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What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City

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The dramatic story of the Flint water crisis--an inspiring tale of scientific resistance by a relentless physician who stood up to power.

Flint was already a troubled city in 2014 when the state of Michigan--in the name of austerity--shifted the source of its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Soon after, citizens began complaining about the water that flowed from their taps--but officials rebuffed them, insisting that the water was fine. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at the city's public hospital, took state officials at their word and encouraged the parents and children in her care to continue drinking the water--after all, it was American tap water, blessed with the state's seal of approval.

But a conversation at a cookout with an old friend, leaked documents from a rogue environmental inspector, and the activism of a concerned mother raised red flags about lead--a neurotoxin whose irreversible effects fall most heavily on children. Even as circumstantial evidence mounted and protests grew, Dr. Mona knew that the only thing that could stop the lead poisoning was undeniable proof-- and that to get it, she'd have to enter the fight of her life.

What the Eyes Don't See is the inspiring story of how Dr. Mona--accompanied by an idiosyncratic team of researchers, parents, friends, and community leaders--proved that Flint's kids were exposed to lead and then fought her own government and a brutal backlash to expose that truth to the world. Paced like a scientific thriller, this book shows how misguided austerity policies, the withdrawal of democratic government, and callous bureaucratic indifference placed an entire city at risk. And at the center of the story is Dr. Mona herself--an immigrant, doctor, scientist, and mother whose family's activist roots inspired her pursuit of justice.

What the Eyes Don't See is a riveting, beautifully rendered account of a shameful disaster that became a tale of hope, the story of a city on the ropes that came together to fight for justice, self-determination, and the right to build a better world for their--and all of our--children.

Audio CD

First published June 9, 2018

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About the author

Mona Hanna-Attisha

3 books107 followers
Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, MPH, FAAP, is a physician, scientist, and activist who has been called to testify twice before the United States Congress, awarded the Freedom of Expression Courage Award by PEN America, and named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,127 reviews
Profile Image for Steve.
530 reviews25 followers
May 16, 2018
Brilliant public health story plagued by uneven pacing

I have very mixed feelings about this book. When Dr. Hanna-Attisha was actually talking about the water crisis, the book was absolutely brilliant. She readily shares credit with the other people working on the crisis and gives great explanations on the process she and her team went through. However, the book should have read like a thriller, with the crime (lead in the water), victims (the children of Flint), the perpetrators (the MDEQ) and the hero (and author, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and her cohort). The book should have been hard to put down. Instead, the book went into considerable discussions on several generations of the author’s family, mostly irrelevant to the story. And several times in the book, the story got preachy and repetitive. I found myself skipping over pages where the storyline veered completely away from the water crisis. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book and recommend it for anyone interested in any of the areas touched by this book: medicine, science, pubic health, or politics.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley for review purposes.
Profile Image for David.
652 reviews237 followers
August 10, 2018
Available as a 11-hour audio download, read by the author.

This is an excellent book to listen to. The author reads well, and the story gains immediacy from the knowledge that the events therein were experienced by the reader personally. The story itself, about how and why many thousands of (mostly poor minority) people were poisoned by their own government, and how and why none of those responsible were ever brought to justice, is a good one to know and remember, because it will happen again – maybe the details will be different, but the gross incompetence and mendacity will be the same.

A July 3, 2018, review in The New York Times of this book and another narrative of the same topic brought me to this audiobook. The review implies that Dr. Hanna-Attisha has been criticized as an attention-grabber. This only goes to show, as my father used to say, the moment you try to do an ounce of good in this world, someone will be on your back immediately with a load of criticism. (My father's actual words on this topic would not be fit for publication on a family website.) In any event, Dr. Hanna-Attisha makes it clear that she was, at best, the hub of a wheel with many spokes – angry mothers, activists, academics, water experts, and medical professionals – all of whom contributed to her all-too-rare victory over official indifference and victim-blaming.

When I can listen to a book with my full attention (like, for example, when I am on a crowded bus or subway train), I speed up the pace of an audiobook's narration by 50%. This is a great book to experience this way. A galloping narration brings to life Dr. Hanna-Attisha's feeling throughout the book that she must do something about this problem NOW, because every moment she is not spending giving this problem her full attention is a moment that children whom she pledged to protect are being slowly poisoned.

Some minor carping: I felt that, when the unvarnished facts of the case were so incredibly damning, she could have omitted the occasional name-calling she (somewhat understandably) allowed herself, as in audiobook chapter 12, time 31:45, where she terms the rhetoric of Michigan's government “creepy and vaguely cultish”. Just tell me what he said – I can figure out the quality of his rhetoric on my own.

Since this story has been all over the news, I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Dr. Hanna-Attisha eventually triumphs. In our times, it is refreshing to listen to a story that suggests that normal people can still do some good in the world.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,457 reviews8,558 followers
November 20, 2021
Overall enjoyed this memoir/investigative nonfiction hybrid by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician and hospital researcher who played a leadership role in bringing light to the Flint Water Crisis. I loved reading about her passion for working with kids and for taking action to fight the injustice of lead poisoning these children’s water. Her voice comes across as intelligent, clear, and humble yet not self-effacing. She details the steps she took to execute the science and then bring it to the policy level and the public eye. In particular, I appreciated how she named racism and greed as factors that contributed to the Flint Water Crisis in the first place. Her detailing of her own emotional journey through her advocacy process as well as her cultural history added a layer that elevated the book in addition to its more journalistic focus on how she pursued justice for the residents of Flint, Michigan.

