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When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: t/c Kindle Edition

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Length: 464 pages

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Employing a sociological storytelling method, Black, associate professor of sociology at the University of Hartford, recounts the lives of three Puerto Rican brothers living in poor, gang-dominated Springfield, Mass., whom he befriended and followed for 18 years. The book is not so much about the brothers—Julio, Fausto and Sammy—and their friends as it is about the cultural and social forces and the economic and political policies that in the latter decades of the 20th century determined the boys' fates and the fates of thousands of others. Flawed bilingual education programs doomed them to virtual illiteracy, while harsh drug laws warehoused them in a rapidly expanding prison system. While the author provided concrete forms of assistance—especially for the two younger brothers, who battled addiction—the pull of the street as well as the inadequacy of their education led to failed or marginally productive lives, even for the motivated eldest son, Julio. Extensive references to sociological literature provide a scholarly framework for understanding the dynamics at work, but tend to interrupt the flow of the story. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Washington Post Best Books of 2009

Booklist Editor’s Choice Best Books of 2009

“Along with narrative drama, Black offers analysis. It’s not dry, however. And his emphasis on Puerto Rican brothers is eye-opening. . . . These mean streets could be Piri Thomas’s or Martin Scorsese’s. . . . Black relies on oral history. Swaths of his book are given over to dialogue he often presents in script form. And I applaud his choice to allow the men to express themselves. . . . We hear voices we don’t normally hear, and the book is filled with the poetry of the street. . . . The talk is cinematic, even when the data are not. The oddly melodious outbreaks of profanity are honest and, in their own way, poetic. These are the stories of the new America.”
—Luis Urrea, The Washington Post
 
“The book succeeds because author Timothy Black make readers care about his subjects. . . . Captivating.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“The twisting story lines and intriguing subplots from the Rivera brothers and their peers are good enough to compete with any series on HBO.”
Hartford Advocate

"This ethnographic investigation into the processes that keep so many minorities in the United States in poverty and deprviation is an extraordinary, insightful, and gripping read. . . . Black's story is well told, at times both suspenseful and heartwrenching. . . . Profound."  —José Ramón Sánchez, Contemporary Sociology

“Through the Rivera family, Black examines the interplay of economics and social policy that has made it more difficult for low-income Americans to progress into the middle class. Black explores the troubled history of the U.S. and Puerto Rico, as well as the decline of the industrial base at a time when the nation was cracking down on crime and drug add...

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By BigFrankNYC1 on January 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is one the best sociological works ever written about the lives of a minority group in the city. The author put in the work and dedication, a very well reasearched and informative book that is easy to follow; worth reading. It is a very down to earth and detailed account of the lives of innercity Puerto Ricans and all of the things they that have to deal with; especially through the 70's, 80's, 90's, and into the the 00's. Not only does the author delve into the personal lives of a specific family and their friends, but the outside forces of racism, government policies, and unfortunate situations that affected the lives of many Puerto Ricans who migrated to this country; it gives a better understanding of thier lives when they first got here and how the negativity they dealt with affected thier lives, individually, as families, and ultimately as a community. The author gives a real and balanced account, the facts, the reality, through what he has personally seen, as well as the extensive reasearch he has done. This is an excellent book well worth reading.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James W. Russell on October 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Following C. Wright Mills' call for sociologists to demonstrate the links between individual biographies and larger historical, economic, and social contexts within which they occur, Timothy Black followed three Puerto Rican brothers as they navigated their ways through Northeastern cities wracked by poverty, deindustrialization, lack of living wage jobs, and drug economies that moved into the resulting economic and social vaccums. He covered twenty years of their lives, from their teens to their thirties, from the 1990s to today.

The brothers trusted Black and were willing and increasingly seemed to want to talk to him about their experiences as they dropped out of school, dealt drugs, went to prison, tried to do the right thing with sub living wage jobs, tried to take care of children. The result is not a pretty story. Don't expect feel good uplifting endings. Black faithfully records the overwhelming odds that confront young people born into urban poor neighborhoods that reflect the utter failures of national policies to adequately address and remediate poverty. National policy failures and neglect produce wrecked personal lives.

I read the book because I wanted to find out the stories behind the headlines of drug wars and drive by shootings that are common in the Hartford-Springfield areas where I live. Black provided that and a lot more. His successful technique was to masterfully interweave the development of national policies, including, very importantly the massive expansion of prisons, with the personal stories of the brothers and a few other of their acquaintances. The depictions of prison experiences is eye opening and nightmarish. The author plausibly argues that the Abu Ghraib scandal had its precedent in the brutality that is common in U.S. prisons.
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Format: Paperback
I enjoyed reading this book. I read it while taking a course on Social Diversity.

This book exposes the fact that there are systems in place that prevent some classes of people from achieving the "American Dream".

I also recently met a young man who had an addiction, and I was unable to relate to his situation. This peak into the world of rehab, and detox was helpful for me, even though I failed to maintain the relationship with that young man.

I was able to see how the stories of these young men are similar to so many others.

The faults of our prison system was highlighted in this book, and the truest statement I can remember is that "93% of all prisoners will at some point come back out into society." So, what are we doing to help them come back, to be able to adjust?

As a military veteran I can relate to the difficulties of adjusting to life in the real world. Around the time I was getting out of the military another friend of mine was getting out of prison. We used to joke about how we had both been institutionalized, but in different ways. Well, this book gives a peak into how the prison system can institutionalize a person, and ill prepare them for their return to the outside.

Pick up this book, read it. The saying is that you are no different from one day to the next except for the people you meet and the books you read. So, read this book. It will change you. Your thinking will be different after reading it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Pearse O'Sullivan on October 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing book; a beautiful rich story of struggle and survival in a cold and heartless world. There are many books out there that can claim to tell such rich stories as this, but none of them have the incredible amount of economic and sociological context that is seamlessly interwoven into this story. The end result is that the reader is bombarded with context details without it slowing down the story or making the reading cumbersome. Most writers who attempt to do what Black has done here either stray too far to either the storytelling side or the context side; here we have a book with the correct balance.

This is one of those books you'll find hard to put down, with all the gritiness and real life stories that you would expect from an inner-city drama. After reading this book on what is an unprecedented study you will not only know more about the characters but you will know more about society, sociology and economics. Whether you are looking for a great real life story - too real for TV - or a great sociological study done by a master you will be pleased to read this book.
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