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Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families Paperback – August 12, 1986

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The climax of this humane account of 10 years in Boston that began with news of Martin Luther King's assassination, is a watershed moment in the city's modern history--the 1974 racist riots that followed the court-ordered busing of kids to integrate the schools. To bring understanding to that moment, Lukas, a former New York Times journalist, focuses on two working-class families, headed by an Irish-American widow and an African-American mother, and on the middle-class family of a white liberal couple. Lukas goes beyond stereotypes, carefully grounding each perspective in its historical roots, whether in the antebellum South, or famine-era Ireland. In the background is the cast of public figures--including Judge Garrity, Mayor White, and Cardinal Cushing--with cameo roles in this disturbing history that won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

From Publishers Weekly

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the American Book Award, this book examines school integration in Boston from the vantage points of three familiesone black and two white. PW stated that Common Ground is "highly readable and brings us as close as we are likely to get to the average person's experiences of urban racial tensions."
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (August 12, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394746163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394746166
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 20, 1998
Format: Paperback
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.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
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.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is a magnificant work -- the best work of nonfiction I have ever read. It captures the essence of the problems facing urban America in a compelling, meticulous story. It is about America, the world, race and racism, class and elitism, sociology, education, psychology -- it has it all. And it is breathtakingly entertaining.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on May 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
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.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Boilermakers on December 1, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is about busing in the 1970's in Boston. I grew up there and lived through the entire nightmare. This man has put together more information into one book, than you can possibly imagine. I knew all the players of the time, and I had no idea of all of the political shenanagians that was going on at that time. It is so in depth, I feel as though I know these people, walked the streets with these people, and suffered through what they did. Incredible, writing, incredible story, deserved the Pulitzer.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jason ACK_Red on November 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
In you are interested in modern Boston history, and why Boston is the way it is, there is no better book. The subject of this book is busing, but that is only one (important) element of the book. Excellent, well-researched overview of Boston's different ethnic clans, geography, religious groups (the most fascinating history of the Boston Roman Catholic Church I have ever read), and Boston culture. Extremely well-written.

I've lived in Massachusetts/Boston my entire life. I regret not reading this book earlier.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "bigwildogs" on December 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
Lukas manages to present three views of the tumultuous events in Boston in the 1960s without placing value judgements upon the viewpoints himself. He simply tells the story as it happened by presenting each family's view -- a poor black family's, a poor white family's, and an upper class white family's -- of the situation as it appeared to them at the time. His book presents a window into the hearts and minds of the people that made the story; it is a rare treat.
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