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Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America
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Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  1,293 ratings  ·  80 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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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.

Nov 27, 2009 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
Aug 23, 2009 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!!
Jun 04, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars -- RACHEL AND HER CHILDREN is a look at the bleak prospects for families living in “long-term residence” hotels, particularly in the New York City of the 1980s. The irresponsibility and outright cruelty of state and federal-level politicians is examined, as well as ways in which the bizarre behavior of various agencies and charities help keep these individuals in dire straits.

There is a lot of talk of the future in this book, a lot of questioning whether future generations will be pri
Jul 15, 2013 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
Oct 17, 2014 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
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
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
A raw, enraged scream of a book. This is an "activist journalist" account of a bunch of homeless families living in a hellhole called the Hotel Martinique, in 1980s New York City. By the Kafka-esque nightmares of modern American capitalism and bureaucracy, the government (a) pays $3000/month to house a family in a couple of cockroach-infested rooms, (b) allows homeless families a voucher of $270/month for rent in Section 8 housing, while (c) the absolute lowest 1980s NYC rents start at about $40 ...more
Natasha Polak
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this book after wanting to find a good book about homelessness, so that in my monthly prayer group I could be more mindful when I prayed on that topic. From the moment I started reading it, I couldn't tear myself away! Yes, the data was from a good few decades ago, but what happened when I was reading was that it made me recall how I remembered my local community back then, the economic struggles, my first time ever seeing "bag ladies" rummaging through trash cans, and things like that. I ...more
Mar 20, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars
Excellent reporting and still relevant today. Important subject.
I would have liked to have seen some of the individuals' stories more fully developed, but that won't stop me from reading more of his work.
Rach Novotny
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A tough but powerful read. While the information in the book is dated (it was written over 30 years ago) and many of the institutions no longer exist, the stories told in the book are gripping and heart wrenching. Well worth the read.
Nov 01, 2017 rated it liked it
An important work on family homelessness, though I've always found Kozol's work to show a residual disdain for the poor--too many lurid details shared in a casual manner.
Caitlin Vaille
Dec 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was my first nonfiction book, and I wasn't disappointed. My eyes were opened to so many things, and the amount of sympathy I felt for these people is unparalleled
Mollie Feltman
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I appreciated the political perspective and the setting.
Aug 17, 2012 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
Sep 18, 2015 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
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
May 04, 2009 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
Oct 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love Jonathan Kozol. He is so widely read in the field of education that you can't really call yourself an expert or scholar of education or human services unless you've read his work. I've read several Kozol's books and it's always a pleasure to read them: "Death at an Early Age," "Amazing Grace," and "Fire in the Ashes," just to name a few. His books are like sitting down for a lecture with your favorite professor, only it's not a lecture, they're stories and facts as he collects them first ...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
Aug 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-work
Though I have studied genocide for years this is one of the hardest to get through books I have ever read. I couldn't get through it without crying, and though I loved the book, I almost dreading picking it up for how sad it made me. Kozol documents in painstaking detail the suffering of the oppressed and homeless in the United States, and with every horrific step shows the absurdity and hypocrisy of the systems that keep them in destitution. The evils of bureaucracy and American political corru ...more
Feb 27, 2008 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
Jan 04, 2013 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
Aug 21, 2013 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
Apr 04, 2015 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
Apr 24, 2014 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 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
Jul 14, 2010 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
Jan 16, 2011 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
Jan 07, 2008 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
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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