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An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  2,339 ratings  ·  335 reviews
From the bestselling author of There Are No Children Here, a richly textured, heartrending portrait of love and death in Chicago's most turbulent neighborhoods.

The numbers are staggering: over the past twenty years in Chicago, 14,033 people have been killed and another roughly 60,000 wounded by gunfire. What does that do to the spirit of individuals and community? Drawing
Kindle Edition, 282 pages
Published March 5th 2019 by Nan A. Talese
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Avid This is not a novel, though. Sadly, these are real stories of real peoples lives, deaths, and struggles. I would think it contains a universal appeal,…moreThis is not a novel, though. Sadly, these are real stories of real people’s lives, deaths, and struggles. I would think it contains a universal appeal, regardless of where you live. (less)
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Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In 2013, journalist Alex Kotlowitz attempted to answer this question: Why is there so much gun violence and death in Chicago? He immersed himself in the city that summer, meeting with and interviewing numerous residents, getting their perspectives and learning about their experiences. How do they grieve? Why arent things changing? How do they move forward? In An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago Kotlowitz shares their stories.

In Chicago, the vast majority of murders and shootings go
Diane S ☔
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5000-2019
A powerful grouping of actual tellings of what life is like for the people who live in the urban war zones of the southwest and Southwest sides of Chicago. More personal to me because I lived on the Northwest side of the city for over twenty years, so I'm very familiar with all the locations chronicled within. Violence that touches all, the mother's who grieve, the innocent shot just sitting on their porches, the young men who never return home. Heartbreaking. Gangs rule, for the most part and ...more
May 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2019
5 big much to think on.

I bought this to reread, hoping to give it the thoughtful review it deserves at some point. If youre at all interested in the violence plaguing Chicago, this is a must read.
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chicago writer Kotlowitz recounts the stories of several young men who grew up in places like Englewood, one of Chicago areas most impoverished, segregated neighborhoods where repeated violence takes a human toll. His subjects have NOT grown hardened, numbed to the atrocities they have experienced and witnessed. Indeed, they suffer bad dreams, flashbacks, survivors guilt and more. Their stories are heart-wrenching!

The author interviewed roughly 200 people including social workers, police
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is perfectly accurate and also at the same time, a tiny bit artificial to which stories have been told in depth. And which remained more "hear say" witnessed.

Also there is immense truth telling to the emotional legacy of viewing violence. This I know about and it never leaves. It may take a break but it doesn't exit the mind's or the body's memory.

His bravery and patience in interviewing and experiences to the extent that Alex Kotlowitz did, I give it a five star commendable. Although in
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a rough one. I don't know how to recommend this to people, except to say that if you love the city of Chicago, as so many of us do, then you know what it's like to live here and love it while people are being shot and dying, every day. And you know how that makes you feel, and it's not a good feeling. This book attempts to put you, the white Chicagoan, into the thick of it. And the visceral pain is hard to get across in a book, and it's somewhat successful, as much as it can be.

It's so
Jan 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a book for you should you be seeking analysis or solutions. These narratives ring with anger, earthiness, love, truth and sadness. The theme is almost - almost enough. Kotlowitz lets the people speak for themselves. He gives voice to those who can no longer speak and those who live daily with loss. He opens us to full and complex lives that are hidden behind government issued statistics.
Michael Webb
Alex Kotlowitz is best known for his modern classic There Are No Children Here, which covers two kids growing up in the Chicago Horner housing projects. An American Summer is a sort of sequel to that book, and covers life in one South Side neighborhood during the Summer of 2013.

Unlike TANCH and Kotlowitz's other well-known text, The Other Side of the River, An American Summer doesn't hone in on any particular character or scenario; unless the unrelenting cycle of violence and trauma is a
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We are very lucky in these times to have sociologists and journalists such as Beth Macy, Matthew Desmond, Sam Quiniones and Kathryn Edin writing about what's happening in our country. Alex Kotlowitz has been writing about South Chicago since "There Are No Children Here" in 1991., returning now to his old neighborhoods to write about the mad epidemic of murder there.

Kotlowitz says he originally planned to report on the summer of 2013, but he found that the repercussions of each shooting lasted
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An American Summer is another masterfully reported and recorded real-time history of a great American city, warts and all.

Kotlowitz lets his subjects speak. Imagine that. A writer going to the city politicians regularly decry as "the most violent city in America" and letting both the victims AND the perpetrators of violence speak. And then telling their stories. Very little judgement. Just an avenue for the people surrounded by trauma and bitterness and hope and terror to express themselves.

Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you're an educator, particularly of urban youth, then Alex Kotlowitz is your man. I was first introduced to this writer completely by chance, picking up his famous book "There Are No Children Here" at a used book store about 6 years ago. Granted I read it 30 years after its release, it still had a profound effect on me. Unlike other books on the subject of urban life that create a 'poverty porn' atmosphere (you know, exploiting poor people's condition for notoriety or increased book sales), ...more
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These are the stories we need to read (or listen to as I did the audio book is read by Kotlowitz which seemed to make his reporting even more immediate/intimate). Neither the statistics nor the policy pieces are able to convey the tragedy our society has left a significant percentage of its population to live in and with every single day. This is not a book about proposed solutions this is a glimpse into the humanity of several different individuals and families. I am sick that we have no clear ...more
Debbie Evancic
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
During one summer, the author compiled the tragic stories of many kids in Chicago. The numbers killed in Chicago are staggering. In 20 years between 1990 and 2010, 14,033 people were killed, and another 60,000 wounded by gunfire. That is more than all the American soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, combined. Whats exceptional crazy is that Chicago is not even in the top 10 of the most dangerous cities. Even though I didnt want to read the grimness and despair of these families, I just ...more
Michael Martz
Alex Kotlowitz's 'An American Summer' was a challenging read for me. I live in a northwest suburb of Chicago, maybe 35 miles from where his book is largely based, but it might as well be a world away. His interviews reveal compelling stories and, through a 'micro' lens appears to want to explain what has caused violence in the south and west sides of the city, but he never takes that next step. I'd expect the vast number of interviews he conducted to have provided enough context for him to ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
"The numbers are staggering. In Chicago, in the twenty years between 1990 and 2010, 14,033 people were killed, another roughly 60,000 by gunfire."

