Jonathan M. Metzl
Jonathan M. Metzl

Jonathan M. Metzl is the Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry and the director of the Department of Medicine, Health, and Society, at Vanderbilt University. The award-winning author of Dying of Whiteness and six other books, he hails from Kansas City, Missouri, and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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What We’ve Become

IN STORES NOW

A penetrating look at our failed attempts to curb gun violence….Metzl’s argument is consistently persuasive….A powerful, convincing effort to reframe the discussion around gun control and its discontents.”

✰ Named a New York Times Editor’s Choice Pick ✰

A searing reflection on the broken promise of safety in America.

When a naked, mentally ill white man with an AR-15 killed four young adults of color at a nearby Waffle House, Nashville-based physician and gun policy scholar Dr. Jonathan M. Metzl once again advocated for commonsense gun reform. But as he peeled back evidence surrounding the racially charged mass shooting, a shocking question emerged: Did the approach he championed have it all wrong?

Long a leading expert at the forefront of a movement advocating for gun reform as a matter of public health, Dr. Metzl has been on constant media call in the aftermath of fatal shootings. But the 2018 Nashville killings led him on a path toward recognizing the limitations of biomedical frameworks for fully diagnosing or treating the impassioned complexities of American gun politics. Increasingly, as Dr. Metzl came to understand it, public health is a harder sell in a nation that fundamentally disagrees about what it means to be safe, healthy, or free. This brilliant, piercing analysis shows mass shootings as a symptom of our most unresolved national conflicts. What We’ve Become ultimately sets us on the path of alliance-forging, racial-reckoning, and political power-brokering we must take to put things right.

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Praise for What We’ve Become

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  • I know of few other thinkers who so consistently diagnoses what ails America. Jonathan Metzl has once again identified a cultural fault line in how we process care in this country and shown us its racialized dimensions. This is the clarion call everyone who professes concern about the state of guns in this country. As Metzl shows, the NRA has long known what the left has not — the gun debate is won through hearts and minds and not statistics. If we stand a chance in hell of fighting back and remaking America in the image of gun safety, we need this book, now!”

    — Michael Eric Dyson, New York Times bestselling author of Tears We Cannot Stop
  • In What We’ve Become, leading gun policy scholar Jonathan Metzl probes the question many of us ask each time another mass shooting occurs: how can lawmakers allow the slaughter to continue unabated despite its obvious toll on human lives? Metzl compellingly rejects the public health approach he once promoted, which frames gun violence as a biomedical problem and fails to grapple with the racism that shapes both its causes and proposed solutions. His call to see gun safety instead as a political issue in need of a social justice response makes an essential contribution to the raging national debate.”

    — Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body
  • Jonathan Metzl has done it again. This genre-changing book tells the story of a harrowing, racially charged mass shooting in Nashville, Tennessee — powerfully rethinking many of the core assumptions that public health has traditionally tied to gun violence in this country. The implications of this vital work are immense, far reaching, and necessarily disruptive.

    — Aletha Maybank, MDMPH
  • This extraordinary book takes a deep dive into an act of racialized aggression in Nashville to show how our collective failure to stop mass shootings betrays the democracy envisaged by the framers of our Constitution: a democracy where people with differing viewpoints solve common problems by peaceful means.”

    — Callie Kouri, Academy Award winning screenwriter, producer, and director; creator of the series Nashville
  • We Americans find ourselves, quite literally and too often, staring down the barrel of a gun. The question now is how are we going to react, not just to protect our families but also our democracy. Through his analysis of the Waffle House shooting and a requisite examination of race, governance, imagination, and social interaction, Jonathan Metzl challenges all conventional notions of how we should respond to this fully loaded threat to our republic. What We’ve Become is must-read material for policymakers, changemakers and advocates.”

    — Rep. John Ray Clemmons, Chairman, Tennessee House Democratic Caucus
  • Jonathan Metzl has his finger on the pulse of another critical blind spot in American culture. This time he turns his attention to how the gun control movement has misunderstood the ideological significance of firearms and mass shootings, over-investing in public health, and ignoring the underlying motivations of race. This book will change the way we think about guns in America, and about the America armed and defined by guns.”

