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Publisher's Summary

New York Times Best Seller

Longlisted for the National Book Award

One of today’s most insightful and influential thinkers offers a powerful exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: Racism has a cost for everyone - not just for people of color.

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal

“This is the book I’ve been waiting for.” (Ibram X. Kendi, number one New York Times best-selling author of How to Be an Antiracist

Heather McGhee’s specialty is the American economy - and the mystery of why it so often fails the American public. From the financial crisis of 2008 to rising student debt to collapsing public infrastructure, she found a root problem: racism in our politics and policymaking. But not just in the most obvious indignities for people of color. Racism has costs for white people, too. It is the common denominator of our most vexing public problems, the core dysfunction of our democracy and constitutive of the spiritual and moral crises that grip us all. But how did this happen? And is there a way out?

McGhee embarks on a deeply personal journey across the country from Maine to Mississippi to California, tallying what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm—the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others. Along the way, she meets white people who confide in her about losing their homes, their dreams, and their shot at better jobs to the toxic mix of American racism and greed. This is the story of how public goods in this country—from parks and pools to functioning schools - have become private luxuries; of how unions collapsed, wages stagnated, and inequality increased; and of how this country, unique among the world’s advanced economies, has thwarted universal healthcare.

But in unlikely places of worship and work, McGhee finds proof of what she calls the Solidarity Dividend: the benefits we gain when people come together across race to accomplish what we simply can’t do on our own. The Sum of Us is not only a brilliant analysis of how we arrived here but also a heartfelt message, delivered with startling empathy, from a black woman to a multiracial America. It leaves us with a new vision for a future in which we finally realize that life can be more than a zero-sum game.

©2021 Heather McGhee (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Illuminating and hopeful.... McGhee isn’t a stinging polemicist; she cajoles instead of ridicules. She appeals to concrete self-interest in order to show how our fortunes are tied up with the fortunes of others. ‘We suffer because our society was raised deficient in social solidarity,’ she writes, explaining that this idea is ‘true to my optimistic nature.’ She is compassionate but also clear-eyed, refusing to downplay the horrors of racism.... There is a striking clarity to this book; there is also a depth of kindness in it that all but the most churlish readers will find moving.” (Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times)

“In this critical moment where we have fallen so far apart, The Sum of Us is a book we all need. For close to a decade, the BlackLivesMatter movement has been doing the work to change how racism, and America's willful amnesia surrounding it, devastatingly impacts the lives of Black people in America and around the world. This book provides an important and necessary piece of the equation - not just how racism hurts Black people and people of color, but white people, too. The Sum of Us is a must read for everyone who wants to understand how we got here, but more importantly, where we can go from here - and how we get there, together.” (Alicia Garza, author of The Purpose of Power and co-founder of Black Lives Matter) 

"A book for every American." (Elizabeth Gilbert)

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What listeners say about The Sum of Us

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Good book but Recording tech is poor. Glitches

Good overview of the way government spending has been misguided by unfounded racial fears. A significant study and the author is not bad for a first timer.
But
Every chapter so far has multiple recording hiccups, leading to unfinished sentences and incomplete thoughts. Not sure how audible assures recording quality but a book publisher would not accept poor printing. Why is audible okay with recording flaws?

19 people found this helpful

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Brilliant!

This book, quite simply, is brilliant. I am a white man, and although I consider myself very progressive on the issue of racism in America, I was stunned at how much my eyes were opened by this book. It should be required reading for all Americans.

11 people found this helpful

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Enlightening Must Read!

The Sum Of US by Heather McGhee is truly one of the best books I have read on racism and social justice in America. McGhee does a phenomenal job synthesizing how history, public policies, and perspectives have fallen short for all of us. The core thesis is that the Zero Sum assumption has harmed all of us and that we are in fact much stronger when we work together for policies that benefit the public. Zero Sum assumes that resources/jobs/money are limited, so if another group gets some, you will get less. This line of thinking simply is not true and acting this way, actually damages the majority of Americans by denying/voting against services that would benefit all, such as health insurance/care, voting rights/access, public infrastructure/schools, labor unions, etc.

Each chapter is devoted to public services provided in all other wealthy Western countries, many that were once provided here to white citizens, that we no longer have vast access to. Some of the topics include: Public Parks/Pools, Home Ownership + Predatory Lending, Environmental Protection/Regulation, Voting Rights/Access, Labor Unions, Segregation, etc. As the country and public policy has supposedly become less racist, it has drastically cut many services that would benefit all and increase the wealth, stability, and fulfillment of the majority. Corporations have reaped the benefits of division and poor public policies, money has gone to the top, which has created ever-growing wealth inequity and disparity. McGhee posits that the solution is unifying and integrating ourselves for common purposes, which will help us find strength and community. She references multiple situations in which people have come together for a common goal and had dramatic successes. This is a remarkable book and should be read by all Americans!

8 people found this helpful

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Amazing and Enlightening

Wow, this was a fantastic listen. This book gives so many examples and connects the dots of how the discriminatory practices of the past have been "white washed" into the "anti-government" distrust of the present. I saw one review that was unhappy that the book didn't offer solutions...I respectfully disagree. The false idea that "If they (minorities/immigrants) lose, I win" must be understood first, in order to be exposed as the myth that it is. There is no silver bullet, but the book shares so many examples of the solidarity dividend that can be achieved if we come together. Thank you Heather McGhee.

8 people found this helpful

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A very important conversation

Very important analysis. Unless we come to terms with the realities it describes, we will continue to wander in the wilderness and miss the better future that is possible.

7 people found this helpful

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Sometimes Frustrating, Always Thought-Provoking

Full disclosure - my politics are somewhere in the center right/exasperated middle area, so I came into this knowing I probably wouldn't agree with all the author's conclusions. Sure enough, while the book doesn't outright state that conservative positions are intrinsically racist, it doesn't give much consideration to the possibility that well-intentioned people could arrive at those positions for principled reasons.

That being said, this was a fascinating and worthwhile listen for me. While I questioned some of the broad assertions, the anecdotes of people whom the system failed were eye-opening, and I found myself pretty sympathetic towards the author's main criticism of the zero-sum mindset. I actually feel like the book touches on some areas where progressives and conservatives might be able to find common ground (e.g. prison reform and zoning restrictions). Heck, Chapter 9 even briefly touches on media bias.

As far as the narration goes, the author does a fantastic job. Not every writer should be narrating their own work, but Heather McGhee has a pleasant voice and good cadence. No complaints there.

6 people found this helpful

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Calling us into relationships

All the stories illustrated the importance of having the courage to build authentic relationships.

6 people found this helpful

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I wish everyone could experience this book

So much important information on Black history, recent financial and policy choices and their impact on nearly everyone. It is eye-opening and important to hear. Heather McGee does an excellent job of connecting the dots and gives us hope on how we can move forward.

6 people found this helpful

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Stunning in its affect on my experience of Being Human

Hats off to you, Ms. McGhee for guiding me through an odyssey of the nearly comprehensive subjugation of an entire people - upon whose efforts we stake our assertions of greatness.

Although we have effectively looted humanity's Karma Kitty to be here.

God's calendar must be marked with an if and if yes; when - 'this', whatever it is we are - is settled as earned.

Thank you.

5 people found this helpful

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Great listen!

Well researched and well written. Sweeping in its scope but kept focus on what the underlying problem is in America - that racism hurts all of us!

5 people found this helpful