I think this book acts as a great testament to how we can all strive to contribute to equity and empowering marginalized communities in our daily lives. I primarily give the book four stars instead of five because I felt that Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s family history at the beginning of the book felt oddly integrated with the present-day events involving Flint, though these different parts of the narrative came together more smoothly toward the middle and end of the book. I also noticed a couple of instances in the book that seemed to promote the idealization of thinness, such as when she describes a (white) man as “seriously handsome” in relation to being “angular and chiseled,” as well as when she herself mentions that she took some small amount of enjoyment in losing weight when she experienced stress during her advocacy process. Even a brief acknowledgement of the problematic and/or fatphobic elements of these comments would have been appreciated.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,329 reviews118 followers
March 30, 2019
‘Dr. Mona’ achieved national fame for her research showing that the children of Flint were being poisoned by lead when the City of Flint switched their public water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. She was undaunted by governmental officials’ attempts to first ignore, and then smear and discredit her. She knew that her scientific results were accurate and the rising blood levels of lead in Flint’s children were real. Her heroic efforts advocating for their health are inspirational.

Flint once boasted the highest average income and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. But those days are long past—deindustrialization and disinvestment in the city resulted in high rates of poverty, vacant houses, higher crime rates and fewer jobs for the majority black citizenry. Further, the State of Michigan chose to usurp the democratically-elected mayor and replace him with an Emergency Manager to further reduce expenditures. The EM reported directly to the Governor and not the people, exacerbating a long legacy of racial apartheid in the name of austerity policies.

There is NO safe level of lead. None! Lead has been associated with antisocial behavior, learning difficulties, organ damage, seizures, coma, and even death. Sadly, lead has also been shown to even cause epigenetic effects within one’s DNA. Importantly, the lead in Flint’s water alerted other municipalities to check their own lead levels, with disquieting results. Hopefully, this results in the removal of lead pipes everywhere. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Anne ✨ Finds Joy.
277 reviews66 followers
November 13, 2018
This is a detailed account of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, when the city's inhabitants were poisoned by lead in the water supply after local government made changes to try and save money. The author is the pediatrician who brought the issue to light and worked tirelessly to gather the data, and fight against the governmental bias, ignorance, and inefficiency that allowed something like this to happen.

In addition to a detailed account of the crisis, Mona gives insightful perspective on the social-economic factors and government motivations/biases that contributed to the why and how this catastrophe happened. The story is further enriched with Mona's own background as a child of immigrant Iraqi parents, her activist experiences as a teen and college student, and her purposeful choices to work in Flint in efforts to make a difference for the children in this impoverished community.

While the story of the water crisis will make you angry and sad, you will be inspired by the author's (and others) perseverance in bringing the crisis to light and fighting the indifference and opposition, not stopping until the water supply was changed back, and remediation in place to help those affected the most- the children.

This book gives you so much more than just a news event. It's a look at the human side of the story. It's a societal discourse, and a personal memoir. It's an insightful look at intersecting themes that cannot be looked at in isolation: socio-economic/racial inequality, culture and family, immigrant experience, activism, governmental inefficiency and bias, and environmental justice.
Profile Image for Carla Bayha.
249 reviews9 followers
March 22, 2018
A book that should be read by everybody in the state of Michigan, and everybody who cares about public health and education, children, and their families. You may think you know everything about the timeline and what went down during the "Flint Water Crisis" that poisoned tens of thousands of residents, but you don't. An unexpected conversation between two old friends at a family barbecue--one of them from a family that emmigrated from Iraq--likely saved Flint residents from months or even years more of being poisoned by lead (one of three heavy metals--the others are mercury and arsenic!) that is unsafe at any level. We already know about some of the Michigan government and agencies coverups. We now know more, including the lies, intimidation, stonewalling, and incompetence. As Hanna-Attisha relates, much the same thing happened during an underreported water crisis in D.C. in the early 2000s, one that took years to resolve and should have been a warning to other water utilities. As a pediatrician, administrator, teacher, and researcher the author is wonderful at explaining how she designed the study that irrefutably disproved the state's claim that the tapwater was safe to drink, and how public health took a backseat to the careers of bureaucrats and elected officials. She is also well-versed in the sometimes dark history of the automobile industry in Michigan, and an enthusiastic booster of the possibilities for Flint's revival, now that economic and social injustices are finally being exposed and dealt with. The month between the author's learning about the water contamination and her press conference that blows the lid off the denials, reads like a spy thriller. The most important book that I've read in the past year, in this time of a retreat from protecting our natural resources and our most vulnerable citizens, and the continued assault on science. Some of the culprits have been charged with crimes, but others are now lobbyists..... As a bookseller, I read an advanced copy
Profile Image for Cathy Les.
63 reviews
July 15, 2018
The story is interesting and important - it's so frustrating to "watch" her fight to get the state to declare an emergency and start getting clean water to the people of Flint! I could have done with less information about her family however. I thought it interrupted the flow of the narrative most of the time.
Profile Image for Mohamed Elashri.
868 reviews1,035 followers
March 5, 2020

I received this copy free from my university when I attended Dr. Mona's talk in our university. She donated the money she should receive so the university officials used this money to buy 200 copy and distribute it.

