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Someplace like America: Tales from the New Great Depressionby Dale Maharidge
Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression, as with so many other important and deserving books, may never enjoy the level of attention and readership it so obviously merits. Written by Dale Maharidge and featuring photographs by longtime collaborator Michael S. Williamson (both of whom are Pulitzer Prize recipients), Someplace Like America is a haunting cross-country journey through the individual lives of America's increasingly neglected working class. Spanning some three decades from the early years of the Reagan administration through the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, Maharidge and Williamson offer a trenchant, personal glimpse into the hardship, humiliation, and suffering endured by countless Americans as a result of the nation's prolonged and systemic avarice.
Revisiting many of the individuals and families documented in their 1985 book, Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass, Maharidge and Williamson crisscrossed the nation (often by hopping trains) to find and interview subjects devastated by an economy that often appears to be systematically excluding more and more people. Many of the interviewees were middle-class citizens recently made homeless by layoffs, medical debt, or foreclosure. While volumes could be written about our nation's poor, the focus of Someplace Like America is instead upon people who were seeking the so-called American Dream when, for one reason or another, they had everything ripped out from beneath them.
These tales of woe and misfortune are the result of three decade's worth of failed policies, including trickle-down economics, NAFTA and the ensuing outsourcing of jobs, predatory lending, and banking deregulation. As Keynesian economics were forsaken in favor of the more libertarian theories of Milton Friedman, the United States fell prey to a slow repeal of the New Deal-era programs and policies that not only helped restore the economy following the Great Depression but also set up a social safety net aimed at forestalling, or at least mitigating, the next economic catastrophe. As Americans are forced to confront many of the same challenges of the 1930s, a variety of complicating factors have made it more difficult for them to stave off the possibilities of home foreclosure, hunger, and homelessness. Maharidge deftly portrays the precariousness faced by so many Americans today, as the working class is forced to make ever more concessions amidst stagnating wages and harder-to-find jobs, while the wealthy consolidate their riches even further.
We are essentially struggling to relearn the lessons of the 1930s. We are also reliving a version of its political and economic battles, as well as fighting new ones.
From Youngstown, Ohio, to post-Katrina New Orleans to both coasts and points in between, the nation's financial predicament has strayed from the mere realm of economics to shape and inform other current debates, including race and immigration (with all its requisite scapegoating). The combination of Maharidge's prose and Williamson's photographs portray this stark era in American history with both compassion and incisiveness. The personal tales recounted in Someplace Like America are troubling and often heartbreaking, yet not without hope. Maharidge and Williamson's book is often an emotional one, but the courageousness and perseverance evinced by their subjects is inspiring and redemptive. Someplace Like America is a work so important, so revealing, that it ought to be read by all Americans, to say nothing of our culpable and adversarial elected officials.
What I want to tell all of them is this: we don't have to be a Tarp Nation. We overcame that kind of desperation and lack of caring for our fellow citizens in the 1930s. We can do it again. No little girl in this country should have to grow up with the memory of huddling homeless and terrified in a tent as a tornado blows in. We will at long last relearn what is truly too big to fail — the lives and hopes of working men and women.
Recommended by Jeremy, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
In Someplace Like America, writer Dale Maharidge and photographer Michael S. Williamson take us to the working-class heart of America, bringing to life--through shoe leather reporting, memoir, vivid stories, stunning photographs, and thoughtful analysis--the deepening crises of poverty and homelessness. The story begins in 1980, when the authors joined forces to cover the America being ignored by the mainstream media--people living on the margins and losing their jobs as a result of deindustrialization. Since then, Maharidge and Williamson have traveled more than half a million miles to investigate the state of the working class (winning a Pulitzer Prize in the process). In Someplace Like America, they follow the lives of several families over the thirty-year span to present an intimate and devastating portrait of workers going jobless. This brilliant and essential study--begun in the trickle-down Reagan years and culminating with the recent banking catastrophe--puts a human face on today's grim economic numbers. It also illuminates the courage and resolve with which the next generation faces the future.
Table of Contents
Forward by Bruce Springsteen — Someplace like America: an introduction — Snapshots from the road, 2009 — America begins a thirty-year journey to nowhere: the 1980s — The journey continues: the 1990s — A nation grows hungrier: 2000 — Updating people and places: the late 2000s — America with the lid ripped off: the late 2000s — Rebuilding ourselves, then taking American on a journey to somewhere new.
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