The Lines Between Us

Two Families and a Quest to Cross Baltimore’s Racial Divide

A masterful narrative—with echoes of Evicted and The Color of Law—that brings to life the structures, policies, and beliefs that divide us

“I come from a country that is now utterly schizophrenic when it comes to its society, its economy, its politics. There are definitely two Americas.” —David Simon, creator of The Wire

Mark Lange and Nicole Smith have never met, but if they make the moves they are contemplating—Mark, a white suburbanite, to West Baltimore, and Nicole, a black woman from a poor city neighborhood, to a prosperous suburb—it will defy the way the Baltimore region has been programmed for a century. It is one region, but separate worlds. And it was designed to be that way.

In this deeply reported, revelatory story, duPont Award–winning journalist Lawrence Lanahan chronicles how the region became so highly segregated and why its fault lines persist today. Mark and Nicole personify the enormous disparities in access to safe housing, educational opportunities, and decent jobs. As they eventually pack up their lives and change places, bold advocates and activists—in the courts and in the streets—struggle to figure out what it will take to save our cities and communities: Put money into poor, segregated neighborhoods? Make it possible for families to move into areas with more opportunity?

The Lines Between Us is a riveting narrative that compels reflection on America’s entrenched inequality—and on where the rubber meets the road not in the abstract, but in our own backyards. Taking readers from church sermons to community meetings to public hearings to protests to the Supreme Court to the death of Freddie Gray, Lanahan deftly exposes the intricacy of Baltimore’s hypersegregation through the stories of ordinary people living it, shaping it, and fighting it, day in and day out.

This eye-opening account of how a city creates its black and white places, its rich and poor spaces, reveals that these problems are not intractable; but they are designed to endure until each of us—despite living in separate worlds—understands we have something at stake.


“Many authors have answered the call, made sixty years ago by the eminent sociologist C. Wright Mills, to understand the social world by imagining the intersection of biography and history. But few have done so with the skill of Lanahan, an incisive journalist and marvelous storyteller.”
—Patrick Sharkey, author of Uneasy Peace and Stuck in Place
The Lines Between Us brings humanity and heart to a guided tour of our fraught racial past and its enduring consequences. . . . Endearing, searing, unflinching.”
—Davarian Baldwin, author of Chicago’s New Negroes
“How does a journalist render the monster of structural racism? A historical force in motion? And in Baltimore, where its consequences remain terribly alive? The Lines Between Us begins with ordinary lives crossing between homes, schools, churches, neighborhoods. Lanahan tells a story that stretches far beyond the boundaries of (t)his city, that further awakens to our times and ourselves.”
—Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family
“A brilliant account about race and class [that] captures the promise and challenges that test people and communities throughout America.”
—Antero Pietila, author of Not in My Neighborhood and The Ghosts of Johns Hopkins

News and Reviews

Minneapolis Star Tribune

"His reporting is evenhanded, his writing clear-eyed and dispassionate...Lanahan reveals an anger that edges on despair, and makes a clear call for something better from America."

Goodreads Reviews