course a classic authoritarian strategy, best described in Klemperer's The Language of the Third Reich: LTI--Lingua Tertii Imperii: A Philologist's Notebook. Solnit focuses on modern examples, thus drawing attention to an important tool that has the power to shape public debate. At the same time, she discusses cases of state violence and destructive policies (like the death sentence, the prison-industrial complex, police violence, gentrification/poverty, the Dakota Access Pipeline and examples taken from history), but also the reaction of an alarmed public and the merit of civil protest. And this is crucial: Authoritarian leaders usually do not win because so many people are on their side, but because so many people remain silent. Solnit argues that even if some fights are lost, people need to keep fighting in order to raise awareness and steadily influence and change the discourse, because this is how manipulative language is exposed, and how major fights about public opinion are ultimately won.

I also liked that Solnit explicitly discusses the dynamics of anger and cynicism that enable the Trump administration. As a German, I found it particularly interesting that Solnit adresses the way Germany deals with the history of WW II as opposed to how the South deals with the Civil War - this comparison seems to interest quite some authors lately (see Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil), and I believe there is a connection between the historic portrayal of America's past (especially regarding the Native American genocide and slavery) and the problems the country is facing today.

So while this book might not bring completely new insights and is also lacking some stringency when it comes to its composition, it is still a smart and worthwhile read that encourages people to keep fighting the good fight.
December 23, 2021

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Rebecca Solnit is a very strong essayist but I find that some of her collections can be better than others. Personally, I found MEN EXPLAIN THINGS TO ME to be one of her more middling efforts, and THE MOTHER OF ALL QUESTIONS to be the strongest, simply because it was so raw and so powerful. CALL THEM BY THEIR TRUE NAMES falls somewhere between the two. There are some incredibly powerful essays in this book, like the one comparing Trump to the fable of The Fisherman and His Wife, or the one about the shooting of Alex Nieto and the gentrification of San Francisco.

As with all of her essay collections, Solnit isn't afraid to tackle tough subjects, whether it's about why we should get rid of Confederate statues (hard agree), or how female politicians are treated to ridiculous double standards (hard agree), or that the United States has a very uncomfortable habit of disenfranchising people of color, whether it's building a dangerous pipeline through Native lands or heavily gerrymanding areas where people of color live so as to make their votes count for less.

I feel like this book is written for people who are either clueless about the political system or who already agree with everything she says. But apart from a "YEAH, THAT'S RIGHT," I'm not really sure what this book accomplishes apart from supplying people who are less articulate in political matters (i.e. me) with a toolbox of vocabulary to talk about the issues that they wish they could change and want to hold others accountable for. That said, I think it's a worthwhile read. Especially her essays on Hillary Clinton and Alex Nieto. Both of those really touched me and one nearly brought me to tears.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,388 reviews115 followers
January 28, 2019
National Book Award Nonfiction Longlist 2018. Solnit is a feminist, a progressive, and a stellar writer. Her essays are intended to elicit a reaction—to think about the words we use.

“To name something truly is to lay bare what may be brutal or corrupt—or important or possible. A key to the work of changing the world is changing the story, the names.” She prefers to use new descriptors when describing societal issues—“prison-industrial complex”, “affirmative consent”, or “unburnable carbon”. I particularly like the phrase “surveillance capitalism” when describing how internet companies use our social media to market our data.

“To authoritarians, language is a weapon, usually deployed in the service of an emotional half-truth: something you believe to be true, even if it isn’t.”—Hannah Arendt in 1951.

Solnit ends her book by seeking to inspire the reader to act; “Hope is a belief that what we do might matter, an understanding that the future is not yet written. It’s an informed, astute open-mindedness about what can happen and the role we might play in it. Hope looks forward but draws its energies from the past, from knowing histories, including our victories, and their complexities and imperfections.”

