The world has many problems.
I know, I’m not kidding.
Some of these problems seem impossible to understand, difficult to solve, sources of despair. I’m talking about problems like healthcare, immigration, homelessness, wealth disparities, crime, college costs… really big problems.
Because these types of issues are so big, I appreciate books that tackle the issues in a way that illuminates them on a historical, systemic, and personal level. These books also show us the roots of the problem, how the problem arises in society, and also how certain lives are affected by these problems.
Examples of similar books include Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” Heather McGhee’s “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together,” and Heather McGhee’s “The Hospital: Life” , Death, and the Dollar in a Small American Town” by Brian Alexander.
A new book looks at a part of the country that we don’t often think of as problematic, but that has become a kind of battleground and litmus test for how we think about education and opportunity in our country.
“Disappointment: Five Families and the Unraveling of America’s Suburbs” by Benjamin Herold uses five inner-ring suburbs outside of Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago to try to get below the surface and show a path forward from the problems.
Over a series of chapters, Herold travels between different places, focusing on the individual stories of Black and Hispanic families who moved to these places to take advantage of good schools and solid infrastructure, but explores the whites who were the first to establish their communities. It made them enemies of the fate of these families.
The Adesina family is highlighted in the chapters on Evanston, the area with the most successful desegregation, ostensibly compared to the almost all-white suburb of Northbrook, where I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s. But beneath the surface, issues of race and opportunity were simmering and taking shape on the battlefield of schools. As Herold documents, desegregation is not the same as “integration.” Conflict occurs when an opportunity for one group is considered to have the potential to disadvantage another.
Herold tells a complex and sometimes disturbing story. There are very few real villains, but still plenty of bad and short-sighted acting; This only becomes clear when you put your own perspective aside and look at things through the eyes of others. Herold describes a difficult mix of conflicting forces and values, burdened by history’s problems that make progress fraught and difficult.
To the extent that there is a villain in these stories, it is the forces of greed and political expediency; It’s a common habit to kick the can down the road rather than deal with a problem beforehand. For example, in Herold’s hometown of Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, in one prominent area, the failure to address sewer needs while the problem was manageable created deep financial misery for the community that cripples it to this day. Those who had the means left immediately.
Whites fled the city for Penn Hills, and when Penn Hills turned out to be a problem, they moved away, leaving the suburban blight behind them. The message that Herold conveys through the stories of these families is that these are problems that we cannot collectively continue to run away from, and that to continue running is not only shortsighted in practical terms, but also a betrayal of the American Dream. Above all else, to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Requirements.”
Book recommendations from Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what you should read, based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
2. “A Season on the Brink” by John Feinstein
3. “I Heard You Painted Houses: Closing the Frank ‘Irish’ Sheeran and Jimmy Hoffa Case” By Charles Brandt
4. “The World for Sale: Merchants Bartering Money, Power, and the World’s Resources” By Javier Blas and Jack Farchy
5. “The Flower Moon Killers: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” By David Grann
—Nick R., Bath, Maine
Nick gravitates toward nonfiction that helps illuminate the past but also has relevance to the present. This brings to mind Brian Merchant’s “Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech”; I couldn’t figure it out when it came out last year, otherwise it would have been on my personal “best of” list. .
1. “Billy Summers” by Stephen King
2. “American Assassin” By Vince Flynn
3. “Killing Shot” By Vince Flynn
4. “Consent to Kill” By Vince Flynn
5. “The Last Man” By Vince Flynn
—Bonnie C., Rolling Meadows
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Bonnie is a Vince Flynn fan. This novel isn’t about a superspy/international agent, but it’s as tense as the Vince Flynn novel “Falling” by TJ Newman.
1. “The Magnificent and the Inferior: Churchill, the Family, and the Myth of Opposition During the Blitz” By Erik Larson
2. “Forever Sweet” By George Pelecanos
3. “Runaways” By Kate Weinberg
4. “Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death” By James Runcie
5. “Riddle” by Robert Harris
— Elaine, Rural
A great looking sequel to this crime novel is coming soon, so to be prepared, Elaine should start with “The Caller” by Tana French.
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