In his startling and thought-provoking book The Promised Land, Nicholas Lemann puts into perspective the reasons for urban black discontent and poverty. The author, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, reveals the significance of the migration of over five million southern black rural sharecroppers to northern cities between 1940 and 1970. He follows a group of individuals from Clarksville, Mississippi, who moved to Chicago but did not find the land of milk and honey they dreamed about. Lemann zeroes in on the difficulties blacks faced in the ghettos and their struggle to survive as many unskilled manufacturing jobs disappeared. With great succinctness, the author covers the unsuccessful "war on poverty."

The intractable problems of the black underclass grow more severe as time goes on. Lemann points to programs which might "heal the ghettos" but notes with sadness that there is, in his words, "a loss of moral urgency to deal with this national problem." The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America by Nicholas Lemann is one of those watershed works of social criticism which both sheds light and generates heat with its historical and cultural insights.