Profile Image for Jerrie.
990 reviews131 followers
September 11, 2018
This new essay collection by Solnit is both a scathing indictment of the current US administration and the president himself. Solnit also looks at continued racial disparities and gentrification. She ends, however, on a note of encouragement - peaceful protest has a history of accomplishment and will be able to bring the US through this strange period in our history.
Profile Image for Nicole.
60 reviews1 follower
November 11, 2018
I generally don't like to be "political" in reviews of books, but I find it unavoidable in this case. I'm giving this book a 2.5, because I nearly put it down after reading the second essay, "Milestones in Misogyny," which I found so insulting to those of us women who had the audacity not to blindly support Hillary Clinton purely because she was a woman. In this essay Solnit was clueless as to why many people, particularly millennials, were so enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders but not as much about Clinton, similar to Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem rebuking us by saying, "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other," as if it was biologically required for us to support her without considering what a terrible candidate she was [full disclosure: I supported Sanders in the primary but voted for Clinton in the general because in my mind there was simply no other choice.] This colored my perception of the rest of the essays.

It was only when I got to the third set of essays that I thought, "Okay, this is the Solnit that I remember from her last few books." There were a few essays that were very good (Blood on the Foundation, No Way In, No Way Out, The Monument Wars), but whenever she talked about being on the fringes/an outsider, I got very agitated, because it seemed like a total disconnect from her earlier blind defense of Clinton and everything she represents (the status quo, corporatism, etc). It was honestly difficult to take her words seriously by the end, since I was so put off by her lack of understanding of the progressive moment that Bernie Sanders helped start. If anyone would have been a likely supporter of his, it would have been her. They both visited Standing Rock; Clinton did not. They both despise the corruption that has pervaded our system, and the status quo; Clinton is the very epitome of all this. All of this was even more laughable when she lectured about how "objectivity" doesn't really exist, only being fair. To me it seems that many women of a certain age, including Solnit, could not be objective about Clinton's many flaws, and only wanted to see the first woman president in their lifetime.

I'm disappointed that these essays were of such low quality compared to her other books, but perhaps it's a rare miss for her. Regardless, I think due to how angry I felt by her Hillary apologism I will be taking a break from reading her for a while.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,012 reviews227 followers
October 21, 2018
In the past I haven't always connected with Rebecca Solnit's writing, although I've never figured out quite why (because I'm completely in line with her politically). But this collection of essays really spoke to me.* I guess I'm finally catching up.

* All except the essay on anger ("Facing the Furies"), in which Solnit warns of anger's corrupting effects - taking a position a little different from Rebecca Traister's. I'm still feeling the positive influence of Traister's new book on why women should (sometimes) embrace their anger.
Profile Image for A. H. Reaume.
39 reviews63 followers
October 19, 2018
I would read ANYTHING Solnit writes, but this essay collection has helped me see the present political situation and potential activist interventions with more nuance and depth.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,649 followers
December 26, 2018
The first half was excellent and the second was not as excellent. Solnit is at her best when she's contemplating misogyny (and here she has an excellent opening essay on Trump's coupling of misogyny and greed), but she sounds pretty cliche (to me) when she discusses systemic racism. Or she sounds more like an activist and reporter whereas the earlier essays, she sounds like a gifted writer, which she is.
Profile Image for Sadie.
750 reviews175 followers
December 10, 2019
Wieder eine sehr engagierte Sammlung von Rebecca Solnit. Im vorliegenden Band sind Essays zur Schnittmenge von "Politik" und "Sprache" zusammengefasst. Der Fokus liegt klar auf dem Thema US-Politik (und hier vor allem das im Mittelpunkt stehende Personal), aber auch "globalere Themen" wie Klimawandel, Medienethik und -integrität, Rassismus und Feminismus werden behandelt (auch vor allem mit US-Fokus).

Ich mag Solnits Schreibe. Zum einen ist die Themenauswahl immer gut durchdacht, und auch wenn die Themen scheinbar groß und für sich raumfüllend sein mögen, gibt es fast überall kleine Vernetzungen, und Solnit macht sie sichtbar. Dazu argumentiert sie clever und bastelt, sehr intellektuell-kreativ, dabei sehr inspirierende Gedankenketten zusammen.

