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A full account of the Flint, Michigan, water scandal, an American tragedy, with new details, from an award-winning Michigan journalist.
When the people of Flint, Michigan, turned on their faucets in April 2014, the water pouring out was poisoned with lead and other toxins. Through a series of disastrous decisions, the state government had switched the city’s water to a source that corroded Flint’s aging lead pipes. Complaints about the foul-smelling water were dismissed: the residents of Flint―a largely poor African American city of about 100,000 people―were not seen as credible, even in matters of their own lives.
It took 18 months of citizen activism, in partnership with a band of dogged outsiders, to force the state to admit that the water was poisonous. But this was only after 12 people died and Flint’s children suffered irreparable harm. The long battle for accountability and a humane response to this manmade disaster has only just begun.
The Poisoned City recounts the gripping story of Flint’s poisoned water through the people who caused it, suffered from it, and exposed it. It is a chronicle of one town, but could also be about any American city, all made precarious by the neglect of infrastructure and the erosion of democratic decision-making. Cities like Flint are set up to fail―and for the people who live and work in them, the consequences may be mortal.
“An exceptional work of journalism. … Clark delivers a thorough account of a still-evolving public health crisis, one with an unmistakable racial subtext. … Her book is a deeply reported account of catastrophic mismanagement. But it’s also a celebration of civic engagement, a tribute to those who are fighting back against governmental malpractice.”
―San Francisco Chronicle
★★★★ out of four: “It’s hard to overstate how important Anna Clark’s new book The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy is … [A] taut, riveting and comprehensive account … Clark is meticulous in untangling the welter of misstatements, cover-ups and dismissals of the problem’s severity by officials convinced that staunching the red ink hemorrhaging the crippled economies of Flint and Michigan somehow was more important than children afflicted by lead poisoning.”
“Incisive and informed… Clark combines a staggering amount of research and several intimate story lines to reveal how the Michigan city was poisoned by its leaders and then largely abandoned to its fate by state officials…. Clark takes no prisoners, naming all the names and presenting the confirming research. ‘Neglect,’ she warns, ‘is not a passive force in American cities, but an aggressive one.’ The Poisoned City is an environmental tent revival for people who continue to suffer and a call to arms for everyone who values professional local journalism. Amen, Anna Clark, Amen.”
―Booklist (starred review)
“[A] complex, exquisitely detailed account … A potent cautionary tale of urban neglect and indifference. Infuriated readers will be heartened by the determined efforts of protesters and investigative reporters.”
―Kirkus (starred review)
“Searing scrutiny… Riveting… A sobering read through all the spin and cover ups… A cornucopia of history and responsibly researched details… I have yet to encounter a more thorough, accurate or readable account of the poisoning of Flint’s municipal water supply than The Poisoned City. This is an important book, for Flint, for all American cities, and for our nation.”
―East Village Magazine (Flint, Michigan)
“An arresting and copiously documented saga of moneyed corruption… A bracing, closely reported chronicle… Clark ably pieces together the grotesque convergence of forces that transformed Flint into a byword of failed oversight and artificially induced hazard. And she rightly notes that the water crisis, as sudden and unexpected as it might have seemed, was the culmination of more than a generation’s worth of systemic neglect and cynical austerity-minded pillaging from on high.”
An Amazon Best Book of July 2018: “Detroit journalist Anna Clark deftly sets the stage for Flint’s man-made disaster … Clark provides even-keeled reporting of the crisis even as the outrages pile up despite Michigan’s attempts to bury them. Those who also read A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr will wonder how we got to this point with bad water yet again…and why, this time, it’s the government who is harming its citizens. The Poisoned City will open readers’ eyes to both the scary truth that most of our cities rely on equally weak water infrastructure and how a city’s residents can force others to listen.
―Amazon Book Review
“The Poisoned City, by journalist Anna Clark, is gripping and packed with meticulously sourced reportage. … Clark’s rich account intersperses policy and environmental science with vivid portraits of Flint and its citizens, ramping up the tension as the horror unfolds. … must-reads — not only for those interested in environmental science and policymaking, but for anyone who believes that access to clean drinking water is a basic human right.”
“A journalist based in Detroit, Clark takes a broader, more measured approach to the Flint crisis, keeping herself out of the story and aiming for what she has called ‘a collective narrative’ of the local community. She is a smart, hard-working reporter who knows she has a great tale to tell … you admire her passion and her sweat. … Clark is particularly good at describing the importance of infrastructure in a functioning democracy … [and] writes powerfully about the environmental consequences of a shrinking city.”
―The New York Times Book Review
“The Poisoned City is…[a] comprehensive chronicle of the crisis—with an eye for the institutional corruption and indifference that enabled it.”
―The New York Times
“Compelling… A comprehensive account [that] boils down this complex tragedy… While devastating, this account is also inspiring in its coverage of the role of Flint’s “lionhearted residents” and their grassroots activism, community organizing, and independent investigation in bringing the crisis to national attention and to the courts. This extremely informative work gives an authoritative account of a true American urban tragedy that still continues.”