Dr. Mona signed this copy for me, I asked her to sign in arabic and we talked in arabic for a couple of minutes, she asked me about baklawa "بقلاوة" which was the strangest question I had so far in United States. And by the way She wrote her name "موني" which is wrong as in arabic we use special characters on alphabets to represent different pronunciation.

The book was about the crisis of water in flint, a city in state of michigan. The home for ford cars. This story looks familiar to me as in my country it is usual. Egypt have the first rank on hypatite C virus because of water. Many areas are lacking a clean sources of water. Liver failure is very common. Lead levels are huge. Flint story could tell us more about how lack of democracy and people freedom to choose and to protect their rights lead to distares, even in a modern democracy like US. I loved the courage that Dr.mona had, although all things they said about her, she personally faced the corrupted authorities. The power of media supporting her, the power of people who stand of their rights. The ability of science to make our lives better is tbe most important thing of this story. Science is a tool that should be used to make our life safe. It is not to be used in estimating the money that we get from optimization while people suffering from problems.

The story of Dr. Mona's immigrant family is traditional and it represents how immigration and immigrants makes america great, they protect their rights and rights of other people. They are part of this society. She is arab origin person, from Iraq the country which although ruled by dictator sadam but the invasion without real reasons lead to a more corruption and falling of the state under the influence of Iranians. This story tells us that all people should gather for protection of the life. We don't have any place except this planet which in this way wouldn't be able to support life anymore because of greediness.
Profile Image for Becky Luetjen.
7 reviews
July 31, 2018
I’m embarrassed to say that despite all the headlines, I didn’t actually know that much about the Flint water crisis.... until I read this book.

Dr. Mona is phenomenal in her explanations of the egregious racial injustices in Flint prior to and during the water crisis: from unjust housing policies to undemocratic emergency managers to government officials ignoring/denying the lead contamination problem.

The book ultimately shows what a few determined and educated citizens can do to rectify governing that is at best, negligent, and at worst, malicious.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,687 reviews451 followers
January 12, 2020
The Michigan city of Flint was in a financial crisis when the decision was made to change its public water supply from Lake Huron to the contaminated Flint River in 2014. Anti-corrosive measures were discontinued too. People in Flint complained about their water, but the city leaders assured them that it was in compliance with state standards. But General Motors stopped using Flint water because it was corroding engine parts.

Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician and hospital researcher, was visiting with a friend who was a water specialist and was told that there were high levels of lead in Flint's water. Dr Mona and her associates looked at the blood lead levels of young children done as a routine screening before and after the switch to the Flint River water. Lead is a neurotoxin that is especially harmful to the developing brains of young children, affecting cognition and lowering IQ levels. Dr Mona, researchers at the children's hospital, water specialist Dr Marc Edwards, community activists, and journalists worked together as a team to bring this terrible situation to the public and stop the denials that were coming from state officials.

"What the Eyes Don't See" is the story of a whistleblower who had been raised in an Iraqi-American family with a history of activism and work for social justice. Dr Mona is intelligent, and passionate about public health and child development. She also felt there was racial injustice in a city of minorities, allowing a situation which would not have happened in an affluent white community. Even after the city of Flint hooked back up to treated Lake Huron water, they were left with corroded pipes which will cause lead problems for years. Bottled water, water filters, premixed baby formula, and various programs to stimulate learning and development in children should help reduce some of the harm that was done to Flint's children.

I don't know how the bureaucrats could sleep at night knowing they were poisoning thousands of children with lead while trying to hide the evidence. Dr Mona's writing is very accessible and conversational, and not filled with lots of scientific jargon. She is also very generous with her praise for all the people who helped her. This book is highly recommended. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Zan.
324 reviews40 followers
June 23, 2018
This book was everything I hoped for and more.

When I first heard of the Flint Water Crisis, I was in disbelief. How could people knowingly put others, including impressionable and still developing children, into so much danger just because they were too prideful and lazy to own up to mistake after mistake on so many different levels?

Here we are, in the 2010s, and the U.S. government has come so far; it's incredibly reliable and thorough in all the work that it does to try and improve the lives of the people and give us a relatively good world standing. Wait. No? Okay never mind then.

I heard of this book and I k n e w that I had to read what someone so close to the crisis had to say.

The good doctor's writing was hauntingly compelling and her prose was such a beautiful touch to the chronicle of her fight for Flint. It was absolutely seamless and effortless in its fluidity.

In between research frustrations and suppressed voices, Dr. Hanna-Attisha wove familial anecdotes and her own history into the tapestry of her story. While at times I really wanted to know how her research methods were approved or if some people finally got it through their thick skulls that they needed to stop their stupidity, I generally enjoyed the peeks into her life outside of the present-day storyline. The pictures really tied it together and made everything seem more real.

Complaint: I feel like the ending wasn't quite enough. It seemed like the situation was entirely resolved, which is great for the storytelling element of the work, but I think with something as work-in-progress as Flint (which is not to say that I know better than Dr. Hanna-Attisha, just that it seems like all the hurdles after the small progression are overly muted), it's better to warn of the trials to come and take a bit of a more weary tone. I love love love my happy endings; more importantly, the reality of the continued solemnity of Flint's situation needs to be more present at the close of this book. Even now, there is still much to be desired.

