The best books on how to make cities safer and help poor children learn and grow

Efrem Sigel Author Of Juror Number 2: The Story of a Murder, the Agony of a Neighborhood
By Efrem Sigel

The Books I Picked & Why

How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice

By Robert Pondiscio

Book cover of How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice

Why this book?

Pondiscio spent an entire school year embedded in Success Academy Bronx 1, an elementary charter school in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Success Academy, a leading charter network, is often criticized for its obsessive focus on structure, discipline, and test prep but in this book, Pondiscio brings to life the incredible dedication and humanity of its teachers and principals as they struggle day by day to change the course of young lives.


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How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

By Paul Tough

Book cover of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

Why this book?

In this book, one of half a dozen he has written about education, Tough delves widely into the research of economists, pediatricians, psychologists, and neuroscientists to focus on often overlooked issues that affect success in education and life: the mother-child relationship; the level of trauma experienced by children in poor, sometimes chaotic homes; and character traits like conscientiousness, grit and the willingness to try and fail.


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Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

By Matthew Desmond

Book cover of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Why this book?

Matthew Desmond, a sociologist at Princeton, spent 14 months living in a trailer park and then a rooming house in Milwaukee’s inner city to portray, in unforgettable detail, the struggles of eight families to make their monthly rent, and the searing tragedy of eviction if they could not. Poverty, broken families, disability, addiction, crime, and the relentless march of the court-directed eviction process form the backdrop for these wrenching human stories.


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The Profession: A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America

By Bill Bratton, Peter Knobler

Book cover of The Profession: A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America

Why this book?

Bratton became New York City police commissioner in the early 1990s when there were more than 2,000 homicides a year. His reforms, including the widely copied CompStat program for pinpointing where crimes were occurring, and then concentrating policing to prevent those crimes, helped bring about a huge decline in crime. This often self-congratulatory memoir is nevertheless full of insights into how to improve policing and make cities safer and more livable.


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The Myth of Overpunishment: A Defense of the American Justice System and a Proposal to Reduce Incarceration While Protecting the Public

By Barry Latzer

Book cover of The Myth of Overpunishment: A Defense of the American Justice System and a Proposal to Reduce Incarceration While Protecting the Public

Why this book?

Is our criminal justice system too harsh or too lenient on crime? To answer this question, Barry Latzer, retired professor at John Jay, offers both facts and historical perspective in his history of punishment since colonial days. Latzer does not gloss over the historic racism and cruelty of policing in the U.S. but shows that today most people in prison are actually there for committing violent crimes, and that the new technology of “e-carceration” can further reduce prison populations while improving public safety.


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