• How the Word Is Passed

  • A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
  • By: Clint Smith
  • Narrated by: Clint Smith
  • Length: 10 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.9 out of 5 stars (1,884 ratings)
adbl_ms_membershipImage_includedwith_altText_B076FLV3HT
adbl_ms_membershipImage_includedwith_altText_B076FLV3HT

1 audiobook of your choice.
Stream or download thousands of included titles.
$14.95 a month after 30 day trial. Cancel anytime.
Buy for $29.65

Buy for $29.65

Pay using card ending in
By confirming your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and Amazon's Privacy Notice. Taxes where applicable.

Publisher's Summary

Instant number-one New York Times best seller

Longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Nonfiction

Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the listener 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.

©2021 Clint Smith (P)2021 Little, Brown & Company

Critic Reviews

One of John Green’s Two Favorite Books of the Year

Washington Post Best Book to Read in June

Time Best Book of Summer 2021

The Root’s Book You Have to Read This Summer

A Goodreads Hottest New Book of the Season

One of Buzzfeed’s New Books to Add to Your Summer Reading List ASAP 

"Smith tells his stories with the soul of a poet and the heart of an educator. Smith’s ambitious book is fueled by a humble sense of duty: he sought the wisdom of those who tell of slavery’s legacy 'outside traditional classrooms and beyond the pages of textbooks'; public historians who 'have dedicated their lives to sharing this history with others'. Smith channels the spirit of Toni Morrison here; the writer as one to pass on the word so that it is never forgotten." (The Millions)

“There is perhaps no greater challenge than convincing a nation to remember what it would rather choose to forget. Clint Smith, one of our most thoughtful writers and thinkers, skillfully documents how echoes of enslavement remain everywhere. The question is whether we have the collective will to reckon with the realities of our past in order to build a better future. How the Word Is Passed is a vital, desperately needed contribution to that reckoning.” (Wesley Lowery, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of They Can’t Kill Us All)

"A moving and perceptive survey of landmarks that reckon, or fail to reckon, with the legacy of slavery in America...this is an essential consideration of how America’s past informs its present." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

What listeners say about How the Word Is Passed

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1,793
  • 4 Stars
    79
  • 3 Stars
    7
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    2
Performance
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1,550
  • 4 Stars
    123
  • 3 Stars
    27
  • 2 Stars
    6
  • 1 Stars
    5
Story
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1,618
  • 4 Stars
    71
  • 3 Stars
    8
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    1

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Sincerely grateful read

At 53, it's shameful to be hearing much of this information for the first time. Thank you Clint, I am truly humbled from the experience.

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A story that catches your breath unlike any other.

If you are looking for a book, please do yourself a favor and read this one.

From the slave cabins of the Whitney Plantation to the Red Hat block of Angola prison all the way to Wall Street... This book is a heartbreaking reckoning of a past this country has yet to make peace with told in the beautiful, poetic voice of Clint Smith, one of this country's most precious treasures whose voice will surely echo through our history long after I'm gone.

I recommend the audio book just for the opportunity to hear Clint tell this story.

16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

I stopped everything to listen to this.

Doing the dishes? Listened to this book. Folding laundry? Book. Making a graduation lei? Book. Working from home in a pandemic? Book. Please listen to this very important and beautifully crafted text. Thank you Clint Smith for your thorough and descriptive account of each place and all the stories that you could fit in these pages. I really enjoyed your conversations with the guides and the people who were right along with you in these historic sites. I look forward to watching this book gain the praise that it deserves.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Must Read

This book deserves to be read by every high schooler in the United States of America.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

This book will mobilize those sitting on the sidelines and win over those cheering for the other team.

Who in your life blindly opposes the cause of racial justice, blaming the oppressed for their misfortune?

If any book can bring them around, this is it.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A Real Eye-Opener!

Although I was familiar with much of the factual information in this book, Clint Smith really broke it down to the “nitty-gritty to show that no matter what was “said” about slavery, the bottom line was and is money! Recommended reading for anyone who wants to understand America, past and present. The performance was a little deadpan, but that only bothered me at the very beginning (I usually read fiction), but it was a perfect tone to carefully me through the book. Twice. Getting ready to start it again!

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

white people please read

a must read to help understand critical race theory and why it should be taught today

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Reckoning with history through its landmarks

It is no surprise to anyone that knows me that I like to read history. History gives us insight into our current realities by exposing the forces that shaped our reality. But history is also narrative, the stories that we tell ourselves about how the world came to be. Many historians are incredible writers. Clint Smith’s background as a poet is evident. His language is personal, evocative, and at times searing. I am not brand new to Clint Smith; he hosts the YouTube CrashCourse series on Black American History. During a road trip to visit my parents, my wife and I listened to podcasts and a 90-minute discussion between Clint Smith and Brené Brown. When the podcast was over, I immediately purchased the audiobook of How the World is Passed, and we only listened to this audiobook for the rest of the trip.

About 15 years ago, I listened to the audiobook of Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation. With her trademark voice and humor, Vowell traveled through the country to visit sites of political violence. If you have read that book, How The Word is Passed is a more serious similar idea. Clint Smith starts in his hometown of New Orleans and explores monuments’ role in understanding the history of slavery. Then he visits Monticello and the Whitney Plantations and explores how plantations handle the story of slavery and the mythology of the plantation. That history of plantations naturally leads to Angola Prison, one of the country’s largest and most infamous prisons built on a plantation.

Blandford Cemetery has been a cemetery since 1702 but was significantly expanded after the Civil War battle of Petersburg and is now mostly a Confederate Cemetery. I will expand on this description a bit more because this chapter is a perfect illustration of what Clint Smith is attempting to do with the book. He initially goes on a tour of the cemetery and the church that was on site. Then, referencing the earlier discussions of how plantations told their story, he details the discussion with the tour guide and the cemetery director. During the discussion, he discovers a Confederate Memorial Day commemoration at the cemetery that the Sons of Confederate Veterans put on. Along with the narrative of the visit, Smith recounts the history of the Lost Cause, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their roles in shaping education, the memory of the Civil War, and southern identity. Finally, during the discussion of the program and recounting of interviews with participants in the program and attendees, Smith discusses how various forms of white nationalism and confederacy remembrance are often interlinked. All of this gives context and depth but feels natural; a visit leads to another visit, and talking to one person leads to an exploration of the person’s ideas.

Most importantly to the impact of the book, Smith is always a character in the story. He talks about how being a Black man on a tour of a Confederate cemetery feels. He talks about the tension between himself and the cemetery director when he sees the Confederate Memorial Day commemoration. She attempted to hide the brochure before he can see it. He talks about bringing a White friend to the Memorial Day program because he assumes that he will be the only Black man there. He talks about the singing of the Dixie and the rhetoric of both sides of the Civil War being honored as heroic impacts him. The tours of plantations or prisons or cemeteries, or later New York slave auction and Gorée Island in Africa, are real things that he participated in. The reader could also attend if we chose. That personal, emotional account, along with (on the audiobook) Smith’s melodic resonate narration, draws the reader/listener into the book as more than just dry history.

If you are an audiobook person, this is a book that I would listen to as audio because the poetry of his writing stands out, and the emotion of his voice draws you in. There is a reason that Clint Smith seems to be everywhere right now. This is a book that should be read. But also, this is the type of book that can help change the narrative and seeks to do so.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Great listen/ great info

I heard the TED radio hour got the book, amazing experience. I wish it was easier to find more books like this!

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A Must Read/Listen for understanding!

Loved it! If you're looking to fill in some missing history, you're in luck. Treat yourself with kindness & open your mind & heart to the past.

2 people found this helpful