A million thanks to Netgalley and Random House Publishing for this phenomenal ARC !
Profile Image for christina.
176 reviews21 followers
June 14, 2019
Some readers found Dr Mona's asides of her family distracting yet this was probably in service of the narration -- to remind readers of the human behind the Flint water crisis -- except her editors really shouldn't have been worried about this because this book is completely dominated by Dr Mona.

Which is why I find this book highly misleading. The title implies this book will reveal the truth of Flint and observe the effects of this crisis but this book is far from that. Yes, it does talk about the Flint water crisis but through the eyes of Dr Mona's only. There's zero interviews from those affected by the crisis, from her allies, from her enemies; zero insertions of actual data; all quotations are in conversation with Dr Mona in person or via email (by the way, just formatting a page to look like an email is not actually producing evidence) and all emails are Dr Mona's or her allies; and any emails or correspondences from other parties are summarised (making them appear completely biased). Ultimately, there is zero actual fact-based evidence within this text at all.

Instead of a scientifically driven text with context, interviews, and data to support her claims or an investigative text with demonstrable evidence of each step taken, readers are subject to the whims, emotions, and oft times self-congratulatory nature of Dr Mona's own self-righteousness (I get it, you care about the kids) and conversations with other people about how wonderful she is (i.e. do readers really need to be told that someone suggested you have a cape? Or that someone thinks you're a force of nature?). I believe this really harms the veracity of the book's impact. Rather than being enlightening, I found Dr Mona's constant self-aggrandisements, judgemental asides, suppositions of other people's motivations -- without any actual fact on why they behaved the way they did -- as thoroughly negligent.

Now, had this book instead have been called, "What the Eyes Don't See: One Woman's Struggle to be Heard" then there would be no issue since it would be clear in its purpose: it's all about Dr Mona and her thoughts and not, as the title and the summaries claim, an actual text that discusses the problems that incited the Flint water crisis. By not adding any research or evidence, any actual interviews from third parties of the perpetrators, this book is swathed in bias. Yet, perhaps what is most insulting though is by labelling this book as a book about the crisis and then robbing the voices of those affected, Dr Mona further silences and demeans those very victims she claims to advocate for.
Profile Image for Ned.
296 reviews126 followers
February 2, 2020
Just what I was looking for, a factual account of just what the hell happened in Flint MI where the water was found to be contaminated with lead. Sadly, it is a familiar tale of a poor and minority community being put at risk from the most basic need (water) which most of us assume to be safe without thought as it flows into our homes. This book was just perfect, because it shows what one individual, with love and compassion, can do. Ultimately this tiny Iraqi immigrant took down multiple government officials, in an impassioned war for justice. As a pediatrician from an activist family, doctor Mona, chose to serve in the post-industrial Flint, striving to build community for her “kids”, all 8000+ of them. When she found out they were being exposed, she went on the warpath and her journey was brutal, rough and confounded with obstacles. Yes, this is a sad, sad tragedy where poor children were harmed, but there is a hero, and hope, in the fiery “doctor Mona” (Hanna-Attisha) and this true story is riveting as any imagined fiction you could conceive.

I happen to be an analytical chemist, with 30+ years experience in testing for trace impurities, so I understood the technical aspects of this. But the book is not overly technical, it gives the narrative of the Flint crisis and resolution, interwoven within Mona’s own immigration story. She gets support from Marc Edwards, the champion for the similar DC water crisis, that happened earlier – with less of a positive outcome. Marc is battle scarred, weary, yet indefatigable as he joins the fight, realizing that Mona is the perfect spokesperson. Regarding the safety of lead, it is know to be particularly neurotoxic, especially to the very young whose brains are developing. It is insidious in that it accumulates gradually and the effects not manifest for years. “Drinking water…was like drinking through a lead straw…into the bodies of our children….I was the maddest and saddest I’d ever been in my life. These kids literally had every adversity possible. It was like the world was conspiring to keep them down” (pp. 322-323).

What happened, exactly? First some background: Flint enjoyed the post-war boom when GM manufacturing attracted workers, even drawing from the deep south. But even before that, the area was polluted with racism, as in Father Coughlin, who “promoted the racism and nationalism of Hitler and Mussolini, offering weekly installments of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion…His newspaper, ironically name Social Justice, evangelized for America First-ism, a rudderless economic populism mixed with isolationism…Years later I learned that the pretty Catholic church on Woodward Avenue…had served as Father Coughlin’s headquarters. And I was stunned to discover that the large post office…had been built to process the crazy amount of fan letters Coughlin received…more than ten thousand pieces a day…I learned from my parents not to be afraid to dig deeper and not be afraid of what I might find.” (p. 72). I’m optimistic that our current day racism is much less, but this story reminded me of just how prevalent it still is, in less visible but perhaps even more toxic ways.