Was mir an diesem Buch besonders gefallen hat, abgesehen vom Oberthema an sich: Die Essays behandeln nicht nur inhaltlich linguistische Überlegungen anhand politischer Beispiele, sie spielen auch selbst mit Sprache. Z.B. in "Dem Kirchenchor" predigen vergleicht Solnit diese Auffassung, die im amerikanischen mit "preaching to the choir" verbalisiert wird, mit dem Buhlen um neue/alte Wählerstimmen. Müssen die schon gewonnenen Fans überhaupt noch unterhalten werden und wenn ja, warum? In "Break the Story", ursprünglich eine Abschlussrede an ihrer Alma Mater, beleuchtet sie auch diesen Ausspruch von allen Seiten - denn auch Geschichten können "zerbrechen". Es gibt noch zahlreiche andere Beispiele, bei denen ich begeisternd nickend zugestimmt habe.

Inhaltlich ist die Zusammenstellung vor allem im zweiten Teil etwas willkürlich(er), übergreifend passen die Texte aber durchgängig zum Oberthema und ich habe für mich noch einen kleinen Gefühlsbogen ausgemacht: Vor allem der erste Teil des Buches ist sehr angriffslustig. Im Mittelteil wird es etwas nachdenklich stimmender. Der letzte Text ist versöhnlich-aufbauend.

Habe ich sehr gern gelesen und freue mich schon auf Weiteres von Rebecca Solnit.

Profile Image for Kaleb Rogers.
114 reviews7 followers
January 2, 2019
The most pervasive theme throughout Call Them By Their True Names is the unpredictability of the future, and how good acts today need not have direct, measurable benefits tomorrow. History is woven by innumerable factors, and fighting for what is right will undoubtedly make up some of them. There is injustice in the world, but it can be combatted with hope and perseverance.
Profile Image for Leah Rachel von Essen.
1,230 reviews165 followers
August 17, 2018
Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays) by Rebecca Solnit is the newest collection of essays by the iconic writer. While the collection is more scattered than some of her others, Solnit is trying to get at the ways story-telling matters, and the way telling a story in one way or another way can have a big impact on what the facts appear to be, or on how successful a protest was.

Solnit’s essay collections are always expertly written, and the essays in this are no exception. I struggled somewhat to see the scope of the collection, what overall theme bound them together. Another complaint was a dismissal of the issue of white women who voted for Trump, which she seemed to see as not very significant, an outlook I found troubling. That said, most of the essays in this new collection are superb. Solnit argues for hope rather than optimism, making the case better here than she did in Hope in the Dark, arguing that hope is useful, that hope reminds us that while there is much work to do, the positive result will come, and reminds us too to celebrate the “small” victories or progress rather than being disappointed that the big thing wasn’t won. In this vein, she argues that movements like Standing Rock and Occupy Wall Street were more successful than people sometimes give them credit for, as our eyes should be on what changed in the way society now thinks and sees the issues rather than solely in concrete returns. One of her best is “Death by Gentrification,” an essay that parallels the gentrification of San Francisco with the rhetoric and circumstances surrounding the death of a man shot by police in the park he grew up in.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises comes out September 4 from Haymarket Books.
Profile Image for Jennie S.
311 reviews26 followers
January 22, 2019
This is the perfect book for those young people who think “voting is not for me, and I’m too busy anyways.” I’m ashamed to admit, sometimes in the past, I was one of those people.

Solnit’s essays give power to words. As a master of the discourse on persuasion, she shows her readers how political titans and people of influence in our society manipulate words to create illusions that suit their own narrative. Solent tells us that knowing problems for what they are is the first step in finding a solution, because just like the way words have the power to create illusions, they have the power to break them as well.

If you want to know the secret, here it is: the root of those politic nonsense that seem to have the strong and puzzling effect on the masses? it is their ability to arouse anger.

Anger is easily provoked, but rarely examined. Given the choice, people want to be angry instead of sad. Anger calls for action, which can be a good thing under certain circumstances. Sadly, our society prizes anger and believes it to be the predecessor for change. The people who knows how to arouse anger in the masses have the power. Anger is the go-to emotion for politicians and influencers. It’s easy to produce, cheap to deliver, and people love to buy it.

The truth is always more complicated. It’s harder to do the right thing. But anger, hate, and violence can never solve the problem.

