Monday, April 18, 2016


Matthew Desmond
From Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America

In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stick up after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fate of these families is in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former school teacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs the worst trailer park in the fourth poorest city in the country. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don't pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending over half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America's vast inequality—and to people's determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation, while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible. (from Netgalley)

My Thoughts
To be honest, I’m not sure what attracted me to this book. As a middle class, middle-aged white female, I have never been touched by poverty and I have no intention of ever becoming a landlord. This book first caught my eye when it was reviewed in our local paper and I have seen it mentioned a few times in articles regarding poverty.

My initial intent was to read this book in snippets. For some reason, I thought it might be something that was not going to hold my attention. I could not have been more wrong. From the very first chapter, I found this book hard to put down.

Mr. Desmond has a unique ability to intertwine statistics with personal stories, with the result being this very readable book. I got caught up in the age old battle between tenant and landlord, the games that are played as one tries to outwit the other. It would be hard to cast blame on either tenant or landlord as each side seems to be working the system to best fit their needs. The author did a great job presenting the facts and explaining the how the system works.

This was eye-opening and there were many times that I found myself saying “wow” and shaking my head. No one was more surprised than me at how much I learned from this book.

My thanks to Crown Publishing, via Netgalley, for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.

No comments:

Post a Comment