What exactly happened? Flint, impoverished due to myriad racial issues going back decades, as a city could not pay its bills (lack of business, tax base, etc…) and the “solution” proffered by the governor was to appoint an “Emergency Manager”, essentially neutering the mayor and local government. The intent was to drive a policy of austerity, i.e. to cut costs – the EM then made the fateful decision to save on municipal water costs by switching from the cleaner Detroit river source to the Flint river source. The problem was the water was fouler and needed more conditioning (essentially treatment with a corrosive chlorine chemical), yet had not been neutralized. This might be forgiven, except Washington DC had experienced a similar problem and a federal regulation for “corrosion control” had been ignored. Consequently, the older water pipes (with lead) were exposed to the more “corrosive” water and leached lead. This is where the story really picks up, and Mona, in her spare time, collaborates with a subordinate to follow the story. It is a tawdry one where the government covered its liability, demanding “proof” before taking action, and as a consequence allowed exposure of children for over a year. The typical victim blaming was a tactic (e.g. it must be the fixtures or pipes in homes). Only through severe pressure, and support from Marc Edwards, the environmental activist who exposed the DC water crisis (largely forgotten in popular media), did Mona have the courage to call her own press conference and “out” the officials. Ultimately, she got attention only by proving blood levels of lead had increased after the water switch was made (painstakingly conducting her own small study, as she was blocked from state data after many requests).

This is what can happen when “regulations” are ignored or de-valued. They simply failed to protect the most vulnerable Americans, poor children, disproportionately black. Thank goodness we have fighters, people who do this out of a sense of moral justice, and care. In this regard the book inspires hope, but it also challenged me to become more active, and aware, and to use my particular skills and knowledge for the greater good, and for those less fortunate. I loved the book, it was well written and so very personal for this Iraqi immigrant and her family who provided the love and support and moral imperatives to do the right thing, regardless of outcome. And it was scary, doctor Mona fretting over press conferences and she was nearly destroyed in the process. Thankfully the media gave voice to her concerns, and the political pressure was brought to bear on the accountable. I have no doubt, even today, there are deniers out there who are still trying to discredit her for likely motivations I won’t bother to go into right now.

Mona expresses why she chose to remain (p. 118): “I came to Flint for its hope, but also for its lessons, both terrible and beautiful. Flint from its beginnings has been a place of extremes, where greed meets solidarity, where bigotry meets fairness, and where the struggle for equality has played out. Flint is where many people have been pushed down and many have risen. And where many have fought the good fight – and won.”

The Flint suburbs were not annexed with the city, so familiar elsewhere, which turned out to be fateful to the crisis to come many years later (p. 127): “…the residents in Flint’s new suburbs, happily ensconced in their new houses and all-white neighborhoods, voted overwhelmingly against the referendum…Flint was left isolated and abandoned.”

The author weaves in the story of leaded gasoline, and how it was driven by industry in America long after the hazard was known in other parts of the world, and the “Safe Until Proven Dangerous” mantra ruled (p. 152). This same philosophy we see in Climate Change denial – prescient today.

Powerful forces were arrayed against the truth. The rancor in today’s debate, and lack of scientific education in the public, and I can relate to what was in the mind of the author as the blood level data was checked and rechecked (p. 200): “One minor error, even one that didn’t affect the findings, would give critics the ammunition to undermine me. One minor error and all our efforts would be for nothing, and Flint kids would go on being poisoned.”

It would be easy to blame government (they failed here), but the author articulates it well (p. 306): “If I had to locate an exact cause of the crisis, above all others, it would be the ideology of extreme austerity and ‘all government is bad government’. The state of Michigan didn’t need less government; it needed more and better government, responsible and effective government…For decades the city and state infrastructure had been neglected to save money. State and environmental health agencies had been defunded, and great public servants had become disillusioned and retired, leaving these agencies a shadow of what they used to be…a rubberstamping of bad ideas, a gross underfunding of environmental enforcement, limited understanding of and expertise in public health, and a disregard for the poor.”

This was a well written story, it will stoke your moral outrage and push you to awareness and activism for your fellow man, and woman, and (especially) the world’s children. They don’t deserve our apathy.
Profile Image for Emily.
296 reviews1,534 followers
September 4, 2018
This is some very solid nonfiction.

At times I found the writing style a bit too colloquial, but ultimately I do think that's a good thing--the more accessible this book is, the better.

In this, Hanna-Attisha details her work as a pediatrician at Flint Hospital, where after a friend pointed out some alarming information about potential lead poisoning in the water, Hanna-Attisha got to work.

This is a comprehensive dive into the Flint water crisis. It's not a complete picture--Hanna-Attisha mentions several times that many local parents had been trying to raise the issue of contaminated water long before she got involved--but it's still a damn good one. I would have liked a bit more information around local activism, but at the end of the day this is Hanna-Attisha's story, and that's not a bad thing.

Her background as both a research scientist and a practicing physician gave Hanna-Attisha the unique position of having credibility (though the state government would seek to undermine this) and experience with the very people most affected by the Flint water crisis.

This book got me furious about not just the gross negligence, but the genuine disregard the state government had for its constituents, all in the name of cutting costs. In particular, I liked that Hanna-Attisha covered the fact that the people of Flint (during the water crisis) did not have a representative government. Instead, a state appointed general manager functionally controlled the city. Again, the people of Flint were being governed by an un-elected official. It's utterly infuriating, and just plain devastating.

If you're looking to learn more about the Flint water crisis, I definitely recommend picking this up.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,439 reviews329 followers
March 11, 2020
What the Eyes Don't See is a riveting read. Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician at Hurley Hospital in Flint, MI. Her narrative of how she discovered rising levels of blood in her pediatric patients and her battle to bring justice to the disenfranchised people of Flint is inspiring and maddening.

