A significant work of social sciences and urban studies.

BROKE

HARDSHIP AND RESILIENCE IN A CITY OF BROKEN PROMISES

A deep dive into the daily living of low-income Detroit residents as well as real estate speculators.

Kirshner (Urban Management/New York Univ.; International Bankruptcy: The Challenge of Insolvency in a Global Economy, 2018, etc.) received permission from seven individuals to conduct on-the-ground research about what occurs when a city is stuck under the weight of often arcane bankruptcy law. The burdens fall most heavily on people of color. Four of Kirshner’s protagonists are black: Miles, an ambitious mid-40s construction worker bedeviled by mistaken law enforcement paperwork suggesting he is a felon; Lola, a mid-20s single mother who cannot find a conveniently located job commensurate with her college education; Reggie, a mid-40s buyer of residential properties in a city decimated by abandoned homes often emptied through fraud initiated by white lenders; and Charles, a 50-ish faithful Detroiter who earned a livable income when the automobile industry was thriving in the city. The three white protagonists are Joe, a tree surgeon business owner who optimistically relocated from New Jersey; Robin, a late 40s property developer from Los Angeles who sees moneymaking opportunities purchasing abandoned houses in certain Detroit neighborhoods; and Cindy, an early 60s Detroiter who hung on as her longtime neighborhood shifted from mostly white to nearly all low-income black, with abandoned and vandalized houses on every block. Kirshner is masterful at explaining the predatory banking and insurance industry practices that have led to impoverishment across the entire city (except for the white establishment downtown), the heartlessness of white politicians (mostly Republicans) who seemingly operate from racist viewpoints, a judicial system that offers little justice for the poor, and bankruptcy law, which was never meant to be applied to city governments. Although immersed in the lives of her protagonists, the author wisely keeps a low profile within her eye-opening and sometimes heartbreaking narrative, which ends with a brief call to action. “We cannot allow the country to fragment into areas of varying opportunity,” she writes.

A significant work of social sciences and urban studies.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-22063-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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