A weighty and robust history of a people disappeared from their own community.




The life, death, and diaspora of an American community.

In a book that is part sociological study and part oral history, longtime journalist Austen takes a deep dive into the story of Cabrini-Green, an iconic American public housing project in Chicago. At its peak in the 1950s and ’60s, Cabrini-Green was home to more than 3,600 families, predominantly African-American, “two-parent, working-class, and desperately in need of adequate housing.” The author covers the relevant cultural, sociological, and political aspects of a place known as one of the “scariest black places in America.” He also captures the flash points of the block’s history, including the shooting of two policemen in 1970, the fatal shooting of a 7-year-old in 1992, and a brutal attack on 9-year-old “Girl X” in 1997. Admirably, Austen humanizes his story by telling it through the eyes of a handful of Cabrini-Green residents, including Dolores Wilson, a janitor’s wife who became a political activist; Annie Ricks, who lived most of her life in Cabrini-Green; and J.R. Fleming, a peddler of counterfeit goods who learned to fight the injustice around him. “Reflecting on J.R.’s personal transformation, [a plainclothes cop] joked that his colleagues on the police force had messed up,” writes the author. “They should have left the young man alone when he was just peddling DVDs and tube socks: ‘Now they went and woke him up.’ ” Cabrini-Green is gone now, wiped out by a sweeping urban renewal program that demolished “every remaining public housing family high-rise, knocking down some 18,000 units.” So Austen covers the diaspora, too, as an island of poverty was wiped from existence by white prosperity. It’s a somewhat overstuffed history, but the author provides many powerful insights. As Dolores told her brother when offered an exit from Cabrini-Green, “I’m in the projects, but that’s my home. I love my home just like you love your home.”

A weighty and robust history of a people disappeared from their own community.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-223506-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.


The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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