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Hillbilly Elegy & Beyond

Readers' Cafe

Broke, USA From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. - How the Working Poor Became Big Business
Coming Apart The State of White America, 1960-2010
Deep South Four Seasons on Back Roads
Deer Hunting with Jesus Dispatches from America's Class War
Dispatches from Bitter America A Gun Toting, Chicken Eating Son of a Baptist's Culture War Stories
Evicted Poverty and Profit in the American City
Hand to Mouth Living in Bootstrap America
Hillbilly Elegy A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Losing Our Way An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America
Nickel and Dimed On
Our Kids The American Dream in Crisis
Strangers in Their Own Land Anger and Mourning on the American Right
White Trash The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. - How the Working Poor Became Big Business / Gary Rivlin

For most people, the Great Crash of 2008 has meant troubling times. Not so for those in the flourishing poverty industry, for whom the economic woes spell an opportunity to expand and grow. These mercenary entrepreneurs have taken advantage of an era of deregulation to devise high-priced products to sell to the credit-hungry working poor, including the instant tax refund and the payday loan. In the process they've created an industry larger than the casino business and have proved that pawnbrokers and check cashers, if they dream big enough, can grow very rich off those with thin wallets. Broke, USA is Gary Rivlin's riveting report from the economic fringes. From the annual meeting of the national check cashers association in Las Vegas to a tour of the foreclosure-riddled neighborhoods of Dayton, Ohio, here is a subprime Fast Food Nation featuring an unforgettable cast of characters and memorable scenes. Rivlin profiles players like a former small-town Tennessee debt collector whose business offering cash advances to the working poor has earned him a net worth in the hundreds of millions, and legendary Wall Street dealmaker Sandy Weill, who rode a subprime loan business into control of the nation's largest bank. Rivlin parallels their stories with the tale of those committed souls fighting back against the major corporations, chain franchises, and newly hatched enterprises that fleece the country's hardworking waitresses, warehouse workers, and mall clerks. Timely, shocking, and powerful, Broke, USA offers a much-needed look at why our country is in a financial mess and gives a voice to the millions of ordinary Americans left devastated in the wake of the economic collapse. Show More

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 / Charles Murray

In the bestselling tradition of Hillbilly Elegy, the acclaimed bestseller than explains why white America has become fractured and divided in education and class

In Coming Apart, Charles Murray explores the formation of American classes that are different in kind from anything we have ever known, focusing on whites as a way of driving home the fact that the trends he describes do not break along lines of race or ethnicity.

Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, Coming Apart demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship - divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.

The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk.

The evidence in Coming Apart is about white America. Its message is about all of America.

Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads / Paul Theroux

One of the most acclaimed travel writers of our time turns his unflinching eye on an American South too often overlooked

Paul Theroux has spent fifty years crossing the globe, adventuring in the exotic, seeking the rich history and folklore of the far away. Now, for the first time, in his tenth travel book, Theroux explores a piece of America - the Deep South. He finds there a paradoxical place, full of incomparable music, unparalleled cuisine, and yet also some of the nation's worst schools, housing, and unemployment rates. It's these parts of the South, so often ignored, that have caught Theroux's keen traveler's eye. On road trips spanning four seasons, wending along rural highways, Theroux visits gun shows and small-town churches, laborers in Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi where they still call the farm up the road "the plantation." He talks to mayors and social workers, writers and reverends, the working poor and farming families - the unsung heroes of the south, the people who, despite it all, never left, and also those who returned home to rebuild a place they could never live without. From the writer whose "great mission has always been to transport us beyond that reading chair, to challenge himself - and thus, to challenge us" (Boston Globe) , Deep South is an ode to a region, vivid and haunting, full of life and loss alike.