There are many societal issues covered in this book, discussions on the marginalization of groups of people based sex, race, and income. There is a strong sense of justice, and the outrage at the unfairness. Solnit is the voice for the people whose voices are not being heard. This is a book on the importance of participation, activism, and above all, the power of storytelling that shape the things around us and who we are.
Profile Image for Samantha.
Author 11 books60 followers
September 24, 2018
This is pretty standard Solnit fare, so if you enjoy her writing, you'll dig this short collection on a wide range of topics that honestly doesn't feel so wide - police violence, incarceration, homelessness, immigration, climate change. She writes about these issues through the lens of the language we use around them vs. the language we perhaps should use. Language used intentionally to subvert the truth, whether overtly or not (I think often of how many news outlets used "Brock Turner, the star swimmer" instead of "Brock Turner, the rapist").

To that end, I love how she writes about Madame President, Hillary Clinton. I think it's fair to do more than suggest that sexism played a role in our country electing an unintelligent misogynistic rapist over a woman who was more qualified than any candidate in our history; the problem is, it's hard to speak passionately about HRC without preceding it with, "She's not perfect, but..." Solnit is unafraid to call out that sexism and in doing so, cuts through the mental and analytical gymnastics we do to avoid confronting the notion that many don't like HRC because she's a woman. It's haaaaaard to face the way we treat people who are poor or undocumented or in prison or not cis-het white men, because it means confronting a bigotry in us we prefer to pretend doesn't exist. These essays collectively stress the importance of calling things what they are, in the interest of attempting to better conflict and hatred and quality of life for all.
Profile Image for Dave.
1,145 reviews28 followers
March 19, 2019
I have such trouble with any discussions of current events, because current events usually mean Trump, and reading about Trump makes me depressed and horrified. But this brilliant book starts with Trump and misogyny, and just when you want to burn this motherfucker to the ground, it reaches for hope, and positivity, and patience, and small victories, and making the world better. Not all of the essays are perfect, but the book as a whole reminds me strongly and inspiringly that this motherfucker too shall pass. "Ideas are contagious, emotions are contagious, hope is contagious, courage is contagious." Work to make it work.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,222 reviews35 followers
November 3, 2018
One of her best essay collections for sure. The "American Crises" of the title refer to a wide range of topics - Trump, domestic abuse, Occupy Wall Street and gentrification among others. Incisive writing as always with Solnit, and a pleasant surprise after the disappoint that was The Mother of All Questions.
Profile Image for Kaia.
229 reviews3 followers
November 28, 2018
Like any collection of essays/short stories/poems, there are strengths and weaknesses throughout the book. This collection address a wide variety of current issues, particularly through the lenses of the power of naming and language and storytelling. Solnit also expands on ideas about change and progress and the value of activism that can also be found in Hope in the Dark (and possibly all of her work--I've only read these two!). In particular, I thought Preaching to the Choir, Death by Gentrification: The Killing of Alex Nieto and the Savaging of San Francisco, and In Praise of Indirect Consequences were particularly well done and powerful, and I read The Loneliness of Donald Trump twice just because it felt cathartic.

"Michel Foucault noted, 'People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don't know is what what they do does.' You do what you can. What you've done may do more than you can imagine for generations to come. You plant a seed and a tree grows from it; will there be fruit, shade, habitat for birds, more seeds, a forest, wood to build a cradle or a house? You don't know. A tree can live much longer than you. So will an idea, and sometimes the changes that result from accepting that new idea about what is true, or right, just might remake the world. You do what you can do; you do your best; what what you do does is not up to you."
Profile Image for Kazen.
1,348 reviews303 followers
August 29, 2018
Solnit, perhaps best known for Men Explain Things to Me, is back with another essay collection. While her past two books centered on feminism this one is about social justice of all sorts, touching on climate change, police brutality, gentrification, wrongful imprisonment, and more.

The essays were largely written between 2016 and 2018. The most powerful theme is the idea that names and language truly matter. If you cannot name a problem you cannot begin to solve it. A couple of the essays take a phrase - like "preach to the choir" or "break a news story" - and examine it from various angles. If preaching to the choir is useless, does that mean we have to try and convert those utterly opposed to our views? Other essays hew closely to reportage, covering the killing of Alex Nieto in San Francisco and the failings of the legal system in the case of Jarvis Masters.

