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Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America

4.19  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,117 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
The story that jolted the conscience of the nation when it first appeared in The New Yorker

Jonathan Kozol is one of America’s most forceful and eloquent observers of the intersection of race, poverty, and education. His books, from the National Book Award–winning Death at an Early Age to his most recent, the critically acclaimed Shame of the Nation, are touchstones of the
Paperback, 303 pages
Published August 15th 2006 by Broadway Books (first published 1987)
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85th out of 313 books — 141 voters
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3rd out of 25 books — 5 voters

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Community Reviews

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I was reading this when I was attending the National Writing Project. Here is what I wrote in my journal back then:

>>It was one of the most infuriating and outrageous books I have read. Kozol is very able to illuminate how humanity can allow humanity to suffer through indifference and lack of compassion. The stories of homeless children simply wrench your heart as the reader is angered by the way in which the government bureaucracy simply allows people to live in subhuman conditions.

Sep 03, 2009 Liz rated it it was amazing
Excellent excellent excellent. Compelling. Eye opening. Disheartening. Even though it was written in the 80s, the facts remain true (if not worse) today. When will it end?

I would HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone struggling to understand homelessness or wanting to understand the struggles of homeless families!!
Nov 30, 2009 Eric rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My wife suggested I read this book to balance some of my reading of Ayn Rand and Ron Paul and other free market proponents and constitutionalists. I am a strong believer in individualism and generally speaking, philosphy or policy based in collectivist reasoning does not resonate with me.

Having said that, on to my review... first, I thought the title was a little misleading. I thought this book was all about the story of Rachel and Her Children. While Kozol documents his dialogues with her, the
Mar 07, 2010 Nycdreamin rated it it was amazing
This book is at once educational and heart breaking. Kozol takes us to New York City during the 1980's, a time of growing poverty and homelessness across the entire nation, and a time of growing disconnect between the poor and those who are supposed to be looking after them. Government funding for aiding those most in need has been repeatedly cut back by the Reagan administration while defense budgets skyrocket and ever more at-risk people, many of them children, are falling through the cracks a ...more
Jul 16, 2013 Lynn rated it it was amazing
Rachel and Her Children was published in 1988 and based on events around Christmas 1985 when Jonathan Kozol decided to take a look at the Martinique Hotel where 3 floors were reserved for families who were homeless. In 1980, the federal government followed by state governments, began heavily cutting the social safety nets for the poor. Before that, the financial sports had remained stagnant since 1975 due to a recession. Parents who had often worked long term jobs found themselves out of work as ...more
Dec 13, 2014 Karolína rated it really liked it
I know absolutely nothing about the situation of poor families in America so this book was very interesting to me. I understand the author was trying to show, that not all poor people, that ended up on welfare, are these lazy drug addicts that never worked and never will, however I feel like he almost "romanticized" the characters, whose stories he described. The book was written almost 2 decades ago, so I really hope the situation of homeless families in USA is better. No child deserves to live ...more
Apr 06, 2015 Will rated it it was amazing
This book is difficult to read as it is impossible to not feel some responsibility for the mistreatment of the homeless that Kozol describes. While the Martinique Hotel is no longer in operation, we still neglect to treat the poor with dignity or love.
While the book is at times dated, it describes timeless problems. It details the commercialization of the poor as politicians benefit by keeping them dependent. It also describes the disgusting irony as the "religious" right opposes abortion but n
Jan 15, 2016 Robert rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Written in 1987, this book that made people aware of housing the homeless is a tough read. The subject matter and the interview style aside, it seems to present only one facet of why the people are homeless, which he claims late in the book, "is not the issue" for his writing. Through his interviewees, he his bring light to plight of people who have no voice. People who are left without water, food, and basic rights. Kazol is illustrating how homelessness effects on people (children especially), ...more
May 04, 2009 Monique rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: who is interested in the social issue of homelessness.
What drew me to Jonathan Kozol's book was his attempt to understanding the plight of those who find themselves homeless. The author highlights the roles the governement, institutions, everyday people, homeless organizations, and society play into the issue. Most important I grateful that he look beyond the numbers and his own disillusions with the homeless to know actual homeless people.

