My Favorite Social Science and Education Books


Number 7: Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, By David Hilfiker

As a physician Dr. Hilfiker spent 20 years of his life working with the urban poor, and in this text he explains how blacks and other minorities have been negatively affected by governmental initiatives including Urban Renewal and Interstate Highway programs. The author contends that such programs, along with red lining and divestment, have actually helped create the ghetto.  This book is not filled with academic language or jargon, which makes it a relatively easy read. Still, Hilfiker gets his point across; urban ghettos didn’t just spring up; they were created after politicians, and lawmakers overlooked or minimized the needs of urban residents.


Number 6: Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men, By Elliot Liebow

Why do black men hang out on corners? Why don’t they just get a job? Don’t they want to do something with their lives? This book answers these questions as well as many others about why some black men spend their days occupying street corners. Liebow uses qualitative research methods to help his readers understand the social realities and worldviews of the men he studied. Although this book was written in the 1967, many of the obstacles the men faced back then still exist today. This book is an absolute classic and is a must-read for anyone who desires to learn more about the lived experiences of poor urban black men.


Number 5: Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools, By Johathan Kozol

This book highlights how unfair spending formulas and social policies can hurt urban students. Kozol also provides a riveting and firsthand account of the deplorable conditions of public education in New York, Camden, NJ, Mississippi and Chicago, Illinois. After reading this text the reader will have a better understanding of the problems facing urban schools and their host communities. This book was written in 1991, but many of the issues discussed in this text still exist in urban schools today.


Number 4: City Schools and the American Dream: Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education, By Pedro Noguera

Noguera covers everything from the achievement gap to community violence in this seminal book. However, his central argument is that urban schools will not and cannot improve until we address the social and economic conditions in urban neighborhoods.   This book is full of data and information, but the author also shares his personal and experiential knowledge. Chapter two is particularly riveting as the author makes clear how wealth and poverty can influence academic outcomes. Individuals interested in understanding the challenges African American male students face should also check out Noguera’s book The Trouble With Black Boys.


Number 3: American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass: By Douglass Massey and Nancy Denton

Co-authored by two university professors, American Apartheid explains how the black ghetto was created by whites who sought to control the ever increasing black population. The authors support their assertions with a wealth of data, tables, and historical information. Massey and Denton also elucidate how institutionalized racism and other social impediments make it hard for “hypersegregated” blacks to catch up and compete with their more affluent white peers. This book is not really an easy read; it might take some time for readers to digest all the information presented here. Regardless, anyone seeking to learn more about the urban poor and/or the underclass should checkout this text.


Number 2: When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor, By William Julius Wilson

In this book, Wilson argues that the current conditions in many inner-city neighborhoods are the result of changes in the global economy and the shift from manufacturing to technological jobs. He dutifully describes how when the unemployment rate increases the rate of crime, violence and murders also rises sharply. As a result, according to Wilson, some poorer blacks and may find themselves trapped in urban areas with limited resources, little hope and few opportunities to get ahead.   The author provides direct quotes so the reader can hear the “voices” of poor blacks who are living on the fringes of society. At the end of this text, the author describes what he believes needs to be done to address unemployment in American cities. Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged is also a must read for anyone who is interested in urban sociology.


Number 1: Code of the Street: Decency, Violence and the Moral Life of the Inner City, By Elijah Anderson

This urban ethnography became an instant classic when it was published in 1999. Using qualitative research methods, the author eloquently describes the social realities and daily struggles of blacks who live in urban neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Pa. More clearly, this text provides readers with a glimpse of what life is like in the hood where crime, violence and death are all very much a part of the social terrain. The book includes a chapter about the tension between “decent” and “street” families, and even contains information about the dating practices of urban denizens. Clear, concise and easy to read, this book is a literary tour de force, and a must read for anyone seeking to better understand the challenges and obstacles many inner-city residents face.


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