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Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by…
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Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope (edition 2020)

by Nicholas D. Kristof (Author), Sheryl WuDunn (Author)

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18715108,624 (3.95)5
New York Times Best Seller  "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     The Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of the acclaimed, best-selling Half the Sky now issue a plea--deeply personal and told through the lives of real Americans--to address the crisis in working-class America, while focusing on solutions to mend a half century of governmental failure. With stark poignancy and political dispassion, Tightrope draws us deep into an "other America." The authors tell this story, in part, through the lives of some of the children with whom Kristof grew up, in rural Yamhill, Oregon, 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 one-quarter of the children on Kristof's old school bus died in adulthood from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents. And 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. But here too are stories about resurgence, among them: Annette Dove, who has devoted her life to helping the teenagers of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as they navigate the chaotic reality of growing up poor; Daniel McDowell, of Baltimore, whose tale of opioid addiction and recovery suggests that there are viable ways to solve our nation's drug epidemic. These accounts, illustrated with searing images by Lynsey Addario, the award-winning photographer, provide a picture of working-class families needlessly but profoundly damaged as a result of decades of policy mistakes. With their superb, nuanced reportage, Kristof and WuDunn have given us a book that is both riveting and impossible to ignore.… (more)
Member:Katyefk
Title:Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope
Authors:Nicholas D. Kristof (Author)
Other authors:Sheryl WuDunn (Author)
Info:Vintage (2020), 320 pages
Collections:Roundabout Books Purchase
Rating:****
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Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicholas D. Kristof

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» See also 5 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
While this is a compelling book by husband-and-wife authors that really want to solve the persistent poverty and addiction problems they write about, I don't think this was the right vehicle for them. They center most stories in Kristof's hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, where addiction and poverty have always had a foothold, but easily available meth and scarcer jobs have irreparably damaged many of the families highlighted. You do get a feel for how they've tried to do right by their kids and neighbors, but I don't know how to connect that with the rest of the book's topic.

The policy prescriptions are quite muddled, arguing for a greater collective response from the public sector but never mentioning how Congress and state legislatures have onerously de-funded or blocked the solutions they lift up as effective. And even the specific popular policy proposals of the final chapter are introduced as "big steps we urge the country to take" while ignoring that if not for obstructionist governors, legislators, and presidents we would have these already. This is my pet peeve, clearly, but if really sincere about selling these, two renowned authors and public figures wouldn't write them in great detail in your popular nonfiction book, instead putting them into policy briefs with evidence and sending to the White House and Congress, then asking in the book (and your op ed column) that your readers lobby their representatives for their passage into law! That would seem to be a more effective way to ensure that Yamhill and places like it have a promising future. Still, the authors do have it correct when they say "helping people is harder than it looks." Nonprofit and front-facing social service agency staff frequently burn out and leave their jobs because of the constant challenges of what they do, and we can do better by them.