    — Brittney Cooper, New York Times bestselling author of Eloquent Rage
  • What We’ve Become” is a lamentation for the senseless epidemic of gun violence that punctuates our everyday lives in the United States, killing loved ones, injuring families, destroying communities, and traumatizing society. It’s also a revelation. Compelled by the immensity of this national tragedy to question dearly held theories and his own medical expertise, Jonathan Metzl, puts forth an unflinching diagnosis of the origins of this rampant violence. Dr. Metzl uncovers an epidemic with both a social and political etiology, the remedy for which will require an honest accounting of American society’s racial fissures and courageous policy solutions. A brave book from a visionary thinker that will save lives and should fundamentally change the way policymakers think about how to protect them.”

    — Alondra Nelson, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University
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    A Nashville 2018 mass shooting is at the heart of 'What We've Become' | MSNBC Morning Joe

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    Psychiatrist advocates for reforming U.S. approach to gun safety | PBS News Hour

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    Jonathan Metzl: Dying of Whiteness | Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)

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    MORNING JOE: “Dying of Whiteness” looks at heartland Trump voters | msnbc.com

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    Jonathan Metzl discusses “Dying of Whiteness” on CNN | cnn.com

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    Two doctors say stop blaming mental health for mass shootings | CNN

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Acclaimed Psychiatrist and Author Focusing on Guns, Race, Gender, and Healthcare

“What is the meaning of public health in an armed society?” asks psychiatrist and author Dr. JONATHAN METZL. In his highly anticipated new book, What We’ve Become: Living and Dying in a Country of Arms, Metzl takes on an urgent topic: mass shootings and the contested social and racial politics of American firearms.

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Dying of Whiteness

New Edition Available February 4, 2024

A physician’s provocative” (Boston Globe) and timely” (New York Times Book Review) account of how right-wing backlash policies have deadly consequences — even for the white voters they promise to help.

In election after election, conservative white Americans have embraced politicians who pledge to make their lives great again. But as physician Jonathan M. Metzl shows in Dying of Whiteness, the policies that result actually place white Americans at ever-greater risk of sickness and death. Interviewing a range of everyday Americans, Metzl examines how racial resentment has fueled progun laws in Missouri, resistance to the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, and cuts to schools and social services in Kansas. He shows these policies’ costs: increasing deaths by gun suicide, falling life expectancies, and rising dropout rates.

Now updated with a new afterword, Dying of Whiteness demonstrates how much white America would benefit by emphasizing cooperation rather than chasing false promises of supremacy.

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Praise for DYING OF WHITENESS

It is the rare book that has the potential to transform thinking so thoroughly that it offers to change a paradigm. Jonathan Metzl has written such a book with Dying of Whiteness. The conventional understanding of health disparities must take a different shape because of this groundbreaking work.”

American Journal of Public Health

Provocative…brings a unique blend of psychiatric insight and data analysis-as well as some nifty philosophical insights into what people mean by concepts of risk, cost, and community-to a problem that will no doubt persist even beyond our current presidency.”

Boston Globe

Traveling through the American heartland, a physician deconstructs how right-wing policies have fatal consequences, even for the voters they purport to help. Metzl paints a blistering portrait of a subculture so in thrall to racist ideology that they willingly invite rising gun suicides, poor healthcare, and falling life expectancies.”

Esquire

Jonathan Metzl chillingly shows how white identity permeates present-day policymaking outside of Washington.”

— Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post

There is a propulsive force to this account that is hard to shake. That’s because of the data Metzl assembles: compelling, grim, and arresting data, presented in clear prose and heartbreaking charts and tables…In the end, it is Metzl’s shocking conclusions that keep ringing in your head long after you put his book down.”

Public Books

Remarkable…Through field interviews, research and public-health data, Metzl shows that whites are harming themselves along with everyone else, and in drastic ways…A weighty but smooth read, devoid of polemics or jargon.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune

There is a propulsive force to this account that is hard to shake. That’s because of the data Metzl assembles: compelling, grim, and arresting data, presented in clear prose and heartbreaking charts and tables…In the end, it is Metzl’s shocking conclusions that keep ringing in your head long after you put his book down.”

Christian Century

Malcolm X began by adoring whiteness, grew to hate white people and, ultimately, despised the false concept of white superiority – a killer of people of color. And not only them: low- and middle-income white people too, as Metzl’s timely book shows, with its look at Trump-era policies that have unraveled the Affordable Care Act and contributed to rising gun suicide rates and lowered life expectancies.”

— Ibram X. Kendi, New York Times Book Review

Groundbreaking…Metzl methodically and adeptly marshals statistical evidence that policies promising to bolster white Americans’ status have instead made life sicker, harder, and shorter’ for all…”

Publishers Weekly

A provocative, instructive contribution to the literature of public health as well as of contemporary politics.”