This book is not full of fake optimism or preachy advocacy. I found this interesting because I consider myself
Grace frasco
The purpose of the book, Rachel and Her Children written by Jonathon Kozol is to make people aware of homelessness in the United States and its effect on families, but mostly children and the community. The author interviews all kinds of people living at The Hotel Martinique in New York City.

The theme of the book is that homelessness happens to all kinds of people. Sometimes when you see a homeless person, you can think that the person is bad and they deserve to be homeless. This book makes you
Aug 20, 2012 Ari rated it really liked it
Perhaps THE iconic book on familial urban homelessness in the 1980s. At a moment when street homelessness among single adults was receiving a lot of public and scholarly attention, Kozol changed the conversation by focusing on homeless families, who comprised the majority of homeless people in New York City. In Rachel and Her Children, Kozol profiles some of these families, describing the circumstances that led to their homelessness, the filthy, unsafe conditions of the overpriced hotels in whic ...more
I read this book based on a recommendation from Grant Lyons my sophomore year of high school in 1994. Yes, I did not read it until 2006, but I had it filed away as a "want-to-read" on my list :) This book provides a look into the trap and cycle of poverty in America. Times have definitely changed since it was written this book was written in 1987, but the fundamentals have not. The impossible, seemingly unbreakable cycle of homelessness is still here, just a few generations deeper and I believe ...more
Jan 07, 2013 Nancy rated it it was amazing
I think this book should be required reading for every American. Or at least every social worker. This book was written in 1988, so it is a bit dated, however, the issues are still relevant, probably even more so today than they were in the 1980's when welfare was actually "useful." This is a work of nonfiction about the homeless population of NYC in the 1980's and how the city, state, and even national lawmakers have failed this most desperate group of people. The author interviewed many famili ...more
Jul 20, 2015 Annalise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-book, non-fiction
I really enjoyed the external perspective of the homeless in this book. By this, I mean the governmental institutions of welfare that affect how the homeless go about putting their lives back together. Although Kozol is pretty biased toward the government being at fault rather than a mix of the factors of the individual, mental states, etc., he gives a very good narrative of lives of homeless families and children (especially in New York) and the failure of our society to keep their heads above ...more
Feb 27, 2008 Susie rated it it was amazing
I wanted to add some of Jonathan Kozol's books that I have read in the past. He is one of my favorite authors. His books are non-fiction and very eye-opening. He is one of our greatest social writers of the day. Some of his stories may seem like fiction because they are so different from what we experience each day, but after working with homeless families in North Carolina for a few years I can tell you that his stories are very real. I think it's important for us to know that there are so many ...more
Aug 21, 2013 David rated it liked it
This book documents homeless families living in the Martinique hotel in New York during the 1980's. Kozol tries his best to appeal emotionally to his audience about the hectic lives of homeless families. He describes the monotonous routine of having to constantly be moving place to place to get welfare checks, and constantly be denied a place to stay. His stories really are sad, but at the same time very repetitive. It seems like the entire book is one long newspaper article that never really ge ...more
Melissa Kitchen
Feb 07, 2015 Melissa Kitchen rated it it was amazing
This was my first of Kozol's books but I'll definitely be reading more. I enjoyed the balance of statistics accompanied with personal stories. It remains a very eye-opening look into homelessness, even though it was published 25+ years ago. I would also appreciate a similar book on the current state of homelessness. Anyone know a good one?
Geoffrey Bateman
Re-reading this book for a class I'm teaching this fall, and I just have to say how relevant and important this book remains, despite it being written in the mid-1980s and published in 1988. It's sad to think that as a country we have yet to really address homelessness on a systemic and structural level, and it's tragic that we seem to have to continue to learn the lessons of this book anew. But as long as we continue to need to educate people on the realities of homelessness and cultivate a muc ...more
Jun 09, 2008 Elyssa rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology
This is the first Jonathan Kozol book I have read and I plan to read more of his work. Kozol goes into the NYC family shelter system and exposes the horrible conditions that homeless parents and children must endure. Kozol introduces the reader to real people who share their stories about how they became homeless and how difficult it is to become self-sufficient, mostly due to the flawed welfare and housing assistance programs.

