The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling 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.
About the Author
Matthew Desmond is the Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and the founding director of the Eviction Lab. His last book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, among others. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, Desmond is also a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine.
“[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
“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.”—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
“[Poverty, by America] shows how wealthy and middle class Americans knowingly and unknowingly perpetuate a broken system that keeps poor people poor. It’s not an easy problem to fix, but through in-depth research and original reporting, the acclaimed sociologist offers solutions that would help spread America’s wealth and make everyone more prosperous.”—Time
“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 is the kind of awareness we desperately need to start to change this broken, cruel system.”—LitHub
“As always, Desmond delivers a radical vision: a book that urges us to abandon old ways of thinking and dream a new path forward.”—Esquire
“A short manifesto interspersed with compelling anecdotes and infused with passionate clarity . . . [Desmond is] an intimate and sensitive chronicler of inequality in American life.”—The Progressive
“This book is essential and instructive, hopeful and enraging.”—Ann Patchett
“A powerful inquiry . . . It’s a gut-wrenching call for change.”—Publishers Weekly
“A brilliantly researched and artfully written study of how the U.S. has failed to effectively address the issue of poverty . . .”—Booklist (starred review)