cover image Fire in the Ashes: 
Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America

Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America

Jonathan Kozol. Crown, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4000-5246-2

National Book Award–winner Kozol (The Shame of the Nation) again traces the workings of “savage inequalities”—this time on a generational timescale—in this engrossing chronicle of lives blighted and redeemed. He follows the fortunes of people he met decades ago in a squalid Manhattan welfare hotel and in the South Bronx’s Mott Haven ghetto, whose stories range from heartbreaking to hopeful: traumatized boys grow into lost and vicious men; teens go to college and beyond with the help of mentors; many drift through years of addiction, violent relationships, and prison before achieving a semblance of stability and focus. These lives are full of choices, good and spectacularly bad, but Kozol highlights the institutional forces that shape them: social service bureaucracies that warehouse the homeless in hellholes; immigration regulations that break up families; the academic “killing fields” of the Bronx’s terrible middle schools; the neighborhood church whose ministries rescue many kids. Eschewing social science jargon and deploying extraordinary powers of observation and empathy, Kozol crafts dense, novelistic character studies that reveal the interplay between individual personality and the chaos of impoverished circumstances. Like a latter-day Dickens (but without the melodrama), he gives us another powerful indictment of America’s treatment of the poor. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Aug.)