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 G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
and#147;Someplace Like America is unrelenting prose, not poetry, but what the book lacks in intimacy it makes up for in breadth and persistence. There's something doggedly heroic in this commitment to one of journalism's least glamorous, least remunerative subjects.and#8221;
and#150;George Packer, The New Yorker
and#147;These boys saw the floorboards giving out while the rest of America danced in the pig and whistle. Maharidge and Williamson have a document here that may be even more important in a generation than it is today.and#8221;and#151;Charlie LeDuff, author of Work and Other Sins: Life in New York City and Thereabouts
and#147;Through the voices and stories of working-class people, Maharidge and Williamson provide insight into the current situation, reminding us of the history of economic struggle and the importance of understanding our culture from the bottom up.and#8221; and#151;John Russo, co-author of Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown
and#147;This is a deeply felt and beautifully crafted book. Maharidge and Williamson are brave and clear-eyed in chronicling the struggle of Americaand#8217;s workers.and#8221; and#151;Todd DePastino, author of Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America
"In this moving and urgent book, Maharidge and Williamson continue to dig through the social wreckage of three decades of economic plunder, courageously documenting the uprooted and displaced, the uncertain and the fearful. Someplace Like America peers into the dark heart of a society that has turned its back on working people--and that may be on the cusp of abandoning its dignity as well. In the smoldering occupational ruins of what once was, Maharidge also manages to find hopeful embers of what might one day be. A disturbing retrospective on twenty-five years of reporting on the long-term dissolution of the American dream." and#151;Jefferson Cowie, Cornell University, author of Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class
and#8220;Evokes the Depression-era collaboration of Walker Evans and James Agee.and#8221;
and#8220;Deserves high praise . . . . Undeniable relevance to todayand#8217;s American experience.and#8221;
"'Someplace Like America' is unrelenting prose. . . . There's something doggedly heroic in this commitment to one of journalism's least glamorous, least remunerative subjects."
and#8220;Maharidgeand#8217;s straightforward-but-impassioned prose and Williamsonand#8217;s gritty black-and white photographs make you angry. Theyand#8217;re an indictment.and#8221;
In Someplace Like America
, writer Dale Maharidge and photographer Michael S. Williamson take us to the working-class heart of America, bringing to lifeand#151;through shoe leather reporting, memoir, vivid stories, stunning photographs, and thoughtful analysisand#151;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 mediaand#151;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 studyand#151;begun in the trickle-down Reagan years and culminating with the recent banking catastropheand#151;puts a human face on todayand#8217;s grim economic numbers. It also illuminates the courage and resolve with which the next generation faces the future.
About the Author
Dale Maharidge is Associate Professor at Columbia Universityand#8217;s Graduate School of Journalism. He has published seven books, including And Their Children After Them, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass. Michael S. Williamson is a photographer at the Washington Post who has collaborated with Maharidge on many of his books.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Bruce Springsteen
Someplace Like America: An Introduction
Snapshots from the Road, 2009
Part 1. America Begins a Thirty-Year Journey to Nowhere: The 1980s
1. On Becoming a Hobo
3. New Timer
4. Home Sweet Tent
5. True Bottom
Part 2. The Journey Continues: The 1990s
6. Inspiration: The Two-Way Highway
7. Waiting for an Explosion
8. When Bruce Met Jenny
Part 3. A Nation Grows Hungrier: 2
9. Hunger in the Homes
10. The Working Poor: Maggie and the Invisible Children
11. Mr. Murray on Maggie
Part 4. Updating People and Places: The Late 2s
13. Necropolis: After the Apocalypse
14. New Timer: Finding Mr. Heisenberg Instead
15. Home Sweet Tent Home
16. Maggie: "Am I Doing the Right Thing?"
17. Maggie on Mr. Murray
Part 5. America with the Lid Ripped Off: The Late 2s
18. Search and Rescue
19. New Orleans Jazz
20. Scapegoats in the Sun
21. The Dark Experiment
22. The Big Boys
23. Anger in Suburban New Jersey
Part 6. Rebuilding Ourselves, Then Taking America on a Journey to Somewhere New
24. Zen in a Crippled New Hampshire Mill Town
25. A Woman of the Soil in Kansas City
26. The Phoenix?
27. Looking Forward--and Back
Acknowledgments and Credits