In any case, two sources they reference are probably the most relevant texts on this topic: the National Academies' 2019 study "A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty" and the Boston Globe's in-depth survey of the life outcomes of valedictorians of urban high schools 10+ years on. Unless you are specifically interested in this corner of rural Oregon, I'd read those instead. ( )
  jonerthon | Jan 17, 2021 |
Very well written and researched book. Yamhill, Oregon is about 1 hour away where we live and to read about the "backstory" of this community was eye-opening and concerning to say the least.
This book should be required reading for all high school and college level students and their families along with all community members and legislators.
We can no longer live our lives as if others don't matter or that it is their "fault" that they are in the situations they are in. Community safety nets are essential for our society to grow and prosper. Most of us have our own personally constructed versions of these "nets" but so many do not. This affects all of us from enjoying a stable and thriving society and has led to many of the social unrest issues we are currently experiencing. ( )
  Katyefk | Jan 13, 2021 |
Recommended reading for all educated Americans. We have the tools to fix the systems. Meritocracy isn’t working. ( )
  sjanke | Dec 9, 2020 |
An interesting look at what has gone wrong in America. We think we’re one of the greatest nations in the world, but yet we still consistently lag behind. The exploration in this book is fascinating as you peel through our layers. The only complaint I have is that I wish the authors would have further explored other areas. Most of the book is spent in Yamhill, while other areas in the country are just touched upon or mentioned in a paragraph or two. ( )
  LDVerbos | Aug 12, 2020 |
Who was this book directed toward? Are there really that many people out there that seriously do not already know about the people written about in this book? Apparently so. That might explain the level of superficiality that, in my opinion, mars the narrative. The detail on individuals highlighted in the book is often quite intimate, but expressions of programs and policies about what to do about the issues involved too often seem haphazard and/or not thoroughly drawn out. It reminded me of co-workers or conference attendees getting together after work or the daily sessions to schmooze about issues at hand, knowing full well the chances of detailed action taking place the next day or the next year was never going to come from what discussion may have been had. Perhaps, the book was aimed directly at the people mentioned in depth in the book and their family and friends in the community. That might explain why so much credit was given for trade skills and loyalty, when those attributes could also be applied to other people with completely malevolent intent. Saying a few nice things about someone is the very least that can be done to get those people to take actions in the best interest of themselves, their family, and their community, isn't it? If this is the book that it takes to get people who can make things better to take earnest steps to solve the problems emphasized in this book, so be it. I don't personally think it's nearly enough. ( )
  larryerick | Jul 10, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Poor and working-class Americans start out with countless disadvantages, and the social safety net that ought to help them recover from missteps has been systematically slashed by 50 years of mean-spirited social policy — even as corporations and the wealthy have enjoyed steadily growing government subsidies and a steadily more permissive regulatory environment. ... The intended audience for “Tightrope” isn’t clear. The authors inform us that their main goal is to “tell stories” rather than explore “policy alternatives,” because only storytelling is likely to convince conservatives that the woes of the working class can’t just be chalked up to personal irresponsibility. On these points, conservatives are unlikely to be persuaded, and liberals are unlikely to require persuasion.
added by Lemeritus | editWashington Post, Rosa Brooks (pay site) (Jan 30, 2020)
 
Historically, economic crisis breeds fear and vulnerability to manipulation by authoritarians among groups perceiving a loss of power; racism is indeed rife in a country built on white supremacy. But “Tightrope” catches what many analyses miss about struggling communities across color lines: an undercurrent of self-hatred, in which people blame themselves for bad outcomes and are loath to ask for a “handout.” ... “Tightrope” thus concludes that America’s true exceptionalism is our lack of concern for one another. ... “Tightrope”’s greatest strength is its exaltation of the common person’s voice, bearing expert witness to troubles that selfish power has wrought.
added by Lemeritus | editThe New York Times, Sarah Smarsh (pay site) (Jan 20, 2020)
 
Tightrope is a convincing argument that it's not too late to change the course of the nation. "We remain optimistic about what is possible," Kristof and WuDunn write. It's also an agonizing account of how apathy and cruelty have turned America into a nightmare for many of its less fortunate citizens. ... It's difficult to read, and it was surely difficult to write, but it feels — now more than ever — deeply necessary.
 
Husband and wife journalists Kristof and WuDunn (A Path Appears) turn a compassionate lens on the failed state of working-class American communities in this stark, fluidly written portrait.... Kristof and WuDunn avoid pity while creating empathy for their subjects, and 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.
added by Lemeritus | editPublishers Weekly (Oct 16, 2019)
 
Pulitzer Prize winners Kristof and WuDunn (A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, 2014, etc.) zero in on working-class woes and how to ease them.

