NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From an award-winning journalist at The Atlantic, these searing essays make a powerful case that “real hope lies not in a sunny nostalgia for American greatness but in seeing this history plain—in all of its brutality, unadorned by euphemism” (The New York Times).
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • “No writer better demonstrates how American dreams are so often sabotaged by American history. Adam Serwer is essential.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates
Featuring additional elements: essays on how the Supreme Court undermines justice, and a new epilogue that connects the post-reconstruction narrative with today’s political discourse
To many, our most shocking political crises appear unprecedented—un-American, even. But they are not, writes The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer in this prescient essay collection, which dissects the most devastating moments in recent memory to reveal deeply entrenched dynamics, patterns as old as the country itself. The January 6 insurrection, anti-immigrant sentiment, and American authoritarianism all have historic roots that explain their continued power with or without President Donald Trump—a fact borne out by what has happened since his departure from the White House.
Serwer argues that Trump is not the cause, he is a symptom. Serwer’s phrase “the cruelty is the point” became among the most-used descriptions of Trump’s era, but as this book demonstrates, it resonates across centuries. The essays here combine revelatory reporting, searing analysis, and a clarity that’s bracing. In this new, expanded version of his bestselling debut, Serwer elegantly dissects white supremacy’s profound influence on our political system, looking at the persistence of the Lost Cause, the past and present of police unions, the mythology of migration, and the many faces of anti-Semitism. In so doing, he offers abundant proof that our past is present and demonstrates the devastating costs of continuing to pretend it’s not. The Cruelty Is the Point dares us, the reader, to not look away.
Adam Serwer has been a staff writer for the Ideas section of The Atlantic since 2016, focusing on contemporary politics, often viewed through the lens of history. He is the recipient of the 2015 Sigma Delta Chi award for commentary, the 2019 Salute to Excellence award for commentary from the National Association of Black Journalists, and the 2019 Hillman Prize for opinion journalism. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his family.
“Serwer’s writing has been indispensable to understanding the chaotic world around us. Incisive, elegant, and deeply anchored in history, The Cruelty Is the Point is an essential guide to a perilous time in American life.”—Jelani Cobb, New Yorker contributor and author of The Substance of Hope
“Adam Serwer is the most incisive political writer of our time.”—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“The essays in The Cruelty Is the Point combine an unsparing accounting of our history with an astute examination of our present.”—Wesley Lowery, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author of They Can’t Kill Us All
“Serwer’s powerful truth-telling grabs us, shakes us, and warns us that as long as we wishfully forget the history of American cruelty, we will fail to see it coming for all that we hold dear.”—Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us
“No journalist has done more to advance our understanding of American power abuse in the age of Donald Trump than Adam Serwer.”—Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad
“For those of us trying to find our way through the fog of the Trump era, Adam Serwer’s essays served as a constant source of illumination and inspiration. The Cruelty Is the Point is an absolute must-read.”—Kevin M. Kruse, professor of history, Princeton University
“Atlantic journalist Serwer reflects on the antecedents, methods, and legacies of Trumpism in his clear-eyed and incisive debut essay collection. . . . Serwer draws parallels [and] . . .[CE1] threads in snippets of his own biracial background and offers concise and illuminating history lessons on the Nation of Islam, the eugenics movement in America, and police unionization, among other topics. . . . This sober-minded inquiry into the Trump era provides essential perspective.”—Publishers Weekly
“A cogent examination of the challenges America faces. In a vigorous collection of more than a dozen essays, award-winning journalist Serwer, a staff writer at The Atlantic and former fellow at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, considers the social and ideological forces that led to Trump’s presidency and, without intervention, will continue to shape American society. . . . A strong contribution to conversations about racism, injustice, and violence, all of which continue to plague this country.”—Kirkus Reviews