A Kind of Genius: Herb Sturz and Society's Toughest Problems

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In A Kind of Genius, Sam Roberts offers a window onto Herb Sturz’s extraordinary life’s work. Sturz began his long career in social entrepreneurship by reforming the bail system and founding the Vera Institute of Justice. He served as New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Criminal Justice under Ed Koch and then as Chairman of the City Planning Commision. He moved on to establish affordable inner-city housing and programs for at-risk individuals. But Sturz has, to date, largely ...

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A Kind of Genius: Herb Sturz and Society's Toughest Problems

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Overview

In A Kind of Genius, Sam Roberts offers a window onto Herb Sturz’s extraordinary life’s work. Sturz began his long career in social entrepreneurship by reforming the bail system and founding the Vera Institute of Justice. He served as New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Criminal Justice under Ed Koch and then as Chairman of the City Planning Commision. He moved on to establish affordable inner-city housing and programs for at-risk individuals. But Sturz has, to date, largely eschewed the public’s eye.

Roberts pays tribute to Sturz’s inspirational legacy of accomplishment. His initiatives have consistently provided solutions to our most challenging problems. Here, for the first time, his astonishing story is told in full.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Library Journal, 3/1
“In what is both a biography and an appreciation of his subject's achievement, Roberts…brings our attention to a pioneer of social entrepreneurship….The influences of pragmatism, his father's unconditional love, a bout with polio at an early age, a letter from John Steinbeck, and a profound respect for the Bill of Rights—all helped shape Sturz, depicted as an admirable, humble, idealistic realist (if you will), an average man intent on tirelessly championing civil rights and liberties. Also notable here is the in-depth analysis of the numerous social programs Sturz created. Recommended for public and undergraduate libraries, especially with collections in social-service entrepreneurship”

executive editor Mark Schmitt, American Prospect, 3/20
“The book catches the feel of governance over a long era in New York and how a single visionary could get one thing after another accomplished.”
 

Washington Post, 4/5
“Roberts does a fine job of showing how Sturz succeeded not only by having good ideas but also by appealing to ‘government's enlightened self-interest.’ Systems change when systems see a selfish reason to change. In our time of national transformation, it's a valuable lesson.”

Joe Conason, New York Times Book Review
“[An] engaging book…the “genius” that Sturz used to help [the underprivileged of the city]…relied as much on personal virtue as on penetrating intellect. Now 78 years old, he remains enormously determined and almost ridiculously confident, yet self-effacing and ready to relignquish control of his own projects. He is zealous and visionary yet highly practical, and seemingly immune to the usual temptations of empire building…..Perhaps, as President Obama suggested recently, the critical factor in creating change is persistence. Keeping faith for half a century is a kind of genius, too.”

Liam Julian
Roberts does a fine job of showing how Sturz succeeded not only by having good ideas but also by appealing to "government's enlightened self-interest."
—The Washington Post
Joe Conason
Any writer who employs the word "genius" in the title of a biography—especially the biography of someone who is unknown to the broad public—is accepting a dare to prove that the subject deserves it. As for A Kind of Genius, the title Sam Roberts uses for his life of Herb Sturz, it not only demands proof but provokes other questions. Exactly what kind of genius is this man? Who is he, anyway? And why should we care? Roberts answers those challenges in full, well before the conclusion of this engaging book.
—The New York Times
Library Journal

In what is both a biography and an appreciation of his subject's achievement, Roberts (New York Times; The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case) brings our attention to a pioneer of social entrepreneurship. For over four decades, as a public official in New York's city government and the founding director of the After-School Corporation and the Vera Institute of Justice, Herb Sturz has initiated and shepherded significant social reforms. In his account, Roberts highlights Sturz's personal experiences, his motivations, and the unusual paths his life has taken, emphasizing the marriage of political and business acumen often cultivated by individuals who feel driven to change society for the better-and who succeed at it. The influences of pragmatism, his father's unconditional love, a bout with polio at an early age, a letter from John Steinbeck, and a profound respect for the Bill of Rights-all helped shape Sturz, depicted as an admirable, humble, idealistic realist (if you will), an average man intent on tirelessly championing civil rights and liberties. Also notable here is the in-depth analysis of the numerous social programs Sturz created. Recommended for public and undergraduate libraries, especially with collections in social-service entrepreneurship.
—Theresa Kintz

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586484712
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 3/2/2009
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Sam Roberts, Urban Affairs Correspondent of the New York Times, has written for the Times for more than two decades. Before joining the Times, he was a reporter and city editor at the Daily News. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Republic, and New York Magazine. Author and co-author of several books, he lives in New York with his wife.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Herb's Children 1

Pt. I The Outsider

1 Only Connect 11

2 Boys' Life Goes to Jail 25

3 The Feminine Form of True 35

Pt. II The Innovator

4 Vera's Bailiwick 47

5 Summons to the Bowery 81

6 Beyond the Bowery 101

7 The Wildcats Strike 121

8 In the Summer of Sam 147

Pt. III The Insider

9 Politics and Poker 163

Pt. IV The Social Planner

10 The Process Broker 193

11 Planning the Visionary City 205

Pt. V Tackling Times Square

12 The Longest-Running Joke in New York 223

13 The New Times Square 245

Pt. VI The Benefactor

14 A Planner Faces Reality 257

15 A Winter's Tale at the Bonfire of the Vanities 273

16 "As Long As I'm Doing Something That Matters" 297

Epilogue: Always Connect 313

A Note on Sources 327

Index 333

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