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The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America Paperback – January 1, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Here is the quintessential American success story: a young African American boy from an inner-city neighborhood makes good and goes to Harvard Law School, then on to a promising career in a prestigious law firm. In Paul M. Barrett's unsettling The Good Black, however, the rags-to-riches formula goes terribly awry. Barrett's subject is his former college roommate, Lawrence Mungin. As a child in the all-black Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, Mungin had learned at his mother's knee that he was "a human being first, an American second, and a black third." Hard work and good grades got him into Harvard. After several years as an associate at law firms in Atlanta and Houston, Mungin signed on with the Washington, D.C., firm of Katten Muchin & Zavis, hoping at last to achieve his dream of full partnership. What he got instead was the end of his career.

The facts of what happened to Lawrence Mungin are indisputable: demeaning work, insulting treatment, zero advancement; what is in question is why he was treated in such a way. When Mungin took his complaint to court, he claimed racial discrimination; Katten Muchin & Zavis didn't deny their mistreatment but insisted that, far from being racially motivated, it was simply the way the firm treated all its employees. Barrett, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, chronicles Mungin's life, his lawsuit, and the bitter aftermath of the trial in a book that raises more questions than it answers--questions about the American way of doing business that should trouble every American, white or black. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a crackling courtroom drama that illustrates just how ambiguous issues of race can be, Wall Street Journal deputy legal editor Barrett examines the case of Larry Mungin, his roommate at Harvard Law School. Mungin sued his Chicago-based law firm, Katten Muchin & Zavis, charging racial discrimination. The sole African-American lawyer in KMZ's Washington, D.C., office, Mungin was awarded $2.5 million in 1996 by a jury of seven blacks and one white; but on appeal, two white judges prevailed over the black chief judge and reversed the jury ruling. Was Mungin the victim of racial bias? There is no easy answer, as Barrett readily acknowledges. Mungin claimed that KMZ failed to consider him for partnership, paid him less than white associates and assigned him low-level tasks far below his abilities. But the firm retorted that the bankruptcy work for which Mungin was hired dried up, that his starting salary was set by the marketplace and that he was the only associate offered a transfer to another office. While Barrett admits "there wasn't any direct evidence" that Mungin was treated differently because of his race, he nevertheless believes that race probably was an important factor in the firm's "callous" marginalization of Mungin. Therefore, concludes Barrett, the appeals court should have let the jury's verdict stand. Readers' opinions will be sharply divided. Because the case involved not egregious racist acts but rather more subtle forms of alleged discrimination, law firms (and many other employers) will want to scrutinize Barrett's painstaking analysis. Agent, Julian Bach.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (January 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452278597
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452278592
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,085,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Paul Barrett has done a superb job of describing one man's struggle to work within a system which later betrays him. Barrett knows his subject well, as they were roommates in law school but he reports Larry Mungin's professional experiences so impartially that the reader is forced to draw his own conclusions. Was Larry Mungin the victim of racism in the law firm for which he worked? We see the evidence and while our hearts bleed for him and the way he is treated, we are invited into the workings of a modern day law firm where the number of hours billed is what counts. We suffer with our accomplished black lawyer as he is humiliated and we watch his career and his hopes for a partnership crumble. Barrett tells the story so skillfully that the reader becomes involved in the intrigue and the book is difficult to put down. Modern law firms are not very pretty places and we begin to wonder if Mungin's treatment differs from that of his white colleagues. Are they all treated badly? This is what the firm claims in the discrimination lawsuit which follows. Racism is sometimes as insidious as cancer and while the judges may not be certain that Mungin was its victim, we know that it exists and that it contributed to the despair of this "good black." This book is a must for lawyers and lay people - for everyone. Barrett has written a masterful work and has left his readers anxious for his friend and even more anxious for the good blacks and good minorities everywhere.
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Format: Hardcover
Everyone should read this book, but especially for professionals or those who work in a business environment.
Barret's account of Larry Mungin's experience is fairly well written, and holds your attention well during the discrimination suit and subsequent appeal. The author is a former roommate of Mungin's, and the writing colored by his respect for him but is presented objectively enough so that this is transparent.
Barrett presents very well, though (credit to Mungin's documentation) the subtleties of treatment driven by race in the story. Finally, Barret allows the reader to make his own judgments, based on the events and the clear explanations of the legal profession and the legal system.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I think Paul Barrett does a brilliant job telling the story, particularly in the way he presents every single issue and weakness, not just Mungin's issues or the firm's weaknesses. He does not clearly take Mungin's side throughout the whole book, even in the conclusion. Some might disagree, but the conclusion appears to me as Barrett giving his analysis of Mungin's situation with the firm from the perspective of one with a law degree. To be honest with you, I think Barrett should have represented Mungin--Barrett has a right-on understanding of the case and the situation and makes several points that Mungin's lawyer should have made. As a law student, I had been reading the chapters detailing the courtroom experience, wondering why Mungin's lawyer Hairston was not bottom-lining the situation by saying that Mungin was enthusiastically hired to be a token, not to do work of substance for Katten Muchin. In the end, Barrett hit that point on the head--Mungin was simply a token to Katten Muchin. They brought him in, paid him to do next to nothing and then didn't want to let him go even though there was next to no work for him to do, while they let other whites go...because they knew they would be losing a token and losing in the minority retention game. Mungin's lawyer acted like she couldn't figure any of this out, among other questions she should have been able to answer during the trials, or answered but could have answered better. She had to know that she was going to be questioned about why Katten Muchin would hire Mungin because of race and then discriminate against him. She is part of the reason why he lost one of the two trials surrounding this case, the other parts being there was no in-your-face racism and the judges being conservatives hell-bent against finding racism in the situation.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
When you are as skeptical and cynical as I am, it is rare that you recommend anything to anyone. However, in this instance I felt compelled to pass along some thoughts on this book.
The book is about an African-American man, named Lawrence Mungin, who rose from his inner-city beginnings to earn double degrees from Harvard University, and practice law at some of America's most esteemed corporate law firms. Ultimately, he ends up suing a large Chicago firm for race discrimination, notwithstanding having spent his life resolutely subscribing to the belief that he was a "human being first, an American second, and a black third." The book is not only a great court room drama, but, more importantly, a poignant insight into both the obtuse management of large law firms and the opposing views of racism in middle-class America.
Among the many interesting twists in the book is that Paul Barrett was Larry Mungin's roommate at Harvard Law School. That Mr. Barrett is able to tell as objective a story as he did is as unlikely as it is instructive.
This book, I think, will come to be regarded as an important piece of work in American race-relation scholarship, for it serves as a warning that the most insidious kind of racism can sometimes be that which is the least perceptible.
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