That’s what I had to say at several points in this book, physically putting the book down and staring up at the ceiling. Wow.
Never before, in reading a book, have I been so grateful for my comfortable life – and scared for my fellow man – as I felt when reading David Shipler’s epic chronicle of the lives of America’s working poor.
From immigrants to perennial members of the urban ghettos, Shipler paints little pictures of life below the poverty line. From illegal immigrants who are treated basically as indentured servants on a farm, to stressed urban single mothers who work three jobs and are still falling behind, each chapter offers a new and heartbreaking look into the lives of the lower class.
Some of the statistics in this book are truly heartbreaking. Shipler doesn’t do a lot of finger-pointing or chastising, and instead merely shows us what is present. In a way, that seems almost worse – the man lets us draw our own conclusions about ourselves for letting our fellow humans suffer. The conclusions are not good.
(David Shipler, by the way, has won a Pulitzer Prize, and it definitely shows in his writing. Making this book especially hard-hitting is simply how well the book itself is written.)
In each chapter, Shipler begins by giving us an optimistic view – but just as we feel our hope begins to flutter, he brings it crashing back down to earth with the cold, hard, viciously cruel facts.
For anyone who claims that there is no depth of poverty that cannot be escaped through hard work and the “good ol’ American spirit,” this book will change their mind – and likely strip them of whatever optimism they once possessed.
I recommend it to everyone.
Time to read: Although only 300 pages, it is incredibly dense, and every chapter requires hours of thought to truly digest the horror within the pages. This probably took me a full week to read.