With an earnest blend of shoe-leather reporting and advocacy for social justice, the married journalists send a clear message to anyone who wants to see working-class Americans prosper: Stop blaming them for making “bad choices” and for failing to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.” While acknowledging the need for personal responsibility—and for aid from private charities—the authors make 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.... An ardent and timely case for taking a multipronged approach to ending working-class America’s long decline.
added by Lemeritus | editKirkus Reviews (Oct 6, 2019)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nicholas D. Kristofprimary authorall editionscalculated
WuDunn, Sherylmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Be sure when you step/ Step with care and great tact/ And remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act. - Dr. Seuss, 'Oh, the Places You'll Go!'
Dedication
For Ladis and Jane, David and Alice, who nurtured us. For Darrell, Sirena and Sandra, who shaped us. For Gregory, Geoffrey and Caroline, who exhausted us and enriched us. / And for all those passing through the inferno who spoke to us honestly about their struggles so that the public might understand and support wiser policies.
First words
Dee Knapp was asleep when her husband, Gary, stumbled drunkenly into their white frame house after a night out drinking.
Quotations
America now lags behind its peer countries in health care and high-school graduation rates while suffering greater violence, poverty and addiction. This dysfunction damages all Americans: it undermines our nation’s competitiveness, especially as growing economies like China’s are fueled by much larger populations and by rising education levels, and may erode the well-being of our society for decades to come. The losers are not just those at the bottom of society, but all of us.
Overall, the Social Progress Index ranks the United States number 26 in well-being of citizens, behind all the other members of the G7 as well as significantly poorer countries like Portugal and Slovenia, and America is one of just a handful of countries that have fallen backward. “Despite spending more on healthcare than any other country in the world, the US has health outcomes comparable to Ecuador, while the US school system is producing results on par with Uzbekistan,” the 2018 Social Progress Index concluded.
One mechanism by which pain on the bottom is transmitted throughout the nation is the political system. Some 60 million Americans live in a rural America that is suffering, and the U.S. political architecture gives the frustrations of these rural Americans disproportionate political influence. They have particular weight in the Senate, where each state has two senators, so a Wyoming voter has sixty-eight times as much clout in choosing a senator as a California voter. This baked-in bias in the Senate and Electoral College in favor of small, rural states will continue to give rural voters outsize influence for the foreseeable future, and rural America has for decades endured economic decline and social turmoil that have left voters angry and disillusioned. The political consequences are visible: Working-class Americans helped elect President Trump. The reasons they backed Trump were complicated and sometimes included nativism, racism and sexism, but about 8 million of these voters had supported Barack Obama in 2012. Many cast ballots for Trump as a primal scream of desperation because they felt forgotten, neglected and scorned by traditional politicians.
When life expectancy declined in Russia, just as it has in America today, that was a sign of systemic troubles that patriotic rhetoric could no longer conceal. It should have been a wake-up call, just as America’s declining life expectancy today should be our own alarm bell.
The people in the top 0.1 percent did fantastically well after 1980, those in the top 1 percent did very well, those below them in the top 10 percent enjoyed incomes growing at the same pace as the economy and those in the bottom 90 percent all lost ground—their incomes grew more slowly than the overall economy—during the last four decades. The Wall Street bonus pool at the end of each year exceeds the combined annual earnings of all Americans working full-time at the federal minimum wage.
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New York Times Best Seller  "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     The Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of the acclaimed, best-selling Half the Sky now issue a plea--deeply personal and told through the lives of real Americans--to address the crisis in working-class America, while focusing on solutions to mend a half century of governmental failure. With stark poignancy and political dispassion, Tightrope draws us deep into an "other America." The authors tell this story, in part, through the lives of some of the children with whom Kristof grew up, in rural Yamhill, Oregon, 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 one-quarter of the children on Kristof's old school bus died in adulthood from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents. And 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. But here too are stories about resurgence, among them: Annette Dove, who has devoted her life to helping the teenagers of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as they navigate the chaotic reality of growing up poor; Daniel McDowell, of Baltimore, whose tale of opioid addiction and recovery suggests that there are viable ways to solve our nation's drug epidemic. These accounts, illustrated with searing images by Lynsey Addario, the award-winning photographer, provide a picture of working-class families needlessly but profoundly damaged as a result of decades of policy mistakes. With their superb, nuanced reportage, Kristof and WuDunn have given us a book that is both riveting and impossible to ignore.

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