Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s bestseller, Days of Destruction Days of Revolt has been on my “to read” list since January of 2013. I believe it had come out in late 2012, and my nonfiction professor used an excerpt of it for class reading the following quarter. I was so hooked by the excerpt, that I can’t believe it has taken me this long to actually sit down and read.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this book is it’s format. It’s a collaboration project between Hedges, a journalist, and Sacco, a political cartoonist. Most of the book is prose written by Hedges, but Sacco’s drawings are interspersed, giving the reader a sense of the people being talked about and the landscapes that surround the five parts of the nation Hedges tackles. Some sections of chapters are even told completely in cartoon form, and look a lot like comic books.
This is not the most uplifting read. The book focuses on five different places in the United States: Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Camden, New Jersey, Welch, West Virginia, Immokalee, Florida, and Liberty Square, New York City. All of these places are what Hedges calls “sacrifice zones,” areas of the country that have essentially been sacrificed in some way for or because of economic gain. Hedges and Sacco tackle life of reservations in the Midwest, cities that are decaying because of the flight of industry overseas, the rampant coal industry in Appalachia, the exploitation of migrant workers in the agriculture business, and the Occupy movement. These are huge, heavy topics, but Hedges and Sacco frame them in such a way that they feel manageable.
A great strength of the book is that Hedges lets the people of these five places do the talking. Yes, he includes a lot of exposition and research that he has done, but for the most part, the book moves forward through personal stories and narratives, like the residents of Welch who refuse to let the coal companies take their homes, or the Guatemalan migrant in Florida who is trying to cobble together a life for herself and her children. Hedges doesn’t judge peoples’ stories, he just lets them talk on the page, and Sacco puts a face to the names. The book has a chilling quality about it, and I think it is because we get to see renderings of these people. They aren’t anonymous; they are real people living in these situations and that comes through in the text.
As the title suggests, a major undertone of this book is revolt, or revolution. Hedges spends time in almost every chapter looking at the origins of the United States; we are here because we revolted. At what point are we going to experience another revolt? The amount of control Hedges and Sacco exercise in the writing and drawing of this book is incredible. At no point do either of them attempt to offer solutions or outright condemnations, but they do lay out all sides of the stories being told. This is a truly incredible book, and an incredibly important book. There are parts that aren’t easy to read because they are painful, almost impossible to imagine, but good writing and journalism doesn’t aim to make people comfortable. It aims to point out how comfortable we have gotten with the status quo, and why that is a bad thing. So even though this is a dense book, it is one that everyone should have to read at some point