My only critique is that the book was published in 1988 and this is a
Oct 03, 2015 Ellen rated it it was amazing
This excellent study of the homeless focusses on New York families in the 1980's. It reminded me of just why I hated Ronald Reagan so much. His relentless war on the disenfranchised worked to squeeze out any remnant of hope left to them. In contrast, Kozol rehumanizes the homeless and brings us with him into their lives. He writes about how the system is stacked against them, but also about their children; how they suffer more medical and developmental problems, and how their mortality rate is s ...more
Jan 07, 2008 Vanessa rated it it was amazing
I read this book fe a college political ideology class years ago. I still remember how it was on of those precious few books that shifted my outlook on life in some fundamental way (another one is Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking.) As the title says, it's the story of homeless children in this country, a subject the author felt was ignored or under-reported. I read this 20 years ago and this book has quite obviously lost none of its relevance. If there is a problem with Kozol, it's that h ...more
Jan 16, 2011 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't say that anything written by Jonathon Kozol is amazingly uplifting, as they all deal with the inequalities in America and there is never a happy ending. But all of them, including Rachel and her children are thought-provoking and insightful. Rating this book as "I really liked it" was simply for the Kozol's writing style, not the content of the book, which is heart-wrenching and dispicable, considering that a group of people can be treated so unfairly, so inhumanely simply because of a l ...more
Jul 14, 2010 Valarie rated it really liked it
This was an enlightening look at homelessness in America. The author recorded interviews with homeless families, and many of their situations were shocking. Even though this chronicles the rise of poverty in the 1980s, it is just as relevant today when it comes to opening people's minds to an unseen problem. Some conditions may have improved, but the fact that homeless people are seen as "untouchable" in our society remains. One thing the author was lacking was a consistent voice; any time he tr ...more
Libby Waterford
Research for a book. Depressing, especially because this is still an enormous problem twenty eight years after this was first published.
Jessica Woodruff
Feb 23, 2014 Jessica Woodruff rated it really liked it
Great book...I need to look to see how much of this is still true for today. I'm betting it's still very similar...
Brenda Vreeke
Jun 10, 2015 Brenda Vreeke rated it really liked it
Accounts of homeless families centered around Rachel who we met in his other works.
Ahmad Nazeri
Dec 30, 2009 Ahmad Nazeri rated it it was amazing
Homelessness is one of the major hidden problems that we have been, and still are, facing in America. Rachel and Her Children is beautifully written about the tragic lives some of the homeless are living because of the government’s handling of the situation and due to the public’s lack of knowledge about the homeless. While this book is outdated, the stories are still relevant to the lives of the homeless in America today. It is a great way to learn about some of the issues that people are facin ...more
Feb 21, 2012 Al rated it liked it
Kozol always makes me look at myself critically. Do I really have the heart of a humanitarian, or am I just there in fair weather? I can rationalize a thousand different ways to not listen. Can I find just one way in my heart to feel compassion for a struggling brother or sister? Mr. Kozol helps me to do this.

It seems this problem has grown exponentially since his work in the 1980's. We are going in the wrong direction. I doubt that there is a solution for America. Nature teaches us that you ei
Jul 23, 2015 Traci rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vivid, dated. Would be nice to see an updated version.
I only wish I knew if anything has changed since 1988. The Martinique hotel shut down shortly after this book was written, but Kozol predicted that and it doesn't necessarily mean anything. Greg insists that there must be more to the story because Kozol doesn't interview any heroin addicts. Still, I don't think he treats them like non-entities either.

Kozol is a beautiful writer who works best when he lets his subjects speak for themselves. I was moved and frustrated by book and am left with mor
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Jonathan Kozol is a non-fiction writer, educator, and activist best known for his work towards reforming American public schools. Upon graduating from Harvard, he received a Rhodes scholarship. After returning to the United States, Kozol became a teacher in the Boston Public Schools, until he was fired for teaching a Langston Hughes poem. Kozol has held two Guggenheim Fellowships, has twice been a ...more
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