“[Clark] expertly ties together current events with some of the other corporate and government decisions that got Flint to this fateful point. ”
―The Chicago Tribune
“A compelling must-read about issues of environmental activism, urban issues, systemic racism, and the accountability of the government to the people it serves.”
“In this meticulously annotated, brutally honest (she names names), and compassionately narrated account of a disgraceful American crisis … The Poisoned City is a cautionary tale for every town and city across the land.”
―The Christian Science Monitor
“Clark’s exhaustive reporting covers every angle of the disaster, from Flint’s history that laid the bedrock for the crisis, to the headlines that finally broke through thanks to citizen scientists and local reporters who were forced to do the investigative legwork themselves—all amid government cover-ups and doctored testing.”
“Anna Clark’s new book, The Poisoned City, chronicles the obfuscation and outright deception that occurred after this fateful decision, leading to the contamination of thousands of residents, which include children who may suffer lifelong harm. It powerfully examines how a city once known for its industrial output—which sent quality engineered products around the world—failed to keep up basic infrastructure and put lives in grave danger.”
―The New Republic
“Richly detailed and unsparing … [Clark is] the right writer for this tale, and with her rich narrative skills, the story reads like an environmental thriller, its villain in plain sight. A stunning account of a manmade disaster … Clark delivers the story of a major tragedy we thought we knew with rich and in-depth detail that makes us realize how much we didn’t know. … Two decades ago, Thomas Sugrue’s seminal book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, detailed the abandonment and government neglect of American northern cities. Anna Clark’s book is equally important for detailing the urban crisis of this century.”
―The Women’s Review of Books
“Clark’s underlying conviction—her faith, if you will—is that facts matter, and that if facts are revealed, problems can be resolved, and those responsible for causing them can be held accountable. (… She makes her case not only through meticulously documented research … but by explicitly documenting how this sort of thing happens, using Flint as a sort of case study. … ‘In the end,’ she insists, ‘people just want to be seen.’”
―The American Interest
“As told by Detroit-based journalist Anna Clark, the story of Flint’s lead-tainted water crisis is heartbreaking in its depiction of a community already poisoned by racism long before a series of decisions made this poisoning literal and deadly.”
―Winnipeg Free Press
An iBooks Best Book of the Month: “We thought we were familiar with the public health crisis in Flint, Mich.—but Detroit journalist Anna Clark goes beneath the surface to explain the decades of negligence and miscues that led to one of the biggest urban disasters in American history. Clark’s clear, pointed prose makes her difficult subject matter easy to digest—and makes it clear how this type of debacle could happen again. As furious as the details made us, there’s an empowering undercurrent to The Poisoned City, thanks to the many brave individuals who fought for their town’s future amid this catastrophe.”
“With every heartbreaking detail, Anna Clark’s must-read and beautifully rendered account of the Flint water crisis makes clear that this horrific poisoning of an essential American city was never just an unfortunate accident. Instead, it was the tragic, and indeed tragically inevitable, result of the fiscal, as well as environmental, racism that seems to run as deeply and powerfully in this country as water itself.”
―Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy
“Anna Clark’s book on the Flint water crisis rises to a great challenge: it sacrifices neither complexity nor moral clarity. And by etching this story’s outlines in decades of racist neglect, it is not just a splendid work of journalism. It is a genuine contribution to history.”
―Rick Perlstein, author of The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan
“The story of the Flint crisis is disturbing enough even if one knows only a few details. But the entire case, as laid out by Anna Clark, is enraging. Clark has sifted the layers of politics, history, and myopic policy to chronicle the human costs of this tragedy. Flint is not an outlier, it’s a parable – one whose implications matter not just to a single municipality but to every city in the country and all who live in them.”
―Jelani Cobb, Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism, Columbia University
“The poisoning of Flint was unintentional but it was no accident. Read Anna Clark’s empathetic yet emphatic history and you will understand how this American tragedy could have been prevented – and why it wasn’t. Her book will make you mad, but it will also give you hope for the rebirth of our cities and maybe even our democracy.”
―Dan Fagin, author of Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation
“The Poisoned City is a gripping account of a devastating, unnatural disaster. Through deep research and on-the-ground reporting, Anna Clark makes the case that Flint’s water crisis is the result of decades of disinvestment and neglect, worsened by austerity policies and governmental malfeasance. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand America’s ongoing failure to deal with environmental injustice, racial inequality, and economic marginalization.”
―Thomas J. Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit
“The Poisoned City: Confronting the catastrophe in Flint.” Detroit Free Press.
“Michigan made Flint’s water crisis worse than it should have been.” Business Insider, August 24, 2018
Selected book coverage and interviews:
Book announcement: “Storytelling.” www.annaclark.net, April 5, 2016.
“Book examines water crisis and how Flint became ‘vulnerable in the first place.'” WMUK, September 17, 2018.
“Lead in drinking water: Key facts and reporting tips.” Journalist’s Resource, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, September 10, 2018.
