Poverty, by America
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted reimagines the debate on poverty, making a “provocative and compelling” (NPR) argument about why it persists in America: because the rest of us benefit from it.
“Urgent and accessible . . . Its moral force is a gut punch.”—The New Yorker
ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2023: The Washington Post, Time, Esquire, Newsweek, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Elle, Salon, Lit Hub, Kirkus Reviews
The United States, the richest country on earth, has more poverty than any other advanced democracy. Why? Why does this land of plenty allow one in every eight of its children to go without basic necessities, permit scores of its citizens to live and die on the streets, and authorize its corporations to pay poverty wages?
In this landmark book, acclaimed sociologist Matthew Desmond draws on history, research, and original reporting to show how affluent Americans knowingly and unknowingly keep poor people poor. Those of us who are financially secure exploit the poor, driving down their wages while forcing them to overpay for housing and access to cash and credit. We prioritize the subsidization of our wealth over the alleviation of poverty, designing a welfare state that gives the most to those who need the least. And we stockpile opportunity in exclusive communities, creating zones of concentrated riches alongside those of concentrated despair. Some lives are made small so that others may grow.
Elegantly written and fiercely argued, this compassionate book gives us new ways of thinking about a morally urgent problem. It also helps us imagine solutions. Desmond builds a startlingly original and ambitious case for ending poverty. He calls on us all to become poverty abolitionists, engaged in a politics of collective belonging to usher in a new age of shared prosperity and, at last, true freedom.
Praise for Poverty, by America
“Desmond’s new book is short, smart, and thrilling. The thrill comes from the sheer boldness of Desmond’s argument and his carefully modulated but very real tone of outrage that underlies his words.”—Rolling Stone
“[Desmond’s] arguments have the potential to push debate about wealth in America to a new level. . . . The brilliance of Poverty, By America lies in Desmond’s account of how government and social policy act in ways commensurate with his class-war thesis. Its texture is provided by effective storytelling, which illustrates that poverty has become a way of life.”—The Guardian
“Poverty, by America is a searing moral indictment of how and why the United States tolerates such high levels of poverty and of inequality . . . [and] a hands-on call to action.”—The Nation
“A fierce polemic on an enduring problem . . . [Desmond] writes movingly about the psychological scars of poverty . . . and his prose can be crisp, elegant, and elegiac.”—The Economist
“Provocative and compelling . . . [Desmond] packs in a sweeping array of examples and numbers to support his thesis and . . . the accumulation has the effect of shifting one’s brain ever so slightly to change the entire frame of reference.”—NPR
“A data-driven manifesto that turns a critical eye on those who inflict and perpetuate unlivable conditions on others.”—The Boston Globe
“Urgent and accessible . . . It’s refreshing to read a work of social criticism that eschews the easy and often smug allure of abstraction, in favor of plainspoken practicality. Its moral force is a gut punch.”—The New Yorker
“A compact jeremiad on the persistence of extreme want in a nation of extraordinary wealth . . . [Desmond’s] purpose here is to draw attention to what’s plain in front of us—damn the etiquette, and damn the grand abstractions.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[T]hrough in-depth research and original reporting, the acclaimed sociologist offers solutions that would help spread America’s wealth and make everyone more prosperous.”—Time
“A lucid and scathing explanation for one of our nation’s abiding injustices . . . impeccably researched . . . Desmond’s book makes an urgent and unignorable appeal to our national conscience, one that has been quietly eroded over decades of increasing personal consumption and untiring corporate greed.”—Claire Messud, Harper’s Magazine
“[Poverty, by America] wake[s] the world’s most powerful country up to its most important problem. Desmond’s electrifying pen cuts through the usual evasions and exposes the ‘selfish,’ ‘dishonest’ and ‘sinful’ pretence that poverty is a problem that America cannot afford to fix, rather than one it chooses not to.”—Prospect
“A powerful polemic, one that has expanded and deepened my understanding of American poverty. Desmond approaches the subject with a refreshing candidness and directs his ire toward all the right places.”—Roxane Gay
“With Poverty, by America, [Desmond] blends history, research, and firsthand reporting to show how the wealthy punish the poor and keep people living in poverty, both purposefully and without realizing. Passionate and empathetic.”—Salon
“This book is essential and instructive, hopeful and enraging.”—Ann Patchett