Just because Johnson teaches at Harvard doesn’t mean that the writing in “The Broken Heart of America” is heavy or academic. He moves the story forward quickly and chronologically and shows an occasional flair. Franz Sigel, a figure of St. Louis in the mid-19th century, is portrayed as follows: “Of medium height, thin and stern, with hollow cheeks and dark sunken eyes, he looked like Johnny Depp dressed to play Dracula. . “
A few pages later, he describes the 20-foot statue of Sigel in Forest Park as that of a “frozen communist.” He quotes at length comedian Dick Gregory’s tongue-in-cheek observations on the effects of the segregation of St. Louis and describes local gentrification efforts in the concise words of activist Ivory Perry: “Abduction of Blacks by Approval of Whites “.
Johnson generally sticks to his main thesis, although some readers may find his discussions of union activities and Communist influence a bit too long and a bit too distant. But it brings the story of local racial history back to the present day with the murder of Michael Brown and the ensuing backlash that made “Ferguson” a synonym for the Black Lives Matter movement.
And he assesses the current situation:
“St. Louis, a national leader in both tax evasion and predatory lending, is once again a frontier city of the future, this time a pioneer in the modes of extraction and dispossession by which people who have been deprived of their ‘just about everything else – neighborhoods, jobs, education, healthcare, security – can be dried up.