Sarah Kendzior has done it again with Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America. This is 320 pages of hard truths, and may or may not feel like healthy quarantine reading. Especially considering how much scarier everything has gotten since she finished writing this book.

But I’d rather see the world through clear perspective and analysis. Rose-colored glasses aren’t my jam. Kendzior posits that the factors leading to the election of Donald Trump started years and years ago. She discusses his long-held connections to Russia, and their correlation to his various attempts to run for President.

But this story is so much more than just one man. It’s a confluence of events, including the Ferguson, Missouri killing of Michael Brown. And as a resident of St. Louis, that’s an event Kendzior has closer ties to than all the journalists who temporarily flew in from the coasts.

She clarifies how her city and state changed from wholesome Midwest to corrupt to the core. And that this wasn’t unique to Missouri, but a symptom of changes happening throughout the country. In the process, some of the usual suspects show up here: Michael Cohen, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner. And although the latter hasn’t been charged, Kendzior lays out some suspicious dealings. And she delves a little deeper into the Jeffrey Epstein story as well.

My conclusions

You would expect this book to be dark, and it is. It is also written clearly and succinctly, without any bloat. I suppose Kendzior realized that her readers, like me, had probably already read a few books about this GOP administration. Like me, they didn’t need to hear about every single event again.

Instead, what she does is look at this from the eyes of an expert in autocracy. Kendzior is a Ph.D. anthropologist and researcher, in addition to being a journalist. She’s been studying autocratic regimes for more than a decade. To me, this was a fresh perspective more reminiscent of Timothy Snyder than Seth Abramson. (Who are both excellent, by the way.)

As the America we’ve known during our lives erodes, Kendzior suggests that we get out and experience it for ourselves. She takes trips around the country with her kids, so they can see the Rocky Mountains and more. So they can visit Presidential Libraries and other historic sites. Well, I suggest that we explore these sites from home, even while on quarantine. Find their Facebook and Twitter accounts. See what virtual tours you and your family can take. Learn the history now.

And, in the process, we will be reminded that America is so much more than the occupant of the White House. It is history and change, with many languages spoken, and kinds of climate. And it’s worth fighting against corruption so that our kids and grandkids have something in their lives resembling what we’ve had in ours. [end book-inspired rant]

I recommend this book if you’re a student of history, and want to see the living history of the last few decades playing out in the political situation of today. You may need to read it in small bites, but don’t let that stop you.

Pair with either On Tyranny or The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder. Alternately, try something inspiring as a pair, like We Are The Change We Seek: Speeches of Barack Obama.


Many thanks to NetGalley, Flatiron Books, and the author for a digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.