This book is an absolutely magnificent tableau of American politics in all its complexity and ambiguity. Lukas investigated the lives of three families in a fundamental controversy on the future of America: forced school busing.
The first family are brahmans, from Harvard Law and straight into the Mayor's office in a moment of idealism that would forever change his career. He is a mechanic of political change, who is trying to lead a good and honorable life. Then there is a working class Irish family, from the other side of the tracks. The widowed mother becomes a great adversary of the process underway, in no way racist but opposed for very practical and personal reasons to forced busing. Finally, there is a black family, struggling to get by amidst dashed hopes and pathological mental illness, the supposed benificiariers of a great social experiment. The portrayals of these lives - all real and thoroughly investigated by an absolutely first-rate investigative journalist - are beyond novellistic realism. The personalities are so vivid and well drawn that it is simply astonishing.
Then there is the wider political/historical milieu, Boston in the early 1970s. Lukas stops at nothing to create a composite picture: there is the mayor Kevin White (whom I was astonished to learn was considered by Jimmy Carter as a running mate in 1976), Ted Kennedy, and scores of others including the archdiscese and various minor politician-demagogues hoping to make a career out of the crisis. The portrait is as beautiful and detailed as the Sistine Chapel, exposing the best, the worst, and the unexpected in American politics of the period. Lukacs' talent to do all of this is simply extraordinary. Late in the writing, I learned, he had to throw out one of the three families and begin the entire process over again in the name of thoroughness. No wonder he won a pulitzer.
This book also spoke to me personally. I was in Boston for part of the time, in the very neighborhood where the brahmans lived as a personal social experiment, and I witnessed many of the events as they unfolded. Lukacs' evocation of it all struck me as entirely accurate, pitch perfect to where people were coming from and what they hoped and feared. As such, this book is a crucible of the American race conundrum, a turning point of the greatest political import, perhaps equal to the Vietnam war protests.
And the writing! It is elegant and clear beyond imagination, approaching what I would call genius, the product of an unusually driven mind. The characters are so vivid that I will refelct on them until the day I die. This is destined to become a classic, like Tacitus or Thucydides - the quality is truly that high. I have read HUNDREDS of political-historical books, and this one ranks as near the top as a handful.
Recommended as a true must-read. Get it, make the effort, for an excpetional reading experience.
As one who actually lived through these terrible, terrible times in Boston, this book is one of the only pieces of journalism that doesn't portray white, working class Boston as the bad, ugly racists, but rather shows that the children of Boston were used as pawns by well-heeled suburbanites and a lofty judge who walked away and then pointed the finger. It was always, always about class and not race and the whole busing debacle nearly ruined a great American city. Stopping the desegregation at the City limits was the biggest mistake ever made and the people of Boston simply refused to abide by it. Sure, people were accused of being racist and certainly some ugly things happened, but to act as though discrimination ended at the borders of Boston was ridiculous, which is now acknowledged. Hopefully the suburbs will not be let off the hook again.
I got to experience the events in this book firsthand. Our house in Hyde Park overlooked Hyde Park High School, and the three kids in my family still at home in September, 1974, and affected by busing, were in the 9th, 8th, and 5th grades. I will never forget how forced busing turned our world and that of our neighbors upside-down. So many incidents went unreported so as not to inflame tensions even more. I put off reading Mr. Lukas' book for years, but now that I have, I 'm in awe of his incredible effort. I feel that I personally owe him a great debt, because he gave these events a place in history where they deserve to be. For many years, busing was a taboo topic in conversation and in the newspapers. Strangely enough, after 24 years, the court's decisions are now being overturned, using the same arguments in reverse... To me, busing will always rankle as a reminder of the hypocrisy of the suburbs, where I now live in order to avoid- you guessed it- the now less-than-adequate Boston schools.
I had originally heard about this book as a student in urban affairs. IT is an accurate, indepth look at what really happened in Boston during the most trying times of the City. The author made it easy to feel attached to the efforts of the the three families. The reader could get a sense of the racism that existed in all levels of government, the media, and society during the time. The book is an eye opener to anyone who is in the public sector without exclusion. It would be interesting to see where these people are now and what they think today.
This is a wonderful book, important for the story it tells and the truths it bares. Having been reared in an Irish-Catholic family, the moods and feeling expressed by the McGoff family were very familiar to me. Further, the issue of race relations in our cities remains a relevant and disturbing problem. This book illustrates the struggles good and well meaning people face in striving for equality in daily life.
This is one of the finest books on anything I have ever read. Mr. Lukas captures the distinct qualities of three widely divergent families in Boston, illuminating their struggles to come to terms with the urban upheavals of the time and place. Local and national issues of family and race receive remarkably balanced treatment. A long book, but worth every word--absolutely magnificent.