Poverty, by America
by Matthew Desmond
Published by: Penguin Press UK – Allen Lane, Particular, Pelican, Penguin Classics
There are many false assumptions and misunderstandings about poverty and the people who live that reality in the US. In this excellent, informative, and important book, Matthew Desmond both illuminates the reality of poverty in the US and issues a call to action. He states that, "This is who we are: the richest country on earth, with more poverty than any other advanced democracy." (p 6) Desmond is interested in why-why is there so much poverty in the US? This book is his response to that question. He makes it clear up front that this is not another book about "the poor," but rather "a book about how the other other half lives , about how some lives are made small so that others may grow." (p 7-8) And by the other other half, he means not just the wealthy, but also middle class people. "People benefit from poverty in all kinds of ways. It's the plainest social fact there is, and yet when you put it like this, the air becomes charged. You feel rude bringing it up...People accuse you of inciting class warfare when you're merely pointing out the obvious." (p 42)
As someone who has studied US culture for over half a century, both formally and informally, and who has had the very experience he is describing when discussing many different issues that people don't like to or cannot comfortably face, I can say that not only do I agree with him, but I think more people need to start saying these things. Awareness is required. It's not that people deliberately set out to harm others by their actions--at least most of them--but rather that they take advantage of the breaks they're given without thinking much about it. We're all enculturated into our society and tend to see things as "just the way things are." This keeps a lot hidden from our consciousness. And there are politicians who will use misleading language to exploit that and gain support, which leads to poor public policy. When you drill a little deeper and get past the superficial, though, it really is obvious, as he says. That's not to say people want to hear these things--they definitely don't, at least in my experience. There is a lot of defensiveness and an unwillingness to be inconvenienced. But it's important to get this stuff out into the open.
I think this, for me, was the most important part of the book and why I am giving it 5 stars. The research and data is extremely important, as is the myth-busting that Desmond does throughout the book, but that still keeps those who are not poor at a distance, even if they're better informed. By talking about the ways in which those who don't live in poverty benefit from it and even help perpetuate it, he lets people know that we all have skin in the game. It becomes less a distant set of circumstances happening to someone else that has nothing to do with us and more something that everyone is actively involved in. Helping more people to see this is vital. I cannot recommend this very well-written, thoroughly researched, very relevant, eye-opening, important book highly enough.
I received a digital copy of the book in exchange for a fair review. I thank NetGalley, the publishers, and the author.
Sounds like a book everyone should read. I'm going to go pre-order it now.
Bill and I both read one of his earlier books, Evicted, and it was very well done, so when I saw this, I didn't hesitate to request it!
My local library does not have it and, sadly, my budget will not allow for it. I’ll find another way though. I don’t want to miss this.
I know the disappointment of not having a book available at the library and having no room in the budget! You might be able to request that your library order it to add to their collection. I am only allowed to read the UK versions of books through NetGalley because of licensing, so the ISBN and publisher might be different in the US, but the title and author would be the same.
From your reply to Vicki, Matthew Desmond sounds a good author, and in present times poverty is being experienced more and more ...
All the best Jan
He does good work :-) Sadly, it's true that more people are experiencing poverty.
Shari, I just listened to Matthew Desmond interviewed on Fresh Air NPR. It was fascinating. Now I want the book even more.
Very cool! I am going to look for that so I can listen. Thanks for letting me know he was on! I hope you can find the book. If I had a physical copy, I'd send it to you!
Wow. Great book.
It really is!
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