(In the Bible, a word "Selah" is used, meaning stop and reflect on this. I will use the word "Selah" now.)


"Let me put this in some perspective, if perspective is possible; it's considerably more than the number of American soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Combined."


Violence, it's called. Gang shootings.

In truth, it's war.
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed Kotlowitz's first book and this one is good and devastating. It's a series of stories of mostly boys who die, are killed, or go to jail because that's just life in certain places. It reminded me of Ghettoside by Jill Levoy and several other ethnographies along these lines. It's not about being tough on crime--we have to fix the circumstances these young men have to deal with every day.
Aaron Nix
May 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Its all so unexplainable. Thats what I learned most from reading this book. No one can even begin to learn about, let alone fix, the Chicago crime and drug epidemic without knowing and embracing the survivors. Kotlowitzs interviewing and embedding skills are unparalleled. Some of what he does is unfathomable to me and Im thankful for his voice and light. This is most likely the closest I will get to experiencing what its like to live in a U.S. community that has lost all sense of hope. Knowing ...more
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nearly everyone with a pulse knows the rich iconic cultural history of Chicago from Al Capone to Michael Jordan to Oprah Winfrey up to Barack Obamas connections. What is slightly lesser known is the sociocultural history, from heavily segregated Eurocentric neighborhoods that furnished the employee base at the stockyards to the South Side Irish to the heavily Hispanic Humboldt Park to the White flight induced, deeply entrenched African-American West and South Sides. The legend goes there are ...more
Pam Cipkowski
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this stunning work of journalism, Alex Kotlowicz sought to chronicle the summer of 2013 in Chicago. I remember that summer well, because I spent nearly every weekend in North Lawndale, one of Chicagos poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods, volunteering with the Humane Society of the United States Pets for Life program. We went door to door, checking on folks who had pets and who might need assistance with spay and neuter, vet appointments, and pet food and supplies. We built ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is another superb book from Chicago author Alex Kotlowicz. I first knew of him with his acclaimed "There Are No Children Here" (1992) , named by the NY Public Library as one of the 150 most important books of the 20th century. I sincerely hope "An American Summer" is selected for the 21st century.

Kotlowicz has the most amazing observation and interviewing skills. Somehow, he manages to embed himself in the lives of his subjects in the most despairing situations, to gain their trust and to
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was haunting. I like that he didn't try to find a 'why', a reason, a solution. The places I have lived have always been safe (or relatively safe), I cannot imagine living in this environment, experiencing what these people have. And I don't understand why... What causes it, why no one can stop it, why gangs are allowed to run rampant and even the best parenting sometimes fails. Poverty? Drugs? Lack of education and opportunity?
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written book with heart wrenching stories about the impact of violence in Chicago on the communities and families that are constantly at risk. Plenty to think about in this book and really should be a call to action and a demand for a better future.
Mar 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Should be required reading for anyone who invokes the city of Chicago in bad faith arguments about gun control.
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was one of the best I've read all summer. If you want to really understand the depths of gun violence in our city and the ways in which race, gender, pain, and poverty intersect-this is the book that will teach you all of it. This should be required reading for everyone.
Dec 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A body-slam of a journey into violence on Chicagos streets. ...more
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A story told with deep empathy and few answers regarding the roots, but not necessarily the causes, of violence and despair in urban cities, in this case in Chicago. The author offers few, if any, answers, this story is essentially a collection of well-told vignettes about people who are neither saints nor sinners, and who often make mistakes and correct decisions. I flew through it in a day, it was such a gripping read.
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A previous book written by this author, There Are No Children Here, is a book that I remember even though I read it many years ago. An American Summer is the same type of book. It makes the violence in Chicago personal and individual. We must always remember this when we read crime statistics. The victims and those impacted by crime are people with lives, families, and loves.
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So we all know Chicago has serious problems with violence in some of its neighborhoods, and those of us who live here know that summer is the worst season. While we look forward to the warming weather in late spring, we also dread the uptick in murders that has accompanied the summer season in recent years, long holiday weekends often seeing spikes in the death count. I was intrigued by the idea of a journalist digging into the problem and reporting on what's going on, because it's something ...more
Kotlowitz (director of Hoop Dreams and the Interrupters, author of many excellent books on systemic racism, poverty, and urban studies) remarks during the conclusion that after so many years of researching gun violence in Chicago, that he finally believes he understands the origin of hatred and rage that leads to so much violence in our city. He says that when there is hatred, at least there is something- because without that rage, one is left solely with a void, of nothingness. And one has to ...more
Lisa B.
Apr 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Why would, I a 60+ year old, white, medium income female living in middle America be interested in what happens in a predominately African American, Chicago neighborhood during the summer of 2013? Good question.

First, I am a sucker for investigative journalism. Second, and perhaps most important, I think it is important to read outside our comfort zones. I remember hearing about the escalating violence in Chicago on the nightly news. I may or may not have looked up from my tablet and say
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Between writing books on urban affairs and society, Alex Kotlowitz has contributed to "The New York Times Magazine", "The New Yorker" and public radios "This American Life". Over the past three years, he has produced three collections of personal narratives for Chicago Public Radio: "Stories of Home," "Love Stories" and "Stories of Money." Stories of Home was awarded a Peabody. He

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