Sunday, December 21, 2008

Nickel and Dimed or The Wrecking Crew

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America

Author: Barbara Ehrenreich

The bestselling, landmark work of undercover reportage, now updated

Acclaimed as an instant classic upon publication, Nickel and Dimed has sold more than 1.5 million copies and become a staple of classroom reading. Chosen for “one book” initiatives across the country, it has fueled nationwide campaigns for a living wage. Funny, poignant, and passionate, this revelatory firsthand account of life in low-wage America—the story of Barbara Ehrenreich’s attempts to eke out a living while working as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart associate—has become an essential part of the nation’s political discourse.

Now, in a new afterword, Ehrenreich shows that the plight of the underpaid has in no way eased: with fewer jobs available, deteriorating work conditions, and no pay increase in sight, Nickel and Dimed is more relevant than ever.

New York Times

One of today's most original writers.

Chicago Tribune

Ehrenreich is passionate, public, hotly lucid, and politically engaged.

Boston Globe

Ehrenreich's scorn withers, her humor stings, and her radical light shines on.

Ms. Magazine - Vivien Labaton

Nickel and Dimed is an important book that should be read by anyone who has been lulled into middle-class complacency.

New York Times Book Review - Dorothy Gallagher

We have Barbara Ehrenreich to thank for bringing us the news of America's working poor so clearly and directly, and conveying with it a deep moral outrage and a finely textured sense of lives as lived. As Michael Harrington was, she is now our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism.

Publishers Weekly

In contrast to recent books by Michael Lewis and Dinesh D'Souza that explore the lives and psyches of the New Economy's millionares, Ehrenreich (Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class) turns her gimlet eye on the view from the workforce's bottom rung. Determined to find out how anyone could make ends meet on $7 an hour, she left behind her middle class life as a journalist—except for $1000 in start-up funds, a car and her laptop computer—to try to sustain herself as a low-skilled worker for a month at a time. In 1999 and 2000, Ehrenreich worked as a waitress in Key West, Fla., as a cleaning woman and a nursing home aide in Portland, Maine, and in a Wal-Mart in Minneapolis, Minn.

During the application process, she faced routine drug tests and spurious "personality tests"; once on the job, she endured constant surveillance and numbing harangues over infractions like serving a second roll and butter. Beset by transportation costs and high rents, she learned the tricks of the trade from her co-workers, some of whom sleep in their cars, and many of whom work when they're vexed by arthritis, back pain or worse, yet still manage small gestures of kindness. Despite the advantages of her race, education, good health and lack of children, Ehrenreich's income barely covered her month's expenses in only one instance, when she worked seven days a week at two jobs (one of which provided free meals) during the off-season in a vacation town. Delivering a fast read that's both sobering and sassy, she gives readers pause about those caught in the economy's undertow, even in good times.

Dorothy Gallagher

"Barbara Ehrenreich . . . is our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism."
—Dorothy Gallagher, The New York Times Book

Eileen Boris

"With grace and wit, Ehrenreich discovers . . . the irony of being nickel and dimed during unprecedented prosperity."
—Eileen Boris, The Boston Globe

Stephen Metcalf

"Ehrenreich is a superb and relaxed stylist {with} a tremendous sense of rueful humor."
—Stephen Metcalf, Los Angeles Times Book Review

Diana Henriques

". . . you will read this explosive little book cover to cover and pass it on to all your friends and relatives."
—Diana Henriques, The New York Times

Anne Colamosca

"Angry, amusing . . . An in-your-face expose."
—Anne Colamosca, Business Week

Susannah Meadows

"Jarring, full of riveting grit . . . This book is already unforgettable."
—Susannah Meadows, Newsweek

Library Journal

A close observer and astute analyzer of American life (The Worst Years of Our Life and The Fear of Falling), Ehrenreich turns her attention to what it is like trying to subsist while working in low-paying jobs. Inspired to see what boom times looked like from the bottom, she hides her real identity and attempts to make a life on a salary of just over $300 per week after taxes. She is often forced to work at two jobs, leaving her time and energy for little else than sleeping and working. Ehrenreich vividly describes her experiences living in isolated trailers and dilapidated motels while working as a nursing-home aide, a Wal-Mart "sales associate," a cleaning woman, a waitress, and a hotel maid in three states: Florida, Maine, and Minnesota. Her narrative is candid, often moving, and very revealing. Looking back on her experiences, Ehrenreich claims that the hardest thing for her to accept is the "invisibility of the poor"; one sees them daily in restaurants, hotels, discount stores, and fast-food chains but one doesn't recognize them as "poor" because, after all, they have jobs. No real answers to the problem but a compelling sketch of its reality and pervasiveness. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/01.] Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Between 1998 and 2000, Ehrenreich spent about three months in three cities throughout the nation, attempting to "get by" on the salary available to low-paid and unskilled workers. Beginning with advantages not enjoyed by many such individuals-she is white, English-speaking, educated, healthy, and unburdened with transportation or child-care worries-she tried to support herself by working as a waitress, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart employee. She discovered that her average salary of $7 per hour couldn't even provide the necessities of life (rent, transportation, and food), let alone the luxury of health coverage. Her account is at once enraging and sobering. In straightforward language, she describes how labor-intensive, demeaning, and controlling such jobs can be: she scrubbed floors on her hands and knees, and found out that talking to coworkers while on the job was considered "time theft." She describes full-time workers who sleep in their cars because they cannot afford housing and employees who yearn for the ability to "take a day off now and then-and still be able to buy groceries the next day." In a concluding chapter, Ehrenreich takes on issues and questions posed before and during the experiment, including why these wages are so low, why workers are so accepting of them, and what Washington's refusal to increase the minimum wage to a realistic "living wage" says about both our economy and our culture. Mandatory reading for any workforce entrant.-Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

What People Are Saying

Molly Ivins
Reading Ehrenreich is good for the soul.

