I first encountered Jessica Bruder's work in Harper's; her absorbing article contained the seeds of this book. Nomadland is the fascinating, frequently tragic story of a hidden population in America: older people living in camper vans and RVs who crisscross the country in search of often grueling work. Amazon and others rely on this low-cost labor pool, and we owe it to ourselves to hear these untold stories. Recommended By Jill O., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
The end of retirement?
From the beet fields of North Dakota to the National Forest campgrounds of California to Amazon’s CamperForce program in Texas, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older Americans. Finding that social security comes up short, often underwater on mortgages, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in late-model RVs, travel trailers, and vans, forming a growing community of nomads: migrant laborers who call themselves "workampers."
On frequently traveled routes between seasonal jobs, Jessica Bruder meets people from all walks of life: a former professor, a McDonald’s vice president, a minister, a college administrator, and a motorcycle cop, among many others — including her irrepressible protagonist, a onetime cocktail waitress, Home Depot clerk, and general contractor named Linda May.
In a secondhand vehicle she christens "Van Halen," Bruder hits the road to get to know her subjects more intimately. Accompanying Linda May and others from campground toilet cleaning to warehouse product scanning to desert reunions, then moving on to the dangerous work of beet harvesting, Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of the dark underbelly of the American economy — one that foreshadows the precarious future that may await many more of us. At the same time, she celebrates the exceptional resilience and creativity of these quintessential Americans who have given up ordinary rootedness to survive. Like Linda May, who dreams of finding land on which to build her own sustainable "Earthship" home, they have not given up hope.
"[A] powerhouse of a book.... In the best immersive-journalism tradition, Bruder records her misadventures driving and living in a van.... Visceral and haunting reporting." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Though very little about Bruder's excellent journalistic account offers hope for the future, an ersatz hope radiates from within Nomadland: that hard work and persistence will lead to more stable situations. Engaging, highly relevant immersion journalism." Kirkus (Starred Review)
"In the early twentieth century, men used to ride the rails in search of work, sharing camps at night. Today, as Bruder brilliantly reports, we have a new class of nomadic workers who travel in their RVs from one short-term job to another. There’s a lot to cringe at here — from low pay and physically exhausting work to constant insecurity. But surprisingly, Nomadland also offers its residents much-needed camaraderie and adventure, which makes this book a joy to read." Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
"The campsite as the home of last resort, the RV used not for vacation but for survival: these are the makings of a new dystopia. Nomadland is a smart road book for the new economy, full of conviviality and dark portent." Ted Conover, author of Rolling Nowhere and Immersion
"People who thought the 2008 financial collapse was over a long time ago need to meet the people Jessica Bruder got to know in this scorching, beautifully written, vivid, disturbing (and occasionally wryly funny) book. Nomadland is a testament both to the generosity and creativity of the victims of our modern-medieval economy, hidden in plain sight, and to the blunt-end brutality that put them there. Is this the best the wealthiest nation on earth can do for those who’ve already done so much?" Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell
From the beet fields of North Dakota to the wilderness campgrounds of California to an Amazon warehouse in Texas, people who once might have kicked back to enjoy their sunset years are hard at work. Underwater on mortgages or finding that Social Security comes up short, they're hitting the road in astonishing numbers, forming a new community of nomads: RV and van-dwelling migrant laborers, or "workampers."
Building on her groundbreaking Harper's cover story, "The End of Retirement," which brought attention to these formerly settled members of the middle class, Jessica Bruder follows one such RVer, Linda, between physically taxing seasonal jobs and reunions of her new van-dweller family, or "vanily." Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of both the economy's dark underbelly and the extraordinary resilience, creativity, and hope of these hardworking, quintessential Americans--many of them single women--who have traded rootedness for the dream of a better life.
About the Author
Jessica Bruder is an award-winning journalist whose work focuses on subcultures and the dark corners of the economy. She has written for Harper’s, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Bruder teaches at the Columbia School of Journalism.