Great American City: Chicago & the Enduring Neighborhood Effect by Robert Sampson

Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, by Robert Sampson

Review by Thomas Hansen

This book explains in very technical ways why, and how, neighborhoods matter.  Using questions over time, this compilation of studies looks at a wide variety of what makes neighborhoods safe, effective, and secure.  Sampson presents here some interesting questions to pose citizens throughout the City and then provides technical explanations and presentations of the results.

The book comprises several studies that look at a variety of questions.  For example, Sampson wants to know whether a given neighborhood is safe and what that means.  Is there a great deal of crime?  Suicide?  Poverty?  Loss of jobs?  What is the family structure like in that neighborhood?  Do students succeed in school?  Is there purpose within the family?  Hopelessness?  Support from parents or other adults?  From members of the church?

Another emphasis of the book is how neighborhoods differ.  If X exists in a given neighborhood, does that mean Y also exists?  What about a neighborhood bounded by another one with rampant Z?  If someone finds a letter on the ground, will they place it in a mailbox?  If someone sees a crime, will they report it?  What influences school completion?  A lack of violence in the neighborhood?  Parents with gainful employment?  Being in a neighborhood near another one with elevated school completion rates?

This is an in-depth study of neighborhoods.  Readers with a good deal of background in statistics and quantitative research will have no problem dealing with the variety of data and presentation of the data here.  Readers without such background can still get a lot of information from this book—just not on the level at which the book is constructed.

I recommend the book, especially for teachers, researchers, and policymakers who need very clear and very detailed information on the topics presented in the book.  The book will fit into advanced sociology courses about Chicago, into courses on how to show the results of a grouping of related studies, and into discussions on policies and governance. 

Although the text fits into graduate and advanced undergraduate levels more easily because of the level of background knowledge, information on statistics, and familiarity with social sciences required, it can also be important for teachers of advanced high school students.

Related to the Common Core Standards, the book dovetails into units on grades 11-12 technical readings and units including perspectives to explore and argue.  It is also a fine reference work for grades 11-12 honors students and AP students writing research papers on topics and conclusions supported by the advanced data and presentations provided here.  

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