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War / Joe Bageant

After thirty years spent scratching together a middle-class life out of a "dirt-poor" childhood, Joe Bageant moved back to his hometown of Winchester, Virginia, where he realized that his family and neighbors were the very people who carried George W. Bush to victory. That was ironic, because Winchester, like countless American small towns, is fast becoming the bedrock of a permanent underclass. Two in five of the people in his old neighborhood do not have high school diplomas. Nearly everyone over fifty has serious health problems, and many have no health care. Credit ratings are low or nonexistent, and alcohol, overeating, and Jesus are the preferred avenues of escape.

A raucous mix of storytelling and political commentary, Deer Hunting with Jesus is Bageant's report on what he learned by coming home. He writes of his childhood friends who work at factory jobs that are constantly on the verge of being outsourced; the mortgage and credit card rackets that saddle the working poor with debt, i.e., "white trashonomics"; the ubiquitous gun culture - and why the left doesn't get it; Scots Irish culture and how it played out in the young life of Lynddie England; and the blinkered "magical thinking" of the Christian right. (Bageant's brother is a Baptist pastor who casts out demons.) What it adds up to, he asserts, is an unacknowledged class war. By turns brutal, tender, incendiary, and seriously funny, this book is a call to arms for fellow progressives with little real understanding of "the great beery, NASCAR-loving, church-going, gun-owning America that has never set foot in a Starbucks."

Deer Hunting with Jesus is a potent antidote to what Bageant dubs "the American hologram" - the televised, corporatized virtual reality that distracts us from the insidious realities of American life.

Dispatches from Bitter America: A Gun Toting, Chicken Eating Son of a Baptist's Culture War Stories / Todd Starnes

FOX News Radio reporter Todd Starnes is a self-professed "gun toting, chicken eating son of a Baptist" whose Dispatches from Bitter America is "a collection of stories from my travels across this country (and) conversations I've had with regular folks who have deep concerns about the direction we are going as a nation."

In his award-winning, satire-meets-serious writing style, Starnes jumps headfirst into the current culture war, taking on the topics that are dear to every American: religion, health care, freedom, country music, barbeque, and so forth. Along the way, he shares exclusive interviews with political commentator Sean Hannity, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, cooking sensation Paula Deen, and pop singer Amy Grant, always hoping to go from bitter to better.

Endorsements:

"In Dispatches From Bitter America this 'Great American' finds that not only is our American way of life under attack, but also that most Americans do in fact love God, this country, their families, and are anything but bitter!"

Sean Hannity, New York Times best-selling author, FOX News host of Hannity

"Todd Starnes combines sound research with his signature wit to tell the stories of regular Americans who are standing up to a secular movement that seeks to remove all religious expression from the public square. This is a compelling book that puts our entire existence into the perspective of eternity."

Tony Perkins, president, Family Research Council

"You will cheer for America while laughing your head off!"

Matt Patrick, News/Talk 740 KTRH in Houston, TX

"Todd Starnes captures the sentiments many Americans feel as they helplessly watch the traditional values they grew up with being stomped out and over-ruled by political correctness. Todd's stories will strike a chord, whether it's 'The War on Christmas,' 'Tag, You're Out,' or 'The Chocolate Czar.' Brownies now banned from school? Bah humbug."

Gretchen Carlson, co-host, Fox and Friends

"Dispatches from Bitter America features Todd Starnes at his best. With his trademark wit, Todd tackles questions being asked by Americans who wonder what is happening to our country. Starnes manages to get to the heart of the matter in a way that is both packed with information and sprinkled with humor. Todd Starnes is a man of immense faith, madly in love with our country, and endowed by his Creator with the unique talent to tell a story like very few can. Simply put, Dispatches From Bitter America is the best book that I have read this year!"

Jeff Katz, morning host, Talk Radio 1200 in Boston, MA

"Todd Starnes is a masterful storyteller. In Dispatches of a Bitter America, he offers commentary on today's current events through the lens of a self-proclaimed gun toting, fried-chicken-eating son of a Baptist. Todd has always been one of my favorite news personalities and good friends. Now he is one of my favorite storytellers. Warning: don't start reading this book unless you are prepared to finish it. It's just that good."

Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO, LifeWay Christian Resources

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City / Matthew Desmond

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER | KIRKUS PRIZE FOR NONFICTION FINALIST | LONGLISTED FOR THE PEN/JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH AWARD FOR NONFICTION | NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR by The New York Times Book Review * The Boston Globe * The Washington Post * NPR * Entertainment Weekly * The New Yorker * Bloomberg * Esquire * Buzzfeed * Fortune * San Francisco Chronicle * Milwaukee Journal Sentinel * St. Louis Post-Dispatch * Politico * The Week * Bookpage * Kirkus Reviews * Amazon * Barnes and Noble Review * Apple * Library Journal * Chicago Public Library * Publishers Weekly * BOOKLIST * Shelf Awareness

From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur "Genius" Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America


In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, "Love don't pay the bills." She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America's vast inequality - and to people's determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

- New York Times Book Review, 100 Notable Books of 2016
- Los Angeles Times, The 10 Most Important Books of 2016
- Washington Post, Top 10 Title for 2016

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America / Linda Tirado

One of the Best 5 Books of 2014 - Esquire


"I've been waiting for this book for a long time. Well, not this book, because I never imagined that the book I was waiting for would be so devastatingly smart and funny, so consistently entertaining and unflinchingly on target. In fact, I would like to have written it myself - if, that is, I had lived Linda Tirado's life and extracted all the hard lessons she has learned. I am the author of Nickel and Dimed, which tells the story of my own brief attempt, as a semi-undercover journalist, to survive on low-wage retail and service jobs. Tirado is the real thing."
- from the foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed


We in America have certain ideas of what it means to be poor. Linda Tirado, in her signature brutally honest yet personable voice, takes all of these preconceived notions and smashes them to bits. She articulates not only what it is to be working poor in America (yes, you can be poor and live in a house and have a job, even two) , but what poverty is truly like - on all levels.

Frankly and boldly, Tirado discusses openly how she went from lower-middle class, to sometimes middle class, to poor and everything in between, and in doing so reveals why "poor people don't always behave the way middle-class America thinks they should."

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis / J D Vance

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, NAMED BY THE TIMES AS ONE OF "6 BOOKS TO HELP UNDERSTAND TRUMP'S WIN"

"You will not read a more important book about America this year." - The Economist

"A riveting book." - The Wall Street Journal

"Essential reading." - David Brooks, New York Times

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America's white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis - that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.'s grandparents were "dirt poor and in love," and moved north from Kentucky's Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance's grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America / Bob Herbert

From longtime New York Times columnist Bob Herbert comes a wrenching portrayal of ordinary Americans struggling for survival in a nation that has lost its way

In his eighteen years as an opinion columnist for The New York Times, Herbert championed the working poor and the middle class. After filing his last column in 2011, he set off on a journey across the country to report on Americans who were being left behind in an economy that has never fully recovered from the Great Recession. The portraits of those he encountered fuel his new book, Losing Our Way. Herbert's combination of heartrending reporting and keen political analysis is the purest expression since the Occupy movement of the plight of the 99 percent.
The individuals and families who are paying the price of America's bad choices in recent decades form the book's emotional center: an exhausted high school student in Brooklyn who works the overnight shift in a factory at minimum wage to help pay her family's rent; a twenty-four-year-old soldier from Peachtree City, Georgia, who loses both legs in a misguided, mismanaged, seemingly endless war; a young woman, only recently engaged, who suffers devastating injuries in a tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis; and a group of parents in Pittsburgh who courageously fight back against the politicians who decimated funding for their children's schools.
Herbert reminds us of a time in America when unemployment was low, wages and profits were high, and the nation's wealth, by current standards, was distributed much more equitably. Today, the gap between the wealthy and everyone else has widened dramatically, the nation's physical plant is crumbling, and the inability to find decent work is a plague on a generation. Herbert traces where we went wrong and spotlights the drastic and dangerous shift of political power from ordinary Americans to the corporate and financial elite. Hope for America, he argues, lies in a concerted push to redress that political imbalance. Searing and unforgettable, Losing Our Way ultimately inspires with its faith in ordinary citizens to take back their true political power and reclaim the American dream.