She describes her anguish and determination to save the children of Flint, how it disrupted her private and family life, and the brick walls and rejection she faced. Thankfully, she was stubborn and determined.

The callousness of political leaders toward the people of Flint as unimportant and expendable is despicable.

Flint falls right into the American narrative of cheapening black life.~from What the Eyes Don't See by Mona Hanna-Attisha
Readers are given a history of Flint's rise as an automotive manufacturing hub, and when jobs left, its decline to becoming one of the state's most impoverished cities.

The budget-cutting changes implemented under an appointed Emergency Manager explains how the lead-poisoned water came to be and how officials lied about the poisoned water.

If I had to locate an exact cause of the crisis, above all others, it would be the ideology of extreme austerity and "all government is bad government".~from What the Eyes Don't See by Mona Hanna-Attisha

Dr. Hanna-Attisha called out Senator Debbie Stabenow as an early and important supporter of her goals. The daughter of a nurse, and a former social worker, Senator Stabenow has a commitment to public health. She was part of a team that brought federal aid to Flint and the availability of premixed infant formula so Flint mothers did not need to use the lead-contaminated water.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a local heroine. I am proud to say that she was a graduate of Royal Oak Kimball High School, my alma mater. Her family came to Michigan for education but remained in exile from their homeland after the takeover by Saddam Hussein and the Iraq wars. Dr. Hanna-Attisha first became an activist with a Kimball environmental group.

I read an ebook through the local public library.
Profile Image for Rose Peterson.
278 reviews10 followers
December 10, 2018
For a long time, Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy has been the book I can't stop talking about and recommending; What the Eyes Don't See will now join it as the book I will suggest to everyone, from my family to the people in line next to me at the grocery store. Dr. Mona brings readers along for every step of her journey into Flint's water contamination, weaving in stories of her own rich Iraqi history and past public health issues. Her clear and approachable prose makes it clear for anyone to see the corruption of officials that irreparably harmed thousands of children's lives.
Profile Image for Nicole.
358 reviews4 followers
September 22, 2019
Wow, this was really hard to read at times. Utterly heartbreaking to think about the impact of such sheer incompetence, negligence, and racism on a whole cadre of already at-risk children; the only glimmer of hope being that someone with Dr Mona’s tenacity could be the right person, in the right place, at the right time to stand up and call bullshit and achieve results in a matter of weeks. A level of activism and moral leadership we should all aspire to.

I could have done without the parts on her family history. I understand why should put them in there - to show how she got to be the kind of person who could step up and take action. But those parts felt like a distraction to me, and I found myself skimming over them to get back to the Flint stuff.
Profile Image for Sandie.
225 reviews16 followers
May 22, 2019
The author narrated the audio which often is a recipe for disaster but in this case, works. It is a bit stilted at times but her passion for what she does comes through and overrides the stiffness.
Listening to the book made it tough to remember all the players and their designated agencies.

I have been watching the Netflix documentary on Flint Town which is the story of how the police force cope with crime in that devastated town. The author in Eyes talks about the spirit and resilience of the population and you can see that in Flint Town as the police continue to try to make the town safer for the residents in spite of overwhelming odds.

Dr. Mona touches upon the fact that because the housing market bottomed out, the residents are stuck in a town that, at the time of the writing of the book, still did not have drinkable tap water. Stuck with no choices. The author also briefly discusses how the response by authorities and the cover up was racially driven and I would have liked to hear more about that. There is very little that can be said in a positive way about the governmental response. Even the authorities that did come through were so late coming into the game with solutions, when time was of the essence, that it is quite hard to toot any horns although Dr. Mona gives it a go. On the other hand, she doesn’t mince any words about all that went wrong and the people responsible.

I recently read in National Geographic that 82% of all public schools in New York State test positive for lead in one or two taps. How tragic to learn that after the Flint disaster and many water/lead issues in other towns we still have not learned how to approach and correct this type of environmental and health disaster.
Profile Image for Susannah Nichols.
34 reviews2 followers
August 2, 2018
As a Michigan resident and someone who followed the Flint water crisis reasonably closely, I learned a lot from this book. Dr. Mona tells a well-paced and engaging story while weaving in a lot of background information on the history of Flint, national water regulations, and Michigan politics. Although I've read criticism of the way she incorporates so much of her family history into the narrative, I appreciated that because I think it's very much part of her story and what compelled her to make choices in the way she did.

I very much appreciated that while she takes much of the governmental leadership to task (deservedly so), she also plays fair. She recognizes actions and decisions as evil but recognizes the attempts of some individuals to rectify their poor choices. There was an equanimity to many of her passages that I often find lacking in discourse today.

