How the Word is Passed: Audiobook Review

This book recording was read by the author, Clint Smith.

Before I Start My How the Word Is Passed Review…

To preface this audiobook review of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith, I think it’s important to share a tiny amount of my own background. The reason is that, as far as I can tell, this book was written by an American mainly for an American audience. I am Canadian. I’ve always lived in Canada. Though I know we touched on American history in high school, it was from the perspective of how it affected us here in Canada. Therefore, aside from knowing, for instance, that Thomas Jefferson was a president, all I knew about him – until Hamilton came out at least – was that he was “the Louisiana Purchase guy.” Speaking of Hamilton, until reading this book, that musical (and the rabbit holes I fell into as I became curious about some of the lyrics) was essentially my main source of American history from that period.

I feel this is important to share because, while I have been exceptionally interested in Canadian history and took many courses on that subject throughout high school and university, American history has always been somewhat of a gauzy patchwork of random details in my mind. As a result, the revelations in the How the Word Is Passed weren’t likely as shocking to me as they would have been to someone who went through a typical US education curriculum, for instance. Still, Clint Smith related the reactions of the people he met so effectively, that I can understand how thoroughly and widely buried much of Black history has been in the US.

Moreover, while the book didn’t examine Black history in Canada (not a criticism, that wasn’t the point of this book), I know that the situation has been the same here in terms of its absence from mainstream education until quite recently. In my own experience, nearly two decades after having taken all those courses I mentioned earlier, I took some new Canadian history courses as a kind of refresher. It was eye-opening. The courses I took were phenomenal and dived into Black and Indigenous histories in Canada in a way that opened my eyes to how much I’d missed. I had no idea how much I didn’t know. Even now, I know I’ve only just scratched the surface. (Note: I highly recommend taking Indigenous Canada – a free online University of Alberta course for a big whomp of perspective).

Rightieroo, enough blathering about me. Here’s the How the Word Is Passed audiobook review you came here for.

How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

The How the Word Is Passed audiobook was both written and narrated by Clint Smith. It’s a steady-paced, thoughtful, fascinating read that fills every line with knowledge and emotion. At the same time, its style is subtle, personal, and respectful. It looks widespread ignorance directly in the eye, offering the uninformed the opportunity to inform themselves. It assumes little and offers an engaging, curious, and important message. This book should be read.

I’ve attempted to make this review as spoiler-free as I possibly can. Any information specific to the story doesn’t go any further than what you’d see in its description on Goodreads, Audible, or Amazon.

The Good Stuff About the How the Word Is Passed Audiobook

How the Word is Passed Audiobook Review

I thoroughly enjoyed the way Smith used How the Word is Passed to share a detailed, thoughtful story of some of the most important historical sites – memorials, plantations, museums, cemeteries, prisons – in the United States through his personal experience. I deeply appreciated the journey he took, what he wrote about his own impression of the places, and that he included the reactions of some of the other site visitors as well.

In a highly approachable way, Smith used extraordinary skill to honestly and truthfully examine how Americans broadly teach and understand their history of slavery and Black culture. He then contrasted that with what actually happened in the history of each of the sites he visited. It was alive and eye opening.

Clint Smith as Narrator

When I first started listening to the How the Word is Passed audiobook, I thought my primary criticism would be the way it was narrated. It was read by Clint Smith, whose smooth, steady, and calm voice was easy to listen to. That said, when listening to a smooth, steady, and calm voice, my wandering-prone mind will indeed wander. This happened a few times early on. It sometimes takes me a few minutes to latch on to a book and get drawn in (it’s not the book, it’s me).

Having listened beyond that initial hurdle though, I couldn’t imagine anyone but Smith reading this audiobook. After that first short time, I became thoroughly engrossed in every story, every word. It was a wonderful performance. I can’t imagine hearing his experience from anyone else.

Closing Thoughts

How the Word is Passed is a great book and audiobook. It should win important awards – if it hasn’t already. I haven’t checked. I’m grateful for having spotted John Green’s recommendation to read it. This is the type of book that should be taught in schools. Its Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America is powerful, emotional, and necessary.

I highly recommend the How the Word is Passed* audiobook. Have a listen as you allow yourself to learn new things, enjoy a new perspective, and appreciate the opportunity to be thoughtful as you examine what you’ve learned for the first time and reexamine what you thought you already knew.

*My website is supported by its users. I sometimes earn commission when you click through the affiliate links on this website


Published by Julie B Campbell

Julie B. Campbell is a Canadian fiction author and co-author (with Amanda Giasson) of the Perspective series books ("Love at First Plight", "Second Wind", "Third Time's a Charmer", and "So On and So Fourth"). Julie has also written children's books such as "The Elephant-Wolf" and "Finding Manda's Sunshine", as well as her most recent kids' title "An Ogre Ate My Sparkles!". She is a rosacea blogger and YouTuber under the name Rosy JulieBC.

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