The world has a lot of problems.

I know, no kidding.

Some of those problems seem impossible to understand, intractable, sources of hopelessness. I’m talking about problems like health care, immigration, homelessness, wealth disparities, crime, college costs … really big problems.

Because these sorts of problems are so big, I appreciate books that take them on in ways that illuminate the problems at a combined historical, systemic and personal level. These books simultaneously show us the origins of the problem, the way the problem has manifested itself in society, and then also the specific ways specific lives are impacted by these problems.

Examples of books like these include “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together” by Heather McGhee and “The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town” by Brian Alexander.

A new book takes on a part of the country that we don’t often think of as troubled, but which has become something of a battle ground and litmus test for how we think of education and opportunity in our country.

“Disillusioned: Five Families and the Unraveling of America’s Suburbs” by Benjamin Herold uses five inner-ring suburbs outside Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago to try to get underneath the surface, and show a path forward out of the problems.

In a series of chapters, Herold moves among the different locales, focusing on the individual stories of Black and Hispanic families that moved to these places to take advantage of good schools and solid infrastructure, only to discover the white flight that first established their communities has made them hostile to the fortunes of these families.

The Adesina family is highlighted in the chapters about Evanston, the locale that on the surface was most successfully desegregated, certainly as compared with the nearly all-white suburb of Northbrook that I grew up in during the ’70s and ’80s. But beneath the surface the problems of race and opportunity simmered, taking shape in the battleground of schools. As Herold documents, desegregation is not the same thing as “integration.” Any time an opportunity for one group is viewed as having the potential to disadvantage another, conflict follows.

Herold tells a complicated and sometimes uncomfortable story. There are very few true villains, and yet there’s a lot of bad and short-sighted acting, which only becomes apparent once you cast off your own perspective and look at the issues through the eyes of others. Herold describes a difficult stew of competing forces and values, saddled by the problems of history that make progress fraught and difficult.

To the extent there is a villain in these stories, it’s the forces of greed and political expediency, a pervasive habit of kicking the can down the road rather than dealing with a problem up front. For example, in Herold’s hometown of Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, one of the featured locales, a failure to address the need for sewers when the problem was manageable ended up creating deep financial misery for the community that hobbles it to this day. Those who could afford to simply left.

White people fled the city for Penn Hills, and when Penn Hills proved to be a problem they moved along, leaving suburban blight behind. Herold’s message told via the stories of these families is that these are problems we cannot continue to collectively run from, that to continue to do so is not only short-sighted from a practical standpoint, but also a betrayal of the American Dream, the right of all to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”

Twitter @biblioracle

Book recommendations from the Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.

1. “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy

2. “A Season on the Brink” by John Feinstein

3. “I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa” by Charles Brandt

4. “The World for Sale: Money, Power and the Traders who Barter the Earth’s Resources” by Javier Blas and Jack Farchy

5. “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann

— Nick R., Bath, Maine

Nick is drawn toward nonfiction that helps illuminate the past, but also has relevance to today. That brings to mind Brian Merchant’s “Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech,” which I didn’t get to when it came out last year, otherwise it would’ve been on my personal “best of” list.

1. “Billy Summers” by Stephen King

2. “American Assassin” by Vince Flynn

3. “Kill Shot” by Vince Flynn

4. “Consent to Kill” by Vince Flynn

5. “The Last Man” by Vince Flynn

— Bonnie C., Rolling Meadows

I’m going to go on a limb and guess that Bonnie is a Vince Flynn fan. This novel isn’t about a super spy/international operative, but it’s as tense as any Vince Flynn novel, “Falling” by T.J. Newman.

1. “The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz” by Erik Larson

2. “The Sweet Forever” by George Pelecanos

3. “The Truants” by Kate Weinberg

4. “Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death” by James Runcie

5. “Enigma” by Robert Harris

— Elaine, Countryside

There’s a sequel to this crime novel that looks great coming soon, so to be prepared, Elaine should start with “The Searcher” by Tana French.

Get a reading from the Biblioracle

Send a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown to biblioracle@gmail.com.

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