“Poverty, By America” Audiobook Review
It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a book for this site. To a point, that’s because books about finance often cover the same few topics, making them harder to assess on my part. In turn, I’m always excited to find a book that fits into my wheelhouse but does something different. Luckily, I found that in the recently-released Poverty, By America from author Matthew Desmond. While I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect when hitting “play” on this audiobook, I came away from the experience feeling like I’d gained new perspective not only on what it means to be poor but also on how we can eliminate poverty in this great country we call home.
First, I should note that the audiobook of Poverty, By America is not read by author Matthew Desmond. Instead, Dion Graham takes on the task — and does an incredible job. The energy and conviction that Graham reads with led me to assume he had written the words he was delivering. Funny enough, while I now realize that Graham does announce who he is at the start of the book, I admittedly wasn’t paying attention to these opening moments so I continued operating under my assumption until I was about three-quarters of the way through the book and finally looked at the credits. In any case, Graham was a great choice for bringing Desmond’s arguments and insights to life, as it were.
As you might expect given the title, Desmond dedicates much of the book’s material to accessing the issue of poverty — specifically in America. This includes numerous examples of how systems in place only serve to punish poorer people and further impoverish them. While I’m sure many people are aware of some of these catch-22s, there are plenty of other examples you likely hadn’t considered before. Indeed, the book is definitely as eye-opening as it is infuriating.
On that note, rather than just upset readers by pointing out the numerous flaws in our society, Desmond does offer several solutions — or at least ideas for starting points. These range from relatively minor changes to major overhauls that may seem radical to some but could be achievable in the long term. Furthermore, beyond looking to legislative changes, Desmond also explores ways that everyday Americans can be part of the change by paying more attention to what companies and policies we support financially or democratically.
In my view, some of Desmond’s most interesting points actually come in the book’s epilogue. There, he explains how the goal of ending poverty isn’t really as politically divisive as one might think. Instead, the author seems to push back on the idea that Americans are really as divided as we’ve been portrayed, framing the issues as one between the people and their electorates.
Furthermore, he notes the importance of working together on these issues even if we might not agree on other topics. To me, this was a thoroughly convincing and inspiring conclusion to the book that doubles as a call to action. And, while some might find the book’s examples and stories depressing, it closed out with what I think is an optimistic and hopeful tone.
Having not read his previous work Evicted, the book I’d most compare Poverty, By America to (at least of those I’ve read) is Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman. Just as Bregman presents some big ideas that seem far-fetched, Desmond’s propositions may seem untenable in today’s world. Nevertheless, the author’s conviction that such goals truly are possible comes through loud and clear, to the point that readers can’t help but believe as well. For that reason alone, I believe the book is worth reading.
On top of that, though, I can’t imagine anyone coming away from this without feeling a greater sense of compassion. If that’s the case and changing hearts is the first step in changing minds, it does seem possible that this work and others like it could have a lasting impact on our society. Perhaps that’s a little too idealistic on my part — but I suppose you’ll just have to read Poverty, By America for yourself to know for sure.