Book Review: Evicted by Mathew Desmond


Author: Matthew Desmond
TitleEvicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
Narrator: Dion Graham
Publication Info: Penguin Random House, 2016
Summary/Review:

Using the methods of ethnography, Matthew Desmond lives among the poor in Milwaukee’s most distressed urban neighborhood and in a trailer park on Milwaukee’s outskirts.  The product of this research is a book filled with dialogue and everyday vignettes which reads like a novel, but illustrates the very real dilemmas of America’s working poor facing eviction from their homes.  Once rare, eviction is now so common in the United States that entire industries have emerged to profit off moving and storing the property of evicted tenants.  And that is only scraping the surface of the wealth created by managing the properties in the poorest neighborhoods.

Desmond provides a glimpse into the lives of both tenants and landlords, often providing a sympathetic portrait of people trying their best under tenuous conditions. Yet there are no angels here.  Tenants steal, vandalize, or just flake out on paying rent, while landlords fail to provide even basic upkeep of their properties and taken advantage of their position of power to exploit their tenants. In a lot of ways both tenants and landlords are in the same boat, victims of a larger repressive system that enslaves them both.  One scene that illustrates this is when after a contentious faceoff in court, a tenant asks her landlord for a ride home.

This book is an eye-opening glimpse into the realities of far too many Americans suffering under a system built into our law.  Desmond concludes with suggestions on how to reform the broken system to be more fair to both tenants and landlords.  This is definitely a must read book.
Favorite Passages:

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

Recommended books: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Nobody by Marc Lamont Hill, and Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston
Rating: ****1/2

 

 

 

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Book Review: The New York nobody knows : walking 6,000 miles in the city by William B. Helmreich


Author: William B. Helmreich
Title: The New York nobody knows : walking 6,000 miles in the city
Publication Info: Princeton :, Princeton University Press,, [2013]
Summary/Review:

The title suggests that the author has walked every block of every street and this book is going to be a story of this walks.  But for Helmreich, the walks are just a launch pad for something bigger, a sociological/ethnographic portrait of the City today in a single volume.  It’s a huge undertaking, but I think he succeeds in creating a comprehensive portrait of contemporary New York, built on statistics, and illustrated with stories from his walk.  His take on gentrification and life in New York for the poor today as well as the recent immigrant experience are particularly interesting.  This is a good book for people interested in New York or in studies of urban environments.
Favorite Passages:
Recommended booksSnowshoeing Through Sewers: Adventures in New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia by Michael Aaron Rockland
Rating: ****