Nickel and Dimed: On / Barbara Ehrenreich

Our sharpest and most original social critic goes "undercover" as an unskilled worker to reveal the dark side of American prosperity.

Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job -- any job -- can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you int to live indoors.

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity -- a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Read it for the smoldering clarity of Ehrenreich's perspective and for a rare view of how "prosperity" looks from the bottom. You will never see anything -- from a motel bathroom to a restaurant meal -- in quite the same way again.

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis / Robert D. Putnam

A groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility.

It's the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in - a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing "opportunity gap" emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was.

Robert Putnam - about whom The Economist said, "his scholarship is wide-ranging, his intelligence luminous, his tone modest, his prose unpretentious and frequently funny" - offers a personal but also authoritative look at this new American crisis. Putnam begins with his high school class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. By and large the vast majority of those students - "our kids" - went on to lives better than those of their parents. But their children and grandchildren have had harder lives amid diminishing prospects. Putnam tells the tale of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country, drawing on a formidable body of research done especially for this book.

Our Kids is a rare combination of individual testimony and rigorous evidence. Putnam provides a disturbing account of the American dream that should initiate a deep examination of the future of our country.

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right / Arlie Russell Hochschild

2016 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST FOR NONFICTION

A 2016 NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A KIRKUS BEST BOOK OF 2016

One of "6 Books to Understand Trump's Win" according to the New York Times the day after the election

"This is a smart, respectful and compelling book."
- The New York Times Book Review

"Satisfying... [Hochschild's] analysis is overdue at a time when questions of policy and legislation and even fact have all but vanished from the public discourse."
- The New York Review of Books

"Hochschild moves beyond the truism that less affluent voters who support small government and tax cuts are voting against their own economic interest."
- O Magazine


In Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country - a stronghold of the conservative right. As she gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she famously champions, Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground and quickly warms to the people she meets - among them a Tea Party activist whose town has been swallowed by a sinkhole caused by a drilling accident - people whose concerns are actually ones that all Americans share: the desire for community, the embrace of family, and hopes for their children.

Strangers in Their Own Land goes beyond the commonplace liberal idea that these are people who have been duped into voting against their own interests. Instead, Hochschild finds lives ripped apart by stagnant wages, a loss of home, an elusive American dream - and political choices and views that make sense in the context of their lives. Hochschild draws on her expert knowledge of the sociology of emotion to help us understand what it feels like to live in "red" America. Along the way she finds answers to one of the crucial questions of contemporary American politics: why do the people who would seem to benefit most from "liberal" government intervention abhor the very idea?

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America / Nancy Isenberg

The New York Times bestseller

"Formidable and truth-dealing...necessary." -The New York Times

"With the election looming, this eye-opening investigation into our country's entrenched social hierarchy is acutely relevant." -O Magazine

In her groundbreaking bestselling history of the class system in America, Nancy Isenberg upends histroy as we know it by taking on our comforting myths about equality and uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing - if occasionally entertaining - poor white trash.


"When you turn an election into a three-ring circus, there's always a chance that the dancing bear will win," says Isenberg of the political climate surrounding Sarah Palin. And we recognize how right she is today. Yet the voters boosting Trump have been a permanent part of our American fabric, argues Isenberg.

The wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlement to today's hillbillies. They were alternately known as "waste people," "offals," "rubbish," "lazy lubbers," and "crackers." By the 1850s, the downtrodden included so-called "clay eaters" and "sandhillers," known for prematurely aged children distinguished by their yellowish skin, ragged clothing, and listless minds.

Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America's supposedly class-free society--where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery. Reconstruction pitted poor white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics--a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ's Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity.

We acknowledge racial injustice as an ugly stain on our nation's history. With Isenberg's landmark book, we will have to face the truth about the enduring, malevolent nature of class as well.

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