Book Review

Murder Incorporated

Book Review by Greg Palast

Murder Incorporated: Empire, Genocide and Manifest Destiny, Book One: Dreaming of Empire

By Mumia Abu-Jamal and Stephen Viottoria

Published by Prison Radio

Why does a caged bird sing?  Well, this one sings with a warning shriek to wake the walking brain-dead.  Mumia writes, from his life-without-parole cage, that we are all imprisoned by a myth that kills:  American’s self-claimed exceptionalism that chews on the bodies and souls those in the way of a greed-maddened imperial elite. 

Weirdly, it’s lots of fun. 

Co-authored with Stephen Vittoria, the stories jump from Pocahontas to Richard Pryor, Allen Ginsberg to Nat Turner’s rebellion. With tons of oh-shit! revelations, quotes you want to underline, descriptions that combine jive poetry with erudite historical analytics, stuff you didn’t know and you now want everyone to know.

The book’s construction is insanely original, like nothing you’ve ever read, devoid of Lefty cant. Five-hundred years of America is a dive into a roaring flow of long quotes from voices of deranged despots and their academic quislings and words of impossibly courageous truth-tellers.

Here’s a random example from a hundred I could quote—the voice of the lionized Ralph Waldo Emerson, beating Manifest Destiny’s drum:

“It is race, is it not? That puts the hundred-millions of India under the dominion of a remote island in the north of Europe. Race avails much...Race is a controlling influence in the Jew, who for two millenniums, under every climate, has preserved the same character and employments. Race in the Negro is of appalling importance...I chanced to read Tacitus ‘On the Manners of the Germans...’ and I found abundant points of resemblance between the Germans of the Hercynian forest, and our Hoosiers, Suckers, and Badgers of the American woods.”

It’s excruciating—as the authors simply let America embarrass itself.  But then we are redeemed by Harriett Tubman, as a child slave, hiding four days in a pig-sty, fighting with a mama pig over the scraps and swill, a little girl starved for freedom—an image placed to foreshadow new cruelties set on Tubman’s children today.

What a story. Events and eras are gouged open and revealed, sometimes in just one or two sentences. But that’s all that’s needed to give you what the authors call, “the grim, black and white meat-hook of reality.”

Wow.  Read it.

Greg Palast is a Puffin Foundation fellow in investigative reporting and author of the New York Times bestseller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.