Diane Sawyer
Barbara Ehrenreich is smart, provocative, funny, and sane in a world that needs more of all four.

The Wrecking Crew

Author: Thomas Frank

From the author of the landmark bestseller What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a jaw-dropping investigation of the decades of deliberate—and lucrative—conservative misrule

In his previous book, Thomas Frank explained why working America votes for politicians who reserve their favors for the rich. Now, in The Wrecking Crew, Frank examines the blundering and corrupt Washington those politicians have given us.

Casting back to the early days of the conservative revolution, Frank describes the rise of a ruling coalition dedicated to dismantling government. But rather than cutting down the big government they claim to hate, conservatives have simply sold it off, deregulating some industries, defunding others, but always turning public policy into a private-sector bidding war. Washington itself has been remade into a golden landscape of super-wealthy suburbs and gleaming lobbyist headquarters—the wages of government-by-entrepreneurship practiced so outrageously by figures such as Jack Abramoff.

It is no coincidence, Frank argues, that the same politicians who guffaw at the idea of effective government have installed a regime in which incompetence is the rule. Nor will the country easily shake off the consequences of deliberate misgovernment through the usual election remedies. Obsessed with achieving a lasting victory, conservatives have taken pains to enshrine the free market as the permanent creed of state.

Stamped with Thomas Frank’s audacity, analytic brilliance, and wit, The Wrecking Crew is his most revelatory work yet—and his most important.

The New York Times - Michael Lind

The Wrecking Crew is a polemic, not a dissertation. With rare exceptions like John Kenneth Galbraith, conservatives—from Juvenal and Alexander Pope to H. L. Mencken, Tom Wolfe and P. J. O'Rourke—have been the best satirists. In Thomas Frank, the American left has found its own Juvenal.

Publishers Weekly

Frank paints a complex and conspiracy-ridden picture that illuminates the sinister and controversial practices of the Republican party in the 20th and 21st centuries. While Frank's assessments and interpretations of key events, players and party doctrines is accurate and justifiable, his overwhelming blame of the Republican Party as the source of everything that's wrong with this county and as the emblem of self-destructing government denies the Democrats and the citizenry their roles in a decaying democracy. Wyman's matter-of-fact delivery hints at the obviousness of Frank's words, but provides enough enthusiasm to make listeners believe he, too, is invested in Frank's message. His emphasis and vigor keep the text enjoyable, long after the rant of Republican despotism has become excessive. A Metropolitan Books hardcover (Reviews, May 26). (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews

A refreshingly no-holds-barred exegesis on the naked cynicism of conservatism in America by The Baffler founder and political observer Frank (What's the Matter with Kansas?, 2004, etc.). When conservatives rule, all hell breaks loose, the author amply demonstrates in this muckraking, well-reasoned account. The concept of a conservative state is not new, he writes: Business largely laid the foundation of this country and developed a steadfast commitment to the ideal of laissez-faire, as well as hostility to taxation, regulation, organized labor and state ownership. Since the Reagan revolution, however, and especially since George W. Bush came to office, the conservative pattern of deregulation, tax cuts, privatization and outsourcing has massively enriched "everyone who grabbed as the government handed off its essential responsibilities to the private sector." Despite holding executive or legislative power over the last 28 years, conservatives champion themselves as insurgent outsiders, notes Frank; yet Washington has become a developers' and lobbyists' city, grown hugely affluent by tearing down the government. The author traces conservatism's triumph through two innovations: the "adversarial fantasy" (see above) and the fantastic potential for turning politics into a source of profit (e.g., direct mail and Iran Contra). The right's fortunes depend on robust public cynicism toward government, so conservatives fill the bureaucracy with cronies, hacks, partisans and creationists, ensuring lousy management and little or no regulatory enforcement. Frank's look at how conservatism mimics its enemies-the federal government is now bigger, not smaller-is hilariously spooky, as is his chapter onlobbyists, "City of Bought Men." Clear-eyed and occasionally sarcastic, he offers examples of such howlers as conservatives' rationalization of apartheid in South Africa, the depredations of Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi, labor exploitation in Saipan and the right's blatant goal to defund and destroy the pillars of liberalism. A forceful argument that resurrecting equitable, intelligent government starts with understanding how the present plutocracy came about.

Table of Contents:

Introduction Follow This Dime 1

Pt. I Insurgents 9

1 Golconda on the Potomac 11

2 Their Enemy, the State 29

3 The World as War and Conspiracy 47

4 Marketers of Discontent 71

5 From Paranoia to Privatopia, by Way of Pretoria 97

Pt. II Saboteurs 123

6 "The Best Public Servant Is the Worst One" 125

7 Putting the Train in Reverse 150

8 City of Bought Men 173

9 The Bantustan That Roared 209

10 Win-Win Corruption 239

Conclusion: Reaching for the Pillars 256

Notes 275

Acknowledgments 357

Index 361

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