Kirkus Reviews

Insightful and original.”

National Book Review

Metzl details social changes in Missouri, Tennessee, and Kansas, where white Americans backed changes that, ironically, dramatically harmed them with gun suicides, school dropouts, worse healthcare, and shorter life spans…A rich, nuanced and complex book…A major contributin to public health, sociology, and American studies.”

LitMed

Metzl allows citizens to speak for themselves, adding authenticity to his project…As the tragedies that Metzl illustrates become more widely known, perhaps reason and humility will regain their place in American political discourse.”

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Here is the diagnosis, America, and it’s not reassuring: Failing health, falling graduation rates, guns everywhere. Our fantasies are driving us to an early grave, and Jonathan Metzl is lucid and careful and mercifully clinical in telling us exactly how this public health disaster came to be. Read it today: there’s still time before the autopsy.”

— Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America 

Dying of Whiteness unveils how the very policies marketed to white people as making America great again’ end up harming the well-being of whites as a demographic group. This is must reading for anyone interested in understanding the current racial landscape of the United States.”

— Jelani Cobb, Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism, Columbia Journalism School

Dying of Whiteness brilliantly demonstrates the tremendous impediment that white racism and backlash politics pose to our society’s wellbeing, at a time when many white Americans quite literally would rather die than support policies they see as benefiting people of color. Jonathan M. Metzl issues an urgently needed call to acknowledge the deadly toll of investing in whiteness-and to work collectively toward a just society that would be healthier for everyone.”

— Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body

Copious data have long shown us the deadly effects of racist health policies on African Americans. But in Dying of Whiteness, Jonathan M. Metzl powerfully shows us this coin’s reverse: the deadly effects on white populations of contemporary policies promulgated by vengeful politicians to restore’ an imaginary white superiority, and embraced by resentful, marginalized whites. Dying of Whiteness illuminates the dual devastation wrought by policies that limit access to care for the poor of every race.”

— Harriet A. Washington, author of Medical Apartheid

In his pathbreaking and provocative book, Jonathan M. Metzl draws on his dual acuity as physician and social scientist to help make sense of the urgent issue of our time: how individuals not only act against their self-interests, but also support policies that contribute to their own early demise. A threadbare social safety net, further unraveled by virulent racism, has given way to an ailing body politic. Empathetic and poignant, this vital work exposes how an investment in whiteness works to the deficit of us all.”

Alondra Nelson, Columbia University and Social Science Research Council

In this paradigm-shifting tour de force, Jonathan M. Metzl brilliantly illuminates the shocking ways that white supremacy, through backlash governance, kills white people too. Moving deftly between mountains of data and compelling storytelling, Dying of Whiteness makes a vital contribution to our national conversation about racism and its discontents. Metzl uncovers the contemporary paradox of whiteness: a struggle to preserve white privilege in the midst of the declining value of whiteness. This is a must-read if you want to understand how race and the color line operate in twenty-first-century America.”

— Dorian Warren, president, Community Change, and co-chair, Economic Security Project

As a progressive Missouri state legislator, I applaud Jonathan M. Metzl’s dive into policies and agendas which are destructive to those most in need. He is correct in that racial resentment is the primary reason Medicaid expansion was not allowed to be debated on the House floor the past eight years. He is also correct in exposing racism as a primary reason why my home state of Missouri has loosened gun restrictions even though suicides, accidental, and domestic shootings have skyrocketed in every zip code-including in predominantly white areas. Racial overtones also color healthcare and gun legislation debates in the Capitol, as well as many lobbying efforts. Dying of Whiteness boldly exposes the devastating consequences of these politics for everyone, and calls on us to push back against racial resentment for the benefit of all.”

— Hon. Stacey Newman, Missouri House of Representatives, 2010 – 2018

Policy makers, scholars, and the public at large need to read Jonathan M. Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness. He forcefully but with empathy demonstrates how poor and working class whites are literally killing themselves by supporting policies on guns, health care, and taxes framed as defending white authority but which, in truth, benefit the white elite.”

— Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, James B. Duke Professor of Sociology, Duke University

Jonathan M. Metzl goes to Missouri, Tennessee, and Kansas to understand why people support gun, health, and school policies they will suffer from. An informative snapshot of how the other half’ live and die.”

— Dr. Alfredo Morabia, editor-in-chief, American Journal of Public Health