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Prose Microreviews

Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing
Bernard E. Harcourt
Harvard University Press, $35 (cloth)

Legal theorist Bernard Harcourt has written an important, engaging, and provocative work on criminal justice. He criticizes the idea, associated with James Q. Wilson, William Bratton, and Rudolph Giuliani, that determined efforts to punish petty crimes (breaking windows, loitering, squeegeeing windshields) will reduce the rate of serious crimes. Part One shows, pretty conclusively, that this "broken windows" theory of policing has virtually no empirical support. Part Two argues, interestingly though less persuasively, that such policing strategies do not respond to disorderly people, but help to define some people as disorderly (the strategies "create disorderly subjects"). Part Three argues that proponents of broken windows policing were attracted to the "disorder-produces-serious-crime" argument because they could not defend aggressive policing simply by saying that it makes cities calm and aesthetically pleasing. They needed to claim that it prevents real harms, but by making that claim, they opened themselves to the empirical refutation presented in Part One. The book concludes with a call for less social control and more attention in research to the effects that broken windows policing strategies—like encouraging snitching—have on people. Do we really want to keep the windows intact, if the cost is that we live in a society of strategic snitches?

—Joshua Cohen


Dry Bones Rattling: Community Building to Revitalize American Democracy
Mark R. Warren
Princeton University Press, $17.95 (paper)

Anyone interested in community organizing, grassroots mobilization, or the controversies surrounding faith-based politics should read Mark R. Warren's first book, Dry Bones Rattling. Warren documents the values, methods, triumphs, and pitfalls of one of the most successful organizing efforts in the United States today: the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). Warren describes how Ernesto "Ernie" Cortes led the organization beyond its Alinskyite roots in the upper-Midwest to mobilize across racial and cultural lines, developing a broad range of community leaders and connecting religiously rooted values to explicitly political concerns about deprivation and inequality. In places like San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Austin, IAF organizations have built diverse, lasting grassroots political coalitions and organizations that include Hispanics and African-Americans as well as whites. Though they began with the bread-and-butter demands of their predecessors for basic services such as water and power, the IAF has grown to incorporate complex issues such as school reform, job training, and economic development in its agenda. Warren's volume offers an excellent account of how the IAF has succeeded in these endeavors where many other organizing efforts have failed. He argues that the politicization of individuals and organizations that the IAF encourages is a necessary part of renewing American democracy. He stops short, however, of elaborating the other dimensions of that challenge: how groups like the IAF should interact with the traditional, and ultimately much more influential, structures of electoral and administrative politics in a revitalized American democracy. If its particular success stems from connecting faith and politics, are analogous efforts available to energize secular citizens? Warren can certainly be forgiven for these silences, for his painstaking book stirs the democratic imagination.

—Archon Fung


Proust in the Power of Photography
Brassaï
University of Chicago Press, $35 (cloth)

In the mid-nineteenth century, photography entered literary discourse as a source of verbal imagery and a metaphor for expressing ideas. Soon after the daguerreotype emerged, authors began exploiting the new medium; few made more effective literary use of it than Marcel Proust. In this sensitive and insightful study, first published posthumously in French in 1997, the photographer Brassaï (1899–1984) explores the influence of photography on Proust's work and life, drawing on personal correspondence and the extensive collection of early photographs Proust assembled and cherished. Brassaï goes on to identify the photographic image as a recurrent motif and central metaphor throughout In Search of Lost Time. According to Brassaï, the role of photography in the book constitutes "the most important part it has played in a novel since the invention of the camera." Baudelaire derided photography as a hindrance to the imagination, yet Brassaï helps us see that for Proust photographs enhanced both memory and imagination. In his possession photographic portraits not only assumed a talismanic power, they also provided an aid to meditation, allowing him to recall those they depicted and to refract and project his memories into his novel. Photographs allowed Proust to remember who people were and let him imagine what they may become.

—Kevin J. Hayes



Sacagawea's Nickname: Essays on the American West
Larry McMurtry
New York Review Books, $19.95 (cloth)

While still a teenager, Larry McMurtry failed as a cowboy. He then turned, as we learn in the introduction to this collection of essays, to a life "with words, not herds." A successful career change but maybe not, in a geographical scheme, such a significant one: for as McMurtry makes evident, the American West owes itself to writers and readers as much as it does to riders and raiders. Western hucksters and storytellers preceded Western settlers, and so Sacagawea's Nickname travels through a landscape that is both literary and literal, where the distinction between truth and imagination has rarely been clear. We see "Buffalo" Bill Cody, for instance, spend most of his life promoting fantastical western shows and then rush, as an older man, to make an "authentic" western movie—one that would dispel some of the fallacious notions that he had helped create. The movie flopped, and the illusions remained. McMurtry, who seems to have read everything ever written about the West, corrals his history from a broad set of characters and chronicles. Sometimes that means bringing to light the work of underplayed authors like Angie Debo, who documented the second dispossession of the Five Civilized Tribes; sometimes that means revisiting a historical narrative, such as the 200,000 words of "our only really American epic," Lewis and Clark's journals; other times that means following accounts of one place, such as the Missouri River, through centuries of travel. Always, McMurtry's explorations remind us that the West is not just one place but a set of places, and perhaps even more, it is a set of stories. In protecting some of those stories, he acts as his subjects do, "in the conviction that by protecting the stories they secure not only the past but the future too."

— Susan McWilliams



Why Architecture Matters: Lessons from Chicago
Blair Kamin
The University of Chicago Press, $37.50 (cloth)

This selection of Kamin's Chicago Tribune columns emphasizes many points familiar to urban planners, such as the importance of participatory planning and the risk of suburbanizing cityscapes through garish and generic chain-store facades. The book examines the changing aesthetics of metropolitan areas, architecture as both a fine and a social art, and the redevelopment of Chicago's lakefront. In each column, Kamin conveys a sense of how architecture develops in conversation with both new notions of public space and changing socioeconomic conditions. The book's primary strength lies in its broad and detailed range, with as much emphasis on child care centers as on Frank Gehry's Bilbao museum. By discussing specific development projects with sensitivity and complexity, Kamin reveals how comparable projects can result in socioeconomic failure in one setting and success in another. For example, "defensible spaces"—areas such as front porches and yards that can be easily monitored by neighbors and passersby—can turn dangerous housing projects into safe, dignified neighborhoods. They can also lead to wasted taxpayer dollars when unaccompanied by adequate social services and anti-drug covenants. Such considerations are particularly salient in these troubled times, for they remind us—laypersons and architects alike—that buildings are not just physical constructs, but symbols of power and manifestations of social relations.

—Celina Su


In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America
Alice Kessler-Harris
Oxford University Press, $35 (cloth)

Kessler-Harris covers a myriad of both private and public policies that affected the economic standing of women from the 1930s through the 1970s. She explores the intricate interaction between feminist activists and government officials in the construction of New Deal policies, and examines the gender-based assumptions behind a host of public and private policies, such as the standard termination of employment-based benefits to pregnant women, (whose avowed desire to continue working was assumed to be pretense). Not only were many of these assumptions clearly false, programs such as the family-based income tax and unemployment insurance transformed concepts such as "breadwinner," "household," and "family" into politically loaded constructions. The book's rich mixture of quantitative data and personal narratives demonstrates how the economic and political realms of women were and continue to be closely intertwined; it also highlights how administrative clauses, neutral on their faces, often legitimated discrimination against racial minorities. The book's most compelling point is its articulation of the longstanding legacy of the "gendered imagination," the way in which informal attitudes and habits limited the range of viable economic options available to women. Such a framework allows us to analyze the unstated assumptions that persist in limiting the excercise of full economic citizenship.

—Celina Su


Originally published in the February/March 2002 issue of Boston Review



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