1993: Al Gore
Earth in the Balance / Rethinking Social Policy: Race, Poverty, and the Underclass / In My Place
1993: Al Gore

The 1993 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award was presented to Vice President Al Gore for Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. A bracing call to action, Earth in the Balance argues that we must make “rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization.” The book focuses on the threats that everyday choices pose to our climate, water, soil, and diversity of plant and animal life, and presents potential solutions.

Former Vice President Al Gore was inaugurated as the forty-fifth Vice President of the United States on January 20, 1993, and served eight years. He served as President of the Senate, a Cabinet member, a member of the National Security Council and as the leader of a wide range of Administration initiatives. He is  also the author of An Inconvenient TruthThe Assault on Reason, and Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. He is the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary and is the co-recipient, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for "informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change."

Honorable Mention: Rethinking Social Policy: Race, Poverty, and the Underclass by Christopher Jencks

In a fervent appeal for clearer thinking on social issues, Christopher Jencks reexamines the way Americans think about race, poverty, crime, heredity, welfare, and the underclass. Arguing that neither liberal nor conservative ideas about these issues withstand close scrutiny, he calls for less emphasis on political principles and more attention to specific programs. Jencks describes how welfare policy was dominated in the early 1980s by conservatives who promoted ideas that justified cutting back sharply on the social programs of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. They believed that a period of sustained economic growth, with low taxes and free markets, would do more to help poor people than coddling them with government assistance.

Despite the economic expansion of the later Reagan years, however, the problems of persistent poverty grew even more serious. The liberals took the initiative in the late 1980s, but their proposals failed to win broad popular support. With clarity and a gift for apt analogy, Jencks analyzes influential books on such subjects as affirmative action (Thomas Sowell), the “safety net” (Charles Murray), the effects of heredity on learning and propensity to commit crime (James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein), ghetto culture and the underclass (William J. Wilson). His intention throughout is “to unbundle the empirical and moral assumptions that traditional ideologies tie together, making the reader’s picture of the world more complicated”—in other words, to force us (readers and policymakers) to look at the way various remedial plans actually succeed or fail.

For example, he believes that until we transform AFDC so that it reinforces rather than subverts American ideals about work and marriage, efforts to build a humane welfare state will never succeed. Other prescriptions, initially surprising and sometimes shocking, show demonstrable good sense once they are examined. As the author says, “If this book encourages readers to think about social policy more concretely, it will have served its primary purpose.”

Honorable Mention: In My Place by Charlayne Hunter-Gault 

In My Place is at once Hunter-Gault’s account of her role in the Civil Rights movement and the story of the childhood that prepared her for it. That childhood was in many ways ordinary, if we remember that the ordinary lives of African-American children in the South of the 1940s and ’50s included daily encounters with institutionalized racism. What Hunter-Gault achieves in this extraordinary memoir is to convey the omnipresent, daily textures of racism, and the strength and vitality of the Black culture that defied and transcended racism’s seemingly unalterable codes.