I received the request to review Stand Your Ground a few weeks after Freddie Gray was killed while being transported in a Bal­timore police van. His death incited protests reminiscent of events in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer a few months before. While I was reading the book, a police officer in McKinney, Texas, pulled his gun on teens at a pool party and violently pinned a 14-year-old girl to the ground. I became apprehensive about reading the book as Kelly Brown Douglas’s main thesis was displayed in the news again and again. Stand-your-ground culture and the stand-your-guard war represent the perennial cost to black bodies of the persistent myth of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism.

The final words from Audre Lorde’s 1978 poem “Litany for Survival”—“we were never meant to survive”—provide a suitable historical framework for conversations about racial justice in the United States in the year since Ferguson. Douglas echoes the narrative arc in Lorde’s poem, beginning her analysis with a study of Tacitus’s first-century treatise Germania, which promoted Ger­manic superiority in political, moral, economic, and intellectual spheres. Later, Douglas writes, “the English considered themselves the descendants of the Ger­manic tribes identified by Tacitus.”

The narrative of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism was imported by the Pilgrims, and civic and religious legitimation was woven into the fabric of early U.S. political culture and identity: with divine blessing, a new nation would be built, and the people of the nation would display Christian character. Douglas places the stand-your-ground war within this context of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism.