Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation

Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation

by Jonathan Kozol

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Overview

Amazing Grace is Jonathan Kozol’s classic book on life and death in the South Bronx—the poorest urban neighborhood of the United States. He brings us into overcrowded schools, dysfunctional hospitals, and rat-infested homes where families have been ravaged by depression and anxiety, drug-related violence, and the spread of AIDS. But he also introduces us to devoted and unselfish teachers, dedicated ministers, and—at the heart and center of the book—courageous and delightful children. The children we come to meet through the friendships they have formed with Jonathan defy the stereotypes of urban youth too frequently presented by the media. Tender, generous, and often religiously devout, they speak with eloquence and honesty about the poverty and racial isolation that have wounded but not hardened them. Amidst all of the despair, it is the very young whose luminous capacity for love and transcendent sense of faith in human decency give reason for hope.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780770435660
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 06/26/2012
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 183,530
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Kozol is the author of Death at an Early Age (for which he received the National Book Award), Savage InequalitiesAmazing Grace, and other award-winning books about young children and their public schools. He travels and lectures about educational inequality and racial injustice.

Read an Excerpt

  The Number 6 train from Manhattan to the South Bronx makes nine stops in the 18-minute ride between East 59th Street and Brook Avenue. When you enter the train, you are in the seventh richest congressional district in the nation. When you leave, you are in the poorest.
   The 600,000 people who live here and the 450 000 people who live in Washington Heights and Harlem, which are separated from the South Bronx by a narrow river , make up one of the largest racially segregated concentrations of poor people in our nation.
   Brook Avenue, which is the tenth stop on the local, lies in the center of Mott Haven, whose 48,000 people are the poorest in the South Bronx. Two thirds are Hispanic, one third black. Thirty-five percent are children. In 1991, the median household income of the area, according to the New York Times, was $7,600.
   St. Ann's Church, on St. Ann's Avenue, is three blocks from the subway station. The children who come to this small Episcopal church for food and comfort and to play, and the mothers and fathers who come here Or prayer, are said to be the poorest people in New York. " More than 95 percent are poor," the pastor says-"the poorest of the poor, poor by any standard I can think of."
At the elementary school that serves the neighborhood across the avenue, only seven of 800 children do not qualify for free school lunches. "Five of those seven," says the principal, "get reduced-price lunches, because they are classified as only 'poor,' not 'destitute.' "
   In some cities, the public reputation of a ghetto neighborhood bears little connection to the world that you discover when you walk thestreets with children and listen to their words. In Mott Haven, this is not the case. By and large, the words of the children in the streets and schools and houses that surround St. Ann's more than justify the grimness in the words of journalists who have described the area.
   Crack-cocaine addiction and the intravenous use of heroin, which children I have met here call "the needle drug," are woven into the texture of existence in Mott Haven. Nearly 4,000 heroin injectors, many of whom are HIV-infected, live here. Virtually every child at St. Ann's knows someone, a relative or neighbor, who has died of AIDS, and most children here know many others who are dying now of the disease. One quarter of the women of Mott Haven who are tested in obstetric wards are positive for HIV. Rates of pediatric AIDS, therefore, are high.
   Depression is common among children in Mott Haven. Many cry a great deal but cannot explain exactly why.
   Fear and anxiety are common. Many cannot sleep.
   Asthma is the most common illness among children here. Many have to struggle to take in a good deep breath. Some mothers keep oxygen tanks, which children describe as "breathing machines," next to their children's beds.
The houses in which these children live, two thirds of which are owned by the City of New York, are often as squalid as the houses of the poorest children I have visited in rural Mississippi, but there is none of the greenness and the healing sweetness of the Mississippi countryside outside their windows, which are often barred and bolted as protection against thieves.
   Some of these houses are freezing in the winter. In dangerously cold weather, the city sometimes distributes electric blankets and space heaters to its tenants. In emergency conditions, if space heaters can't be used, because substandard wiring is overloaded, the city's practice, according to Newsday, is to pass out sleeping bags.
   "You just cover up ... and hope you wake up the next morning," says a father of four children, one of them an infant one month old, as they prepare to climb into their sleeping bags in hats and coats on a December night.
   In humid summer weather, roaches crawl on virtually every surface of the houses in which many of the children live. Rats emerge from holes in bedroom walls, terrorizing infants in their cribs. In the streets outside, the restlessness and anger that are present in all seasons frequently intensify under the stress of heat.
   In speaking of rates of homicide in New York City neighborhoods, the Times refers to the streets around St. Ann's as "the deadliest blocks" in "the deadliest precinct" of the city. If there is a deadlier place in the United States, I don't know where it is.
   In 1991, 84 people, more than half of whom were 21 or younger, were murdered in the precinct. A year later, ten people were shot dead on a street called Beckman Avenue, where many of the children I have come to know reside. On Valentine's Day of 1993, three more children and three adults were shot dead on the living room floor of an apartment six blocks from the run-down park that serves the area.
   In early July of 1993, shortly before the first time that I visited the neighborhood, three more people were shot in 30 minutes in tree unrelated murders in the South Bronx, one of them only a block from St. Ann's Avenue. A week later, a mother was murdered and her baby wounded by a bullet in the stomach while they were standing on a South Bronx corner. Three weeks after that, a minister and elderly parishioner were shot outside the front door of their church, while another South Bronx resident was discovered in his bathtub with his head cut off. In subsequent days, a man was shot in both his eyes and a ten-year-old was critically wounded in the brain.
   What is it like for children to grow up here? What do they think the world has done to them? Do they believe that they are being shunned or hidden by society? If so, do they think that they deserve this? What is it that enables some of them to pray? When they pray, what do they say to God?

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Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation (3 cassettes) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
bOOkLOVER2011 More than 1 year ago
this is a great book from begining to end. It is very easy to make a visual in your mimd of what is going on. reading this book it makes you want to be greatful for the things that you have, because the children presented have so little bit they appreciate just living from day to day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was real. kozol uses hard facts along with testimony to make this a book that no one can put down
artistlibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A simple but powerful read about the children of the South Bronx. Their abandonment by local government and social institutions should not be surprising to anyone familiar with the area and the issues of national poverty in general. However, the neglect is still shocking.Kozol writes without forcefully pushing personal dogma or accusing nor blaming anyone (mostly), which makes Amazing Grace feel honest and open, allowing the reader to learn and grapple with the heart-wrenching subjects in his or her own capacity. Though it's a shame that his text is just a book and not a solution, at least it's step in a progressive direction.
JFBallenger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Every comfortable American should read this book. Kozol spent more than a year walking and talking with the people living in the Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven, some of the poorest people in the United States during the 1990s (or any era), and writes a passionate, clear-eyed and nuanced account of the pain, suffering, tragedy, profound courage and the rare triumphs of spirit to be found there. Perhaps more importantly, the book unflinching reveals the the stark injustice and callous indifference that creates and sustains the modern urban ghetto.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
An eye-opening account of the lives lead by people in poverty. Every person should read this book in order to understand how the cycle of poverty works.
Guest More than 1 year ago
How do life and the world work? Is it Fortune¿s Wheel, spinning round and round, giving and taking as it rises and falls? Or is it the Circle of Life, a long chain continuously flowing, setting a chain reaction that ends where it all began? Kozol only touches on a minute part of the life and the world, yet he opens our eyes to so much. Yes, we all feel for those less fortunate than us, but very few have gone as far as Jonathan Kozol, entering the lives of those said people. When he writes, he gives them a voice that they otherwise would not have had, and lets us know what we previously didn¿t. We might ponder why Kozol chose to interview various peoples in the sketchy neighborhoods of New York City. It¿s possible because he wanted to show the truth of what happens in the neglected areas of our country. It isn¿t all sunshine and rainbows with a pot of gold at the end, and little white bunny rabbits hopping about. The world is a cruel place, and rarely forgives easily. It took Kozol months in 1994 to get these few stories of those who living in and near the South Bronx. He captures the stories of children in his other books, and continues to do so. His tales are not those of the faerie realms, nor of those of happily ever after, what a cliché. Instead it¿s of the poor, sick, discriminated. Kozol is trying to get across is to OPEN OUR EYES to what happens daily around us and in our lives. Jonathan Kozol goes around, interviewing the people in the neighborhoods of New York City, getting the stories what later became his book. Even though this book is extremely well written, I found the stories somewhat repetitive, with he over using what should have been cut down to less. So, if you want information, read this book. And if you want to be slightly bored, this book is also for you. I have to say, I¿m in between thinking this book is the most boring ever, and the best. So read Amazing Brace, and found out for yourself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation portrays the lives of people living in the ¿bad¿ areas of New York City, such as Harlem and the South Bronx, and accentuates the hardships that both adults and children must face every day. Most of these people it focuses on are either Black or Hispanic, poor, drug addicted, uneducated, unemployed, sickly (AIDS/ HIV), or homeless. Kozol ventures into the areas no other 'non- ghetto' person would dare to go, and listens to people who are usually ignored and shunned by society. What he finds out is quite astonishing to people who are not aware of the grasp poverty and disease has on the people of such areas, and how it affects future generations. He speaks to children who are witnesses to, to them, everyday occurrences such as murder, rape, and drug abuse, and who are orphaned, born in jail, segregated, oppressed, mentally unstable, or infected with a lethal disease. He also exposes a side of poor people that stereotypes so not usually allow the innocent, hopeful, and caring ones who do not rape, murder, or sell drugs and are simply trying to get by despite the obvious setbacks. This book is somewhat biased, and mainly voices the ideas and opinions of those living in the South Bronx/ Harlem area, resulting in somewhat negative standpoint on the state of New York, as well as on people who are not poor. It contains countless deaths of the various people that Kozol passes by in the borough, which is not exactly cheerful subject matter. It also focuses greatly on the impact religion has on these undermined people and how it gives them hope, even in their dreadful situation. It¿s not a book you want to read on Christmas break. Or whenever you¿re happy for that matter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Before reading Jonathan Kozol¿s Amazing Grace, I always thought the South Bronx was ¿what was happenin¿¿ according to KRS-One¿s song ¿South Bronx.¿ Unfortunately unlike the upbeat tempo and rhythm of this song, this non-fiction compilation of stories of the South Bronx is a place full of peril, hatred, and abandonment. Kozol¿s work describes the difficulties of the lives of the citizen¿s of the South Bronx, and the tragedies that constantly surround them. Many people claim that this book presents an argument that supports Kozol¿s political opinion. However, the author never comes straight out in this book and calls someone or some group the ¿bad guy.¿ He leaves it up to the readers to decide who is at fault, and what most be changed within the communities. For example, when Kozol was walking with Gizelle Luke, a woman who he chooses to interview, near the highway she pointed out ¿pictures of flowers, window shades and curtains and interiors of pretty-looking rooms that have been painted on these buildings on the sides that face the highway. It¿s a very strange sight, and the pictures have been done so well that when you look the first time, you imagine that you¿re seeing into people¿s homes¿The city has these murals painted on the walls, she says, not for the people in the neighborhood ¿ because they¿re facing the wrong way ¿ but for tourists and commuters¿ (31). The author never attaches any direct blame to the struggles in the South Bronx however, through accounts such as these he lets the audience make their own decisions. For instance, in the above passage the reader may conclude that the local governments are not fulfilling their role in society. Kozol does a mastery job in making subtle arguments throughout the text to persuade his audience. In addition to the author¿s arguments, his interviews with some of the children of Mott Haven are heart wrenching and beautiful. Some of the statements they make about heaven and life itself, is something you would never expect to hear a child say, nevertheless, a child from the South Bronx. A 12-year-old boy name Jeremiah makes note that ¿`It isn¿t where people live. It¿s how they live¿¿`There are different economies in different places¿¿`Life in Riverdale is opened up. Where we live, it¿s locked down¿¿ (32). Imagine a 12-year-old child making this type of conclusion about his life. When one reads this child making this statement, one is overwhelmed by how intelligent and for how much this child has to live. Then, as one continues through the book this happiness and joy is struck down, as the reader realizes that Jeremiah is probably going to become another victim of his society. The book is very interesting and entertaining to any reader. Kozol¿s style is easy to understand and holds the attention of any reader as he appeals to the audience¿s emotions and values. The issues raised in this book effects everyone in America, not just those in the South Bronx or the surrounding area. It is imperative for one understand that all are apart of the problems that the South Bronx faces. No one is exempt from the hardships faced there. Unless one believes that ¿`Some people are better than others,¿ wrote conservative social scientist Charles Murray several years ago. `They deserve more of society¿s rewards¿¿ (154). Then when it comes to the day of one¿s own reckoning, his or her final judgment will already be made. This book is a must read for anyone who believes in equality and justice. Everyone is apart of our American family. ¿Many men and women in the Bronx believe that it is going to get worse. I don¿t know what can change this¿ (230). Well, it can start with everyone becoming aware of the situation at hand. Great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
AS a 13 year who lives in the Bronx. I am very grateful for the things I have because in the old days there was to many problems and this book showed me why.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It gives me the chills when I think about it because it is so real. Not that it hits close to home, because it doesn't, but that is what makes this book so amazing. It has allowed me look beyond my misconceptions and into a world where I would have never thought existed. Its based on true life and is absolutely astounding. A definite must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book. It helps me to see a world so far from my own. I'll never forget the bears. Just gripping.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent book. Defintely Worth while to read. It taught you about life and how great it is. A moving piece of literature.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jonathan Kozol did a great job with this book. This book helped me realize that I wanted to go into sociology. His book exposes the realities of inner-city life and the struggles these children face. This book will make you develop more of a compassion for these children.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first heard of Jonathan Kozol over a year ago, as he was speaking at the Lied Center in Lawrence, Kansas. Being a prospective teacher (knock on wood), I thought his advertised experience with children would shine through in his presentation. And it did. I don't know if I've heard of a man with more compassion for these people of unfortunate circumstances. I came away hoping to read some of his work, and had the pleasure of doing so this past December upon receiving this book from my sister for Christmas. The book showed me just how important helping others is, and reaffirmed my aspirations to teach and help children in the future. An excellent read that can open your eyes to social conditions not all of us run into in our lives.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Amazing Grace, The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation tells the story of the lives of the youth living in the most poverty stricken areas of New York City. Jonathan Kozol interviews the children and families of Mott Haven residents and the surrounding neighborhoods of the South Bronx to attempt to understand their feelings and beliefs. Neighborhoods that are plagued with gangs, prostitutes,and drug addicts are still the playgrounds for the children in Mott Haven. The Children's Park located in the center of Mott Haven, serves many functions in the community. A disease control group sets up weekly for a needle exchange program in the afternoon. Drug dealers use it for business after sunset. Old teddy bears hang that dangle from strings off branches of a small tree serve as baby sitters as the mothers complete their business a few yards away. Every child knows what goes on in the public park, but considerate a part of every day life. These children continue to play and fantisize like children in afluent neighborhoods. As the children grow older, they are able to see the differences between their neighborhoods, and those that are on TV. The differences are not just in the schools or apartments, but also in the types of businesses and billdboards that the government puts there. The city of New York even paid for a mural to be painted on the side of a dilopitated building so the tourists to see, not the residents. The residents feel insulted by this, but it not the first time, or the last. The adolescents who are able to avoid the lure of drugs and gangs have a feeling of anger from being wronged. Their sence of inferiority is supported by the looks and attitudes of the wealth people as they walk into any store in Manhattan. These cgildren, who know more about the struggles of life, overcoming probles, and death than I ever will, continue to have hopes and dream. They fantisize about moving out of the projects and having a family and a job just like a child from any othe neighborhood. They dream about their goals and their future. And the most important thing is that they continue to have hope. Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol is a powerful, informative book that forces one to analyze his or her own behaviors and beliefs. It is easy to read, but forces one to reflect upon how your own actions can help or hinder the children in these poverty stricken areas. The children and families who live in these areas do not want pity. They want things to change. Reading this book empowers one to do that.