Drawing on a working lifetime in the fields of childhood development, education, health policy, etc. (often at rarified government levels), Lisbeth Schorr (with some prose-sharpening by TV-journalist husband Daniel) unveils her prescription for breaking the cycle of underclass poverty and dependence on the public weal. Shuffling aside the plight of unemployed males, Schorr focuses on improving the lot of impoverished children and their families. She calls for increased public and private efforts to improve prenatal, child, and family medical care (preferably through a government-financed health service), to reduce teen-age pregnancies, to tailor education to the needs of underclass children, to provide childcare facilities for the working poor, and to coordinate and expand outreach programs that help disoriented families cope with problems. She admits that starting costs will be high, but contends (with some statistics) that short-term payoffs will include reduced welfare funds for unwed mothers, fewer foster-home placements, and fewer low-birthweight babies, particularly vulnerable to costly chronic illnesses. In the long run, a new employable generation presumably will break away from poverty, crime, and drug and alcohol addiction. Schorr describes numerous existing programs that seem to prove the financial benefits of investing in children and families. High-school clinics that provide birth-control advice and contraceptives along with prenatal care have reduced unwed pregnancies and low-birthweight babies. An elementary school in a devastated public housing complex has raised reading scores from rock bottom to near the top. Young students receive respect and encouragement; their mothers work as teachers' aides and serve on the school's planning board. Information-crammed, illuminating, thought-provoking--and likely to be discussed, trumpeted, and challenged.