Ben Austen


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A remarkable work of journalistic and literary merit that braids personal narratives, city politics, and national history to tell the timely and epic story of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green, America’s most iconic public housing project.

“A local history of profound national relevance… Austen’s fascinating narrative demands much consideration.”—Booklist (starred review)

Built in the 1940s atop an infamous Italian slum, Cabrini-Green grew to twenty-three towers and a population of twenty-thousand—all of it packed onto just seventy acres situated a few blocks from Chicago’s ritzy Gold Coast. Cabrini-Green became synonymous with crime, squalor, and the failure of government. For the many who lived there, though, it was also a much-needed resource—it was home. By 2011, every high-rise had been razed, the island of black poverty engulfed by the white affluence around it, and the families dispersed.


In this novelistic and eye-opening narrative, Ben Austen tells the story of America’s public housing experiment and the changing fortunes of American cities. It is an account told affectingly through the lives of residents who struggled to make a home for their families as powerful forces converged to accelerate the complex’s demise. Beautifully written, rich in detail, and full of indelible portraits, High-Risers is a sweeping exploration of race, class, popular culture, and politics in modern America that brilliantly considers what went wrong in our nation’s effort to provide affordable housing to the poor—and what we can learn from those mistakes.