From Hillbilly Elegy to Janesville, books purporting to explain the decline and polarization of rural America and the white working class have proliferated in the 21st century. Tightrope rises above the pack with its compassionate portrayal of its subjects, careful research, intersectional analysis, and thoughtful policy solutions. Focusing on the lives of Kristof's childhood peers in the working-class town of Yamhill, Oregon, Tightrope probes the consequences of 50 years of policy failure combined with the rapid disappearance of blue-collar jobs — from the dissolution of the social fabric to the sharp rise of "deaths of despair" from suicide, alcohol abuse, and opioids. Without a social safety net, the lives of his peers have become titular tightrope walkers with intergenerational poverty and misery one stumble away. Tightrope ends with recommended policy solutions — a robust social net with food and housing assistance, universal healthcare and Pre-K, programs to help restore opportunity and dignity — and an appendix, "Ten Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes to Make a Difference" that encourages readers to get involved. As Kristoff and WuDunn remind the reader, the original meaning of "pull oneself up by one's bootstraps" was "do the impossible.” Recommended By Emily B., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
New York Times Best Seller
With stark poignancy and political dispassion Tightrope addresses the crisis in working-class America while focusing on solutions to mend a half century of governmental failure. Drawing us deep into an "other America," the authors tell this story, in part, through the lives of some of the people with whom Kristof grew up, in rural Yamhill, Oregon. It's an area that prospered for much of the twentieth century but has been devastated in the last few decades as blue-collar jobs disappeared. About a quarter of the children on Kristof's old school bus died in adulthood from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents. While these particular stories unfolded in one corner of the country, they are representative of many places the authors write about, ranging from the Dakotas and Oklahoma to New York and Virginia. With their superb, nuanced reportage, Kristof and WuDunn have given us a book that is both riveting and impossible to ignore.
"A forceful case that the penalties for missteps fall unequally on the rich and poor in spheres that include education, health care, employment, and the judicial system; to end the injustices, the government also must act." Kirkus Reviews
"Kristof and WuDunn...effectively advocate for a 'morality of grace' to which readers should hold policy makers accountable. This essential, clear-eyed account provides worthy solutions to some of America's most complex socioeconomic problems." Publishers Weekly
"A deft and uniquely credible exploration of rural America, and of other left-behind pockets of our country. One of the most important books I've read on the state of our disunion." Tara Westover, author of Educated
About the Author
Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the first husband and wife to share a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, have coauthored four previous books: A Path Appears, Half the Sky, Thunder from the East, and China Wakes. They were awarded a Pulitzer in 1990 for their coverage of China, as well as the 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement. Now an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, Kristof was previously bureau chief in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Tokyo. He won his second Pulitzer in 2006 for his columns on Darfur. WuDunn worked at the Times as a business editor and foreign correspondent in Tokyo and Beijing, and now works in finance and consulting. They live near New York City.