• The Broken Heart of America

  • St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States
  • By: Walter Johnson
  • Narrated by: Jamie Renell
  • Length: 15 hrs and 46 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (231 ratings)

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The Broken Heart of America

By: Walter Johnson
Narrated by: Jamie Renell
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Publisher's Summary

A searing portrait of the racial dynamics that lie inescapably at the heart of our nation, told through the turbulent history of the city of St. Louis.

From Lewis and Clark's 1804 expedition to the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, American history has been made in St. Louis. And as Walter Johnson shows in this searing book, the city exemplifies how imperialism, racism, and capitalism have persistently entwined to corrupt the nation's past. 

St. Louis was a staging post for Indian removal and imperial expansion, and its wealth grew on the backs of its poor Black residents, from slavery through redlining and urban renewal. But it was once also America's most radical city, home to anti-capitalist immigrants, the Civil War's first general emancipation, and the nation's first general strike - a legacy of resistance that endures. 

A blistering history of a city's rise and decline, The Broken Heart of America will forever change how we think about the United States.

©2020 Walter Johnson (P)2020 Basic Books
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"Walter Johnson has written a magisterial book. Using the sordid history of St. Louis, he weaves a tale of violence and betrayal - a story of the removal of peoples and the taking of land by force and by zoning - that helps the reader understand the glaring contradictions that define the United States today. Even the killing of Michael Brown in 2014 must be understood against the backdrop of the long history of greed, extraction, and racism that shaped the city of St. Louis and this country. The Broken Heart of America isn't a dispassionate treatment of historical facts: Johnson has written a searing history that matters deeply to him, a native son, and it should matter to all of us." (Eddie S. Glaude, author of Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own)

"Walter Johnson's latest is a masterpiece that both haunts and inspires: at once a personal reckoning; a sweeping 200-year history of removal, racism, exclusion, and extraction; and a story that powerfully lifts up the human beings who, in 2014, stood together in Ferguson to demand accountability for the layered injustices that have so scarred not just one city - but America itself." (Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy)

"The thread that runs through this entire book is the historical relationship between US imperialism, Indian removal, and anti-Black racism. Although also a granular history of the city of St. Louis, The Broken Heart of America is a deep history of the United States' continental empire with St. Louis at the center of economic and military operations. This may be the most important book on US history you will read in your lifetime." (Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States)

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What listeners say about The Broken Heart of America

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Sad & True,With Fascinating Facts of St.Louis Past

Particularly in first five Chapters, there are relatively unknown facts from 19th Century that amazed me. Those points also provided a continuation of the negative racial justice thread in history, backwards, from which most St. Louisans are already aware.

The narrator, though excellent in reading skills, unfotunately did not do his due diligence on St. Louis street, town and people pronunciations. For someone from St. louis, it is a distraction to wince with each new wrongly rer ad proper noun. To prepare a potential reader, here are attempts at a phonetic few: St. LooEEzans, Mayor Vincent SHOWmul, FloriSAHNT LinDELL and CarondeLAY.

The book itself was a very thorough coverage of major racial events over St. Louis history. Many readers from the region will recognize most of those but also be greatly surprised by others. Excellent research on even the most minor details. This includes Kirkwood's astonishing reduction of the number of streets leading out ofthe Meacham Park community. The pre-annex number of exits/entries was nine. The nine were reduced to a single legal entry/exit for the past 29 years.

6 people found this helpful

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Fictional fantasy- lessons on why you should hate the white man.

Fact: Michael Brown. May 20, 1996 – August 9, 2014). At the time of his death, he was 18 years old, 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) tall, and weighed 292 lb (132 kg). Michael Brown was not a CHILD! He was not innocent. Most of the Ferguson rioters were not citizens of Ferguson. The mom and pop business were burned and ruined business owners lives.

This is just one lie in the book, but not the last.

