Book Reviews

Review: Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

Ghettoside: To Stop the Slaughter of Young Black Men, Forget Broken Windows

For years, experts in crime prevention have drilled home the idea that preventing crime is their mission. Make property owners fix broken windows, they argue, and you prevent crime. Put foot patrols in areas where there’s been recent crime, goes the argument, and you drive crime out. Arrest people for lifestyle and petty crimes, to show you mean business. It’s the Minority Report approach to crime prevention.

Problem is, the approach hasn’t worked very well in some communities particularly hard it by serious crime. If anything, it may have been counterproductive, argues a new book that examines serious black-on-black crime. In Ghettoside, veteran Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy takes a sobering look at the lack of rule of law in one poor African-American community in California. What’s desperately needed, she posits, is reactive policing. Police need to solve serious crime – to reestablish the Rule of Law in the poor African-American communities that have long seen their males killed or maimed in staggering numbers in a pattern that goes back to Reconstruction days.

Leovy writes: “This is a book about a very simple idea: where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic.” And she proceeds to provide example after example of a relentless cycle of murder and revenge. At the heart of her argument is a paradox that is perplexing at first glance. African-Americans live with a criminal justice system that is at once “oppressive and inadequate,” that punishes black men for minor infractions with stiff sentences, yet fails to protect black men from murder and serious bodily harm. The result is that black men are far more likely to be murdered than any other group of Americans. This, Leovy says, is a modern-day plaque, ripping apart families and neighborhoods in a never-ending cycle of murder and revenge, ancient blood feuds for the 21st Century.

Ghettoside isn’t just an intellectual argument. It is also a true-crime story of two homicide detectives – one white and one black – and the fight to bring to justice the killer who murdered the black detective’s son. It reads like a novel. Highly recommended reading.

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The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

Hatshepsut as feminist, breaker of ancient glass ceilings and pharaoh.

Professor Kara Cooney has written an inventive biography of Hatshepsut, who assumed the role of Pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and reigned for over two decades before disappearing into antiquity as her descendants obliterated almost all traces of her reign. Part straightforward history, part intimate imagining, part feminist treatise, the story of Hatshepsut is highly readable and engaging. While professional Egyptologists may quibble over Cooney’s approach, ordinary readers outside academia will appreciate the insight and educated guesswork the author uses to resurrect Hatshepsut from oblivion and place her in her rightful position.

This is Kara Cooney’s first book. Cooney struggles hard to make the transition from academic writing to popular writing and largely manages the transition – in some cases perhaps veering too far into the popular realm, crossing the line from biography into historical (if extremely well-informed) fiction. Fortunately for the reader who wants access to the sources the author uses to imagine Hatshepsut’s life, Cooney includes extensive notes at the end. These, unlike the increasingly common and annoying practice some other publishers have adopted of placing endnotes on a website, make for easy reference.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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