Working Hard June 2019

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity / Katherine Boo.

Profiles everyday life in the settlement of Annawadi as experienced by a Muslim teen, an ambitious rural mother, and a young scrap metal thief, illuminating how their efforts to build better lives are challenged by religious, caste, and economic tensions.

Nomadland: surviving America in the twenty-first century / Jessica Bruder.

Author Jessica Bruder, who teaches at the Columbia School of Journalism, spent several years traveling with older Americans who have become itinerant workers in order to make ends meet. In Nomadland, she describes how they assume a “wheel estate” (instead of “real estate”) existence as they travel from one seasonal job to the next, exchanging information on safe camping sites and enjoying the camaraderie of the road. Bruder vividly and sympathetically characterizes these “workampers” as she critiques the financial systems that have led them to adopt this solution.

Evicted: poverty and profit in the American city / Matthew Desmond.

A Harvard sociologist examines the under-represented challenge of eviction as a formidable cause of poverty in America, revealing how millions of people are wrongly forced from their homes and reduced to cycles of extreme disadvantage that are reinforced by dysfunctional legal systems.


Nickel and dimed: on (not) getting by in America / Barbara Ehrenreich.

In an attempt to understand the lives of Americans earning near-minimum wages, Ehrenreich works as a waitress in Florida, a cleaning woman in Maine, and a sales clerk in Minnesota.

There Will be no Miracles Here: [a memoir] / Casey Gerald.

The co-founder of MBAs Across America describes his upbringing in a black evangelical family, his football recruitment into Yale and the brutal wealth gap that is forcing increasingly large numbers of marginalized groups to redefine the American Dream.

White Trash: the 400-year untold history of class in America / Nancy Isenberg.

A history of the class system in America from the colonial era to the present illuminates the crucial legacy of the underprivileged white demographic, citing the pivotal contributions of lower-class white workers in wartime, social policy, and the rise of the Republican Party.

Maid: hard work, low pay, and a mother’s will to survive / Stephanie Land

A journalist describes the years she worked in low-paying domestic work under wealthy employers, contrasting the privileges of the upper-middle class to the realities of the overworked laborers supporting them.

Born Bright: a young girl’s journey from nothing to something in America / C. Nicole Mason

The author describes the path she took to escape poverty, after being raised by a 16-year-old single mother in 1970s Los Angeles, and examines the conditions that make it nearly impossible for others to replicate her journey.

Below Stairs: the classic kitchen maid’s memoir that inspired Upstairs, downstairs and Downton Abbey / Margaret Powell.

Chronicles the experiences of a 1920s maid working in the great houses of England, detailing the disparate lives of the upper class and their servants, the class struggles inherent in the relationship, and daily life as a servant.

Hand to Mouth: living in bootstrap America / Linda Tirado.

As the haves and have-nots grow more separate and unequal in America, the working poor don’t get heard from much. Now they have a voice—and it’s forthright, funny, and just a little bit furious. Here, Linda Tirado tells what it’s like, day after day, to work, eat, shop, raise kids, and keep a roof over your head without enough money. She also answers questions often asked about those who live on or near minimum wage: Why don’t they get better jobs? Why don’t they make better choices? Why do they smoke cigarettes and have ugly lawns? Why don’t they borrow from their parents? Enlightening and entertaining, Hand to Mouth opens up a new and much-needed dialogue between the people who just don’t have it and the people who just don’t get it.

Hillbilly Elegy: a memoir of a family and culture in crisis / J. D. Vance.

Shares the story of the author’s family and upbringing, describing how they moved from poverty to an upwardly mobile clan that included the author, a Yale Law School graduate, while navigating the collective demons of the past.

The Glass Castle: a memoir / Jeannette Walls.

The child of an alcoholic father and an eccentric artist mother discusses her family’s nomadic upbringing, during which she and her siblings fended for themselves while their parents outmaneuvered bill collectors and the authorities.

Educated: a memoir / Tara Westover.

A memoir that traces the author’s experiences as a child born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, describing her participation in her family’s paranoid stockpiling activities and her resolve to educate herself well enough to earn acceptance into a prestigious university and the unfamiliar world beyond.