Mr Johnson - I live IN St. Louis. I’ve read many books on this city. Your essay on hate is just that.
Your sick assumptions of historical facts are your opinions, nothing more.

The atmosphere of our nation is a hot bed of race and political theater It infuriates me when our own citizens keep throwing logs onto the fire instead of reaching across the barriers that bind us to see and hear each other as individuals

4 people found this helpful

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She be Required Reading for all Elected Officials

This book opened my eyes to all of the "unspoken" parameters of all deals made in St. Louis. The rich manipulate wealth to make sure it flows One Way., and made off the backs of poor people. systemic racism at the highest level of precision occurs in STL. Even in 2020..ESPECIALLY in 2020!

3 people found this helpful

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Should be required listening in St Louis

Fantastic book. I learned so much about my city. As a white person, it has me reevaluating a lot of my values. The only criticism I have is the reader mispronounces a lot of (admittedly bastardized) St Louis names. He has a great voice though and is really easy to listen to.

3 people found this helpful

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A must READ

This book is excellent. It explicitly explores the numerous ways that the white power structure systematically raped, beat, and murdered (in the words of the American government “utter annihilation of NATIVE Americans and Blacks”). It exposes how racism is the fabric of American society . This is a non white washed historical account of PURE concentrated RACSIM in America and how the notion of white supremacy continues to run rampant in American society.

2 people found this helpful

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Great book but terrible audiobook

This is a really interesting book that anyone could enjoy but especially if you’re from St. Louis or Southern Illinois. however, if you are from within a 3 Hour Dr. of St. Louis do not listen to the audiobook as the narrator does not know how to pronounce anything correctly! It is truly an exercise in repeated frustration for hours! Sometimes it would take me chapters to figure out that when he’s talking about Soggit he really means Sauget. Somehow he pronounces Creve Coeur correctly though! It’s a wonder! And I want to pull my hair out every time he says St. Louisan. It’s dreadful.

2 people found this helpful

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Essential info about STL

I’m a lifelong STL’er. This book hits the nail on the head. It’s fact based and answers a lot of “why” questions for any St. Louis resident.

My criticism comes in the form of pronunciation of pronouns on the audio version. It was very poor and obviously not researched.

2 people found this helpful

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my Broken Heart

As a native of the town, I found the story riveting, wrenching and poignant. As so many likely would say, I am ill informed of the soil from which I have lived so the authors research and framing of what is indeed, my history opens my eyes in a new way. I appreciate the perspective, don’t always agree with his conclusions but believe this is a very useful lens to view though. I appreciate the Epilogue where he finds something redeeming about the city which in my view...warrants a second book to show that there is more to this jaded history.

Nonetheless, worth reading and sharing with others who know and care about our city. Small comment on the audio narration, the performance was excellent but the mispronunciation of many local names is something only a St. Louisan (term also mispronounced by the narrator) would catch.

2 people found this helpful

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Shocking

I went to school in the 1960s in St. Louis, Homer G Phillips. I am from Michigan and because of segregation could not attend close to home. Dr. Venable taught my Opthalmology class, never knew that he was an activist. I was there when they started the Arch. I had no idea of the history Of the neighborhood that was destroyed to create it. I managed to see Gaslight Square while it was thriving. I knew we were in the colored hospital in a poor section, but the operation was impeccable in spite of not having the same amenities as City #1. This was heartbreaking to listen too on many levels. My experience there was awesome but some of the names and places, held no significance until now. Great narration, loved the way he tied the history to today’s events. Truly eye opening, even East St. Louis, crossed those bridges many time, never knew the trauma and horror of the area as most places in US. I appreciate having been there and now learning the history. Good book.

2 people found this helpful

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Weird audio choices

They’ve changed the text of the book in the recording. Saying things like “I wrote this audiobook…” when it’s clear the text of the book just said “book”. They also bleep out swear words. Unclear what else is different. I recommend against listening here. Get the text of the book and have Kindle or a friend read it to you.

1 person found this helpful