“Author Anna Clark talks new book on Flint, ‘The Poisoned City.‘” WDET, August 6, 2018
“New book on Flint water crisis explores ‘toxic legacy’ of racist polices.” Michigan Radio, July 27, 2018.
“The truth about the poisoning of Flint, Michigan.” Amazon Book Review, July 25, 2018.
“EPA report on Flint gives insight into state drinking water programs.” KQED’s “The Forum,” July 20, 2018.
“The Poisoned City.” The Jim Bohannon Show, July 19, 2018.
“Reporter chronicles Flint water crisis in Poisoned City.” WKAR, July 13, 2018.
“How Elon Musk can really help Flint.” Jalopnik, July 12, 2018.
“‘Flint is the urban crisis of the century.’ A conversation with Anna Clark.” Pacific Standard, July 12, 2018.
“The next Flint water nightmare could be closer than you think.” VICE, July 11, 2018.
“How Flint’s water crisis happened, and why it isn’t over.” WBUR’s “Here & Now,” July 10, 2018.
“‘It isn’t just Flint.’ How the next water crisis could happen anywhere.” Mother Jones, July 9, 2018.
“Beach reads and big ideas: The 15 best new eco-books for July.” The Revelator, July 6, 2018.
“Detroit author Anna Clark tells how Flint’s saga became ‘The Poisoned City.’” Deadline Detroit, July 4, 2018.
“Most anticipated July 2018 books.” The Coil, July 2, 2018.
“11 books feminists should read in July.” Bitch Magazine, July 2, 2018.
“Podcast: RC Alumna Anna Clark’s book about the Flint water tragedy.” Residential College, University of Michigan, July 2, 2018.
“Author Anna Clark talks about ‘moral cowardice,’ ‘heroism,’ and ‘Flint fatigue.“ Deadline Detroit, July 1, 2018.
“Add these 6 titles to your summer reading list.” Hour Detroit, July 2018.
“The 15 best nonfiction books coming out in July 2018.” Bustle, June 30, 2018.
“What to read when you’ve made halfway through 2018.” The Rumpus, June 8, 2018.
“Notable books with Michigan hooks to stimulate your mind or help you unwind.” Metro Times, June 6, 2018.
“25 hot books for summer.” Chicago Tribune, May 22, 2018.
“Books we can’t wait to read in 2018.” Chicago Reader, December 31, 2017.
“Spring 2018: Politics & Current Events Top Ten.” Publisher’s Weekly. December 8, 2017.
“How do you write about Flint?” CityLab Q&A. The Atlantic, September 15, 2016.
“Water crisis writer Anna Clark takes EVM into national spotlight, probes many Flint stories.” East Village Magazine, September 2, 2016.
“Detroit writer Anna Clark gets first Flint book deal.” Deadline Detroit, April 7, 2016.
“Detroit journo Anna Clark reveals details on her upcoming book on the Flint crisis.” Metro Times, April 7, 2016.
“How national media failed Flint.” Media Matters for America, February 11, 2016.
“How have the media done covering the Flint water crisis?” WDET, February 1, 2016.
Selection of Anna Clark’s reporting on Flint, water, and cities:
“Will anyone be held at fault in Flint?” CityLab, August 29, 2018.
“Brainy books: Back-to-school reading for grown ups.” Sioux City Journal, August 27, 2018.
“The Poisoned City.” C-Span 2, Book TV, August 2, 2018.
“The Flint children were indeed ‘poisoned.'” New York Times (letter to the editor), July 28, 2018.
“Who could ever love the river now?” Laphham’s Quarterly, July 12, 2018.
“Pure-ish Michigan: State chips away at agency meant to protect the environment.” Detroit Free Press, June 21, 2018.
“‘An Equal Opportunity Lie’: How housing discrimination led to the Flint Water Crisis.“ Splinter, December 5, 2017.
“A guide to the 15 powerful people charged with poisoning Flint.” Splinter, June 19, 2017.
“In Flint, a new era for one of the oldest community outlets in the US.” Columbia Journalism Review, August 30, 2016.
“Flint is family: What’s next?” Elle Magazine, August 8, 2016. (Part of a package with Mattie Kahn and LaToya Ruby Frazier.)
“The city that unpoisoned its pipes.” Next City, August 8, 2016.
“How the Flint water crisis and a statehouse scandal gave a boost to FOIA reform in Michigan.” Columbia Journalism Review, June 21, 2016.
“Flint prepares to be left behind once more.” The New Republic, March 3, 2016.
“How covering the Flint water crisis has changed Michigan Radio.” Columbia Journalism Review, February 15, 2016.
“The struggle for accountability in Flint.” The Boston Review, February 2, 2015.
“Where can a city turn when the tap water turns poisonous?” Next City, December 3, 2015.
“How an investigative journalist helped prove a city was being poisoned with its own water.” Columbia Journalism Review, November 3, 2015.
“This stadium project didn’t leave the neighborhood out of the equation.” Next City, October 29, 2015.
“Going without water in Detroit.” New York Times, July 3, 2015.
“Flint, Michigan, has an ambitious new plan to fight blight.” Next City, March 16, 2015.