Additionally, she doesn't cast herself as the hero of this story -- this is very much a snapshot of the moment and her small role in it. She recognizes that others were way out in front of this story when she was still affirming the safety of the water to new Flint moms. Her heroism is simply doing what she could with the privilege and position she had in a given moment. This book gave me a lot to think about, and I am thankful for the presence of resilient and determined people in the face of such daunting tragedy.
3 reviews1 follower
July 19, 2018
This is an incredible book about the Flint water crisis and how powerful it is to use your voice to right the wrongs around you and make a real difference. Surprisingly, this book read as a thriller and was difficult to put down! I was fascinated by all the hard work behind the scenes that took place for the lead in water crisis in Flint to be publicized.
I loved the stories Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha told of her Chaldean-Assyrian family from Iraq – how her family history helped shape her advocacy and passion for justice.
A great book for anyone interested in public health, environmental racism, and the story behind a true advocate. Highly recommended!
716 reviews5 followers
July 23, 2018
This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Told from Dr. Mona, the pediatrician who exposed the levels of lead in her youngest patients, it is a story of family, science, collaboration, resistance, immigration, and activism. It is engaging, well written, inspiring and infuriating. She writes in a manner that shows her vulnerability and intelligence, the impact on the flint water crisis had on kids and her family. Amazing read!!!!
221 reviews
January 4, 2019
Well, the story itself was fascinating but could have done without the constant reminders of her political leanings.
Profile Image for Zora.
1,222 reviews51 followers
June 4, 2020
Forgive me. It's a hard time right now, and my brain isn't working as it should. I have what Dr. Mona taught me are sort of like a couple of ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, which we know hurts brain development, and apparently AAEs hurt brain function as well because I'm a hot mess. In case in two years, people don't remember what this review's date means? We are experiencing the first serious novel virus pandemic in a century, with the worst world leader since Idi Amin in the US, and I watched a snuff film in which a cadre of racist cops literally murdered a black man gleefully before my eyes while he begged and moaned for his mama, and I'm still weeping over it 10 days later, and the fat orange Idi sicced troops on peaceful protestors and no Senator of his party apparently knows a thing about that or the murder or the location of their own balls, and the republic is falling and I'm under attack by black flies, which seems terribly petty, but really was the straw that broke the camel's back the other day, and oh yeah, I made myself go and read up on 15 other Black Lives Matters murders in detail and am more traumatized (though luckily, no video on those others) and I've seen roughly 150 videos of cops beating peaceful protestors or macing them or beating journalists or shooting them point-blank, and I'm wondering if maybe I've died and this is hell.

It fucking feels like hell.

So I've had a bad week, and a bad spring, before, during, and after reading this book. You have too, I know, anyone reading this. And knowing my week is not half as bad as every week in a poor black person's life lived but 15 miles away from me isn't helping me cope much. My bad. I'm weak, and afraid, and angry, and traumatized (can I sue a police department for PTSD from the images I cannot scrub from my brain?) and while I know I shouldn't whine but should only think of others, I'm whining. It is in THIS context that I read this book.

And it made me feel, for a time, a bit better.

There's a lot in here. The Flint water crisis (I'd seen the PBS film, so I knew a lot of it before this), but not only that, but Dr. Mona's immigrant story, which was so rich with detail and so loving and beautiful, I wanted to get adopted into her wonderful family. And that matters. It's not a side story. It's integral, it's coeval, it's formative, and it's related. It reminded me how much we owe immigrants, particularly the educated, hardworking immigrant parents who come here valuing education so highly, and their driven, bright children who end up like Dr. Mona. Cuz damn, that makes a much much better America.

And there's the history of public health investigations, the history of Flint and GM, the history of lead in gasoline and how it poisoned us, fought by another public health female doctor I'd never heard of before. There's the DC water crisis of the first decade of this century, in all its ugliness, and 7 years of poisoning DC's children. And the shock I felt when I learned the CDC, which I had really trusted until Orange Idi, had been corrupt and purposefully lied back in 2002 too. All those children with learning problems, impulse control, and all the problems that lead poisoning brings growing up now, less than they might have otherwise been. A tragedy. A waste. A crime never prosecuted.

There's passion for children in this book, and tender love for them, and a passion for justice. There's a mystical synchronicity that all the people who could fix this knew each other or found each other, so this ends up being a spiritual book too, and spiritually uplifting.

And because no one gave a shit that it was black babies being hurt, it connected so powerfully with what's happening in the USA right now. That was breathtaking. There truly is a hateful conspiracy against black folks.

There are bad guys in here who get their comeuppance, and a righteous fight, and a happy ending. I felt good for hours while and after reading it, like change is possible if we fight, and if I don't feel quite so good now, that's not Dr. Mona's fault. So it's a rich and layered book, and the reviews here that wanted a simple linear narrative? I have to disagree with them. This is the right book, with the right big picture, like a huge quilt where when you back up becomes clear in how the squares connect with each other.

Maybe that's more obvious today than it has ever been before.

I love you, Dr. Mona. Thank you for your service, your courage, and this beautiful book. I'm sorry if this review did not do it justice.

Profile Image for Kathy McC.
1,237 reviews8 followers
November 2, 2018
Flint is my hometown and I want to thank Dr. Hanna-Attisha for her diligence and tenacity to bring this tragedy to the public eye. She fought tirelessly and because of her, the citizens of Flint got the attention needed to deal with the crisis. While there is still much to be done, Dr. Hanna- Attisha got things started. She is a hero!!

"Where is the American Dream in the Flint scenario? It's not there. It's not even talked about. It is becoming so out of reach. At the end of their lives, most children wind up where they started."

" This is also a story about the deeper crises we're facing right now in our country: a breakdown in democracy; environmental injustice that disproportionately affects the poor and black; the abandonment of social responsibility and our deep obligations as human beings to care and provide for one another."

