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Ben Austen

Connection to Illinois: Austen lives in Chicago.

Biography: Ben Austen is the author of High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing. A former editor at Harpers Magazine, he is a story consultant on the podcast The City and a senior fellow at the Invisible Institute. His feature writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Wired, GQ, The Best American Travel Writing, and many other publications.

  • ''High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing''
  • -- One of the best books of 2018 by Booklist, Mother Jones and the public libraries of Chicago and St. Louis.
  • -- Longlisted for Carnegie Medal of Excellence in Nonfiction.
  • -- Finalist for Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice and the Chicago Review of Books Award.
  • -- Starred Review, Booklist

Primary Literary Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Primary Audience(s): Adult readers


Selected Titles

High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing
ISBN: 0062235079 OCLC: 1085912218

HarperCollins 2018

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. Built in the 1940s atop an infamous Italian slum, Cabrini-Green grew to twenty-three towers and a population of 20,000--all of it packed onto just seventy acres 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, 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, 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 movingly through the lives of residents who struggled to make a home for their families as powerful forces converged to accelerate the housing complex's demise. Beautifully written, rich in detail, and full of moving 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.