The writing is good but I had fewer "wow" moments than usual. Solnit is great at stretching your brain and making you look at things from a different perspective but there wasn't as much of it compared with her earlier essays. Perhaps if this were my first Solnit, or if I were less versed with the issues, I would have felt differently.

In sum it's a solid collection, as you would expect from such a good writer, but not my favorite nor her best.

Thanks to Haymarket Books and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.
Profile Image for Amanda Misiti.
217 reviews13 followers
October 19, 2018
I learned a lot from Solnit’s thoughtful essays, as always.

My favorite essay was “Preaching to the Choir”—which analyzed the importance of connecting with people who share similar ideas.

This quote in particular stuck with me:
“. . . Much of the time we spend together (or in solitude) has been replaced by the time we spend online, in arenas not conducive to subtlety or complexity”

And this—
“A friendship could be imagined as an ongoing conversation, and a conversation as a collaboration of minds, and that collaboration as a brick out of which a culture or a community is built”

Last but not least:
“In other words, to create change, you don’t need everyone to agree with you; you just need some people to agree so passionately that they will donate, campaign, march, risk arrest or injury, possibly prison or death. Their passionate conviction may influence others. Ideas originate at the margins and migrate inward to succeed; insisting that your idea must have arrived rather than be traveling is to miss how change works.”

Profile Image for Rachel C..
1,835 reviews4 followers
July 14, 2019
Rebecca Solnit is PISSED and clearly loathes Trump. Her eloquent anger is magnificent.

And yet, she ends this essay collection with hope.

"I find great hope and encouragement in the anxiety, fury, and grief of my fellow residents of the United States."

"The only power adequate to stop tyranny and destruction is civil society, which is the great majority of us when we remember our power and come together. The job begins with opposition to specific instances of destruction, but it is not ended until we have made deep systemic changes and recommitted ourselves, not just as a revolution, because revolutions don't last, but as a civil society with values of equality, democracy, inclusion, full participation - a radical e pluribus unum, plus compassion."

Postscript: Here is her latest, on Jeffrey Epstein, "In Patriarchy No One Can Hear You Scream"
Profile Image for Kerry Pickens.
869 reviews18 followers
February 11, 2020
The book was published in 2018, so the information is a little dated but reflects back on political events and how they have affected the community involved. The events covered include shootings of minorities, the Dakota Pipeline and its impact on the indigenous people, and Hillary Clinton's run for president. I admire the writer's ability to weave all these events together and come up with a lucid conclusion. We need to stand up as women for ourselves and any oppressed people.
Profile Image for Jiyoung.
299 reviews3 followers
September 16, 2021
I love Rebecca Solnit. Everything I read by her elicits aggressive nods or bursts of weird laughter expressing my rage / sadness / disbelief at the shit state of our society. This is yet again another punchy and eloquent set of essays addressing a wide range of topics (e.g., Trump, climate change, marginalization of minority groups, racism, sexism). The thing I admire most about Solnit is that she somehow balances scathing criticism of the status quo along with a hopeful optimism that disdains cynicism for the sake of cynicism. She continues to stress that spiraling into cutting cynicism is unproductive and anti-progressive, just another way for us to virtue-signal or soothe our egos that we are perfectly moral (i.e., not approving of anything that could potentially be flawed) without really committing to changing anything. These essays follow the loose theme that we must call a spade a spade, and that trucking in de-fanged euphemisms gives cover to malicious actors who then get away with far more than they ever should.
Profile Image for Blythe.
388 reviews1 follower
September 4, 2019
I often see reviews that rave about a book before saying, “except that…” or “even if…” The readers offer disclaimers to distance themselves from books in which the author holds a different view on some issue, as though the rest of us will judge them for reading a book? Having an open mind? I don’t know.

