Summer reading is supposed to be light and fluffy. So far, my favorite book is anything but: T.J. English’s “The Savage City” kept me up until 4am last night. Yet I don’t mind.

This is non-fiction, very well-researched, about New York City in the 1960s and 1970s. It focuses on the racial tensions, police corruption and violence, injustice, white flight, fiscal disasters, rising crime rates and fear that nearly destroyed “Fun City.” The book goes into detail about the effects of racial and ethnic change in several Brooklyn neighborhoods, including Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville and East New York.

Just a few days ago, I needed to go to East New York by subway alone. When I told others later, some questioned my sanity. And I understand that reaction. Its crime rate is one of the highest in the city. Was I nervous? Just a little. I know that the conditions for some people who live in East New York in 2011 are just as desperate as they were 40 years ago. And finally, let’s lay it on the table — there just aren’t many white people walking there who don’t carry a gun and badge. Yet people showed me nothing but courtesy and kindness, and I eventually walked with confidence and no fear.

In statistical terms, Mayor Mike Bloomberg isn’t wrong to call NYC “America’s Safest City” today. But one of the things “The Savage City” shows is how the past led to the present. The problems and fissures of that recent and uglier time really haven’t gone away — they are right below the surface if you’re willing to look.