The subtitle of this 375-page volume is ''An Analysis of the Politics and Progress of Racial Equality in American Education.'' It is just that.
The author, David Kirp, has more than earned his stripes in the power politics of desegregation. A lawyer, a scholar, and yes, a gentleman, he has put together an enormously thorough and enormously important record of the tangled interweavings involved with the desegregation of United States public schools since the close of World War II.
And he has written about those areas he knows best -- five Bay Area communities with which he has been intimately involved. The case studies of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, and Sausalito are compelling reading.
Kirp is readable, but not at a glance. He painstakingly picks his way through the mine fields of politics, maneuvering, and posturing by all those involved with desegregating America's public schools.
He's fair, and avoids finger pointing for emotionalism, using it only for documentation and to move to the next part of the mine field.
There are those who thought that once the Supreme Court made a ruling against ''separate but equal,'' the path to full desegregation, while not smooth, would proceed as fallout.
That has, of course, not taken place at all. As Scott Thompson, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, has noted: ''No school administrator ever lost his job through foot-dragging on the racial question.''
And for the first time in a nationwide school issue, judges and courts and thousands of lawyers have become deeply involved. In fact, as Kirp explains, the number of actors involved in race and schooling has been large indeed.
Speaking of his five community case studies, he says: ''Although the five Bay Area communities, taken together, are not a representative sample, they do incorporate the spectrum of factors that have shaped race and schooling policy nationally.
''All of the actors in the national drama, from the Black Panthers to the Ku Klux Klan sympathizers, from the obstructionist mayor to the martyred liberal school superintendent, make at least cameo appearances.''
He admits, though, that one problem is missing - ''extreme and sustained violence.'' And he says, ''There is no Boston in the Bay Area.''
But the book's strengths lie not in quick phrases, but in the careful analyses of what forces have been at work countering other forces, and why it is that so much progress has been made (where it has), and why so little has been made (where it hasn't).
Those of us, this reviewer among them, who thought it was possible to solve school racial problems easily and swiftly, can learn much from this volume -- can learn just how it is that liberals as well as conservatives, and blacks as well as whites, have stopped pressuring, in some instances, for full desegregation.
Kirp also explains just why it is that the legal profession has taken such an active role in local public schools.
Those who think courts and judges should stay out of the schools might well study carefully what Kirp has to say. As he quotes from Pogo:
''We has met the enemy, and it is us.''