I thought of that when considering how to review this book. The author and I come from two totally different world views, but I don’t want to write a disclaimer; instead, I want to give the book 6 stars! I love that someone with a drastically different perspective can write in such a way that my mind is opened, educated, and spurred on. She is intelligent and articulate and gracious. I loved being challenged by reading this book, and I can’t wait to read more.
Profile Image for Lili V.
498 reviews
February 22, 2019
This book of essays touches on so many issues currently plaguing our country and the culture we’ve cultivated in recent years of booming tech companies “disrupting” local communities and welfare, disregarding inexplicable offenses conducted by the leader of our free nation, gun violence, voter suppression, and so much more with a layer of naive cynicism that coats the country like an oily blanket that weighs on every social justice action. The author holds the culprit of each essay accountable, whether it’s our own inaction, our systemic racism, our inability to see the value of preaching to the choir rather than our adversaries, our inherent anger and propensity to only see and denounce the actions of others in black or white narratives.

The issues discussed call to the humanity in the reader to further understand what is plaguing our country and open our eyes to what’s right in front of us. If you know that this country produces more food and waste, why are there millions of Americans going hungry? When did we start growing accustomed to seeing the homeless panhandle for money? When did we give up on the idea that we could help others? Our privilege has always been around, comforting us in our homes, our safe spaces that we call our own. Our privilege has erected a barrier so tall, slowly growing taller as the rich get richer and we’re distracted by the next big celebrity scandal, that we’ve become blind to the injustices we encounter and are done unto us on a daily basis.

While I agreed with so much of the author’s points of reflection and truth, I was also made to feel uncomfortable which is what really made the book shine. Seeking the uncomfortable is nobody’s forte but it is what makes us grow, live fuller lives, and understand our own decisions, motivations and emotions. It’s hard to read something, do something, experience something that makes you inherently want to pull away and retreat. I loved this book for making arguments I agree with and question and call out what I neglected to see.

I would recommend this book to everyone though I know it’s not going to be for everyone. Step out of that bubble of yours and read reality. Take a chance and confront your complacency. I’m not saying this book can do all that but I’m also not saying it can’t.

Written and curated brilliantly, Solnit’s exposition of what America currently looks like will call to every American’s sense of fight for a better future, inclusive culture and social action.
Profile Image for Vipassana.
122 reviews338 followers
September 21, 2018
In Call Them by Their True Names, Rebecca Solnit tells contemplative stories behind the news that is churned out at break neck speed. The four sections of the book explore Electoral Catastrophes, American Emotions, American Edges (gentrification, climatechange, homelessness, etc.), and Possibilities. In these essays, she encourages one to think about the impact the events of the last few years have had on the private self as well as the community. She encourages healthy anger, but also slowing down and taking a break from the things that can only hurt us..

My favourite essays were Death by Gentrification, Preaching to the Choir, Milestones in Misogyny, Twnety Million Storytellers, and Break the Story.

The essay Eight Million Ways to Belong was awful. This is possibly the first and only time I've loathed Solnit's writing however I'm fairly biased against the style. It's written as a letter to Donald trump urging him the truly visit the entirely of New York. It felt out of place with her usual reflective style. Yet, I'd still strongly recommend this collection.
Profile Image for Nick Klagge.
731 reviews56 followers
October 22, 2018
I love Rebecca Solnit and would happily read anything she writes. I try to keep up regularly with what she writes on LitHub, with the result that I had already read a couple of the essays in this new collection ("The Loneliness of Donald Trump" and "Eight Million Ways to Belong"), although oddly I didn't see anywhere where previous publication was noted for specific essays. But happily, nearly all of the content was still new to me.

All of the classic Solnit elements are here--the combination of relevance to current events and timelessness, the willingness to speak truth to power, the deep humanism and ardent feminism. My favorite essays in this collection were: "Twenty Million Missing Storytellers" (zooming out for a broader perspective on the #MeToo movement); "Preaching to the Choir" (on the value of motivating and deepening connections with allies as opposed to converting enemies or undecideds); "Death by Gentrification: The Killing of Alex Nieto and the Savaging of San Francisco" (a troubling and compelling entry in the conversation on gentrification), and "In Praise of Indirect Consequences" (looking at the subtle but real impacts of seemingly failed social movements).
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