" Each of us, no matter who we are has within us a piece of the answer. We each have the power to fix things. We can work together to create a better, safer world, a place where all children can develop without obstacles and barriers, without poisoned water or callousness toward their dreams."

"A kid born in Flint will live fifteen years less than a kid born in a neighboring suburb. Imagine what fifteen years of life means."
Profile Image for David.
511 reviews37 followers
June 23, 2019
The book is good as it is and Dr. Mona is a hero but it should serve as an adjunct, not your primary source, if you're interested in learning about the water scandal in Flint, Michigan. This book is part memoir and part investigative piece but not completely one or the other.

Besides the author herself and a few family members, everyone else is one dimensional and made to fit in a "good" or "bad" box. We learn about how the author found out about the water problem and get a vague sense of its beginnings but the origin story lacks foundation and depth. The depiction of the crisis lacks an overall timeline and the wider perspective that informs the reader who the players were, why they acted the way they did and what was going on behind the scenes.

If you're familiar enough with the whole story and want to know how it progressed from Dr. Mona's perspective you won't be disappointed with this book. The author writes and expresses herself well and keeps a steady pace, never staying on a subject too long or jumping around too quickly. It's a shame the local and state government failed the people of Flint so recklessly but fortunately they had a tireless champion to hold them to account. Hopefully her story will serve as an inspiration to others who see wrongdoing and are in a position to speak out.
Profile Image for Christine (Queen of Books).
945 reviews133 followers
February 25, 2020
Fascinating. I can't believe I haven't seen this one around more. I learned not only a lot about Flint, but also about lead contamination in general.

This book read like a hodge podge of nonfiction and memoir, and the memoir aspect only sort of worked for me. Tbh, I don't like the holiday card "family state of the union" letters when they're from my own family members, so that part of the book was kind of lost on me. I did, however, appreciate her perspective as an Iraqi American woman.

Mona (the author) is opinionated - which makes sense, as she's a pediatrician in Flint and cares deeply about the issue at hand. I get that, but my preference is for the author to set forth the facts, then let the reader decide for themselves. (Of course, some prefer a more persuasive style!) She also used the word "f**ktard" twice and argued it's appropriate given the context; I disagree (given the word's derivation, I don't find it appropriate in any context).

Those (minor) critiques having been said, this is a story truly deserving of your attention, and I'm grateful to the author for detailing it here. I'm really glad this one made its way onto my tbr and that I picked it up. I read it a few months ago and still think of it often, in ways big and small.
Profile Image for Susanne.
368 reviews17 followers
November 19, 2018
A surprisingly uplifting and positive book, despite the truly awful subject matter (the cost-saving measure that led to the wholesale exposure of Flint, Michigan's children to toxic lead poisoning). Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the child of Iraqi immigrants, is a pediatrician who raised the alarm about lead in the public water supply in Flint, and then pushed gently but inexorably for necessary corrections. She seems to come from a long line of honorable activists and the book is as much a celebration of her family as it is a study of this particular crisis; she and her family sound like extraordinary people. She writes well, to boot, making complex science and the work of water quality engineers accessible to the average reader. I found this a gripping read.
Profile Image for Kat Mayerovitch.
164 reviews
August 26, 2018
I feel like this is a must-read for every American. Even now, it's so easy to get caught up in conflicting messages. It's the August 2018 as I write this, and locals are still saying the water is unsafe and undrinkable while institutions are claiming the crisis is over, everything's fixed, and Michigan can pat itself on the back for a job well done. What the Eyes Don't See couldn't be a more pertinent book for the times in which we live.

This book isn't an overview. It won't give you a comprehensive history of the problem. It won't tell you the biographies of everyone who has fought for clean water and environmental justice in Flint and beyond. It's a personal account by someone who experienced this from a unique perspective: the public health team that put two and two together and refused to accept that everything was fine when the evidence that it wasn't was staring them in the face.

You might want to skip this book thinking that it will be a downer. And yeah, knowing that there is a generation of children who will never totally recover from being poisoned by the water provided by their own (non-elected, non-accountable) government is both horrifying and rage-inducing. But if you can make it through the first half of the book, you'll start to see more of the last part of the title. Resistance. Hope. It's powerful. And it matters a lot.

Again, it won't tell you everything you need to know about Flint. But it's absolutely one of the best possible places to start. Don't let this book pass you by.
Profile Image for Shana.
1,172 reviews24 followers
July 11, 2018
Dr. Hanna-Attisha is a true American hero. Her diligence, dedication, and passion for justice ring loud and clear in this fascinating book, which reads like a memoir with elements of suspense and political intrigue. It would have been easy for her to fall back on medical jargon and the nitty gritty of the science, but she adds a great human element in it that includes her own personal reasons for caring as much as she does for the children and families of Flint. She does crucial work in training future pediatricians to pay attention to the systemic inequalities that affect their patients' health, and she really put her money where her mouth is when she followed the trail that led to the uncovering of the mess that is Flint water. She wasn't afraid to name the injustices and to boldly declare which side she was on despite the potential fallout in her own personal life, job, and reputation. Our country could use many, many more people like her. On top of it being an important and relevant subject matter, the book also manages to be highly readable and enjoyable. It flows well and I love how she incorporated her family's history into it. Very much recommended!
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