Interesting Books on American Culture, Sociology, Economics, and Class

American Dirt (5*) by Jeanine Cummins (this book is American in the sense of North America, as it is the fictional story of a Mexican woman trying to get to and cross the US-Mexico border to save herself and children from certain murder by a gang.  I like this book because it shows the real problems people face and why they are trying to reach the US.  It is a great book for building empathy and compassion for the US-Mexico border situation)

Heartland:  A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (3*) by Sarah Smarsh (this book gives a good perspective on the middle of the country and the working poor.  A good book to see that the US is not just gleaming cities with wealthy investment bankers, entertainment stars, and Silicon Valley start-up billionaires.  This gives the perspective of one of many growing up in poverty while working hard.  I thought the book was longer than it needed to be and a bit repetitive, but it has good insights to build empathy and compassion for the people of the Heartland)

Rising Out of Hatred (5*) by Eli Saslow (this is a very powerful and moving story of a young man growing up and being very active in white supremacist movements, to how he saw the harm in them and left.  A very good book to read to understand the power and pressure of this movement and what it took to get at least one person to leave)

Hillbilly Elegy (4*) by J.D. Vance (this book provides good insight through the author’s upbringing into middle United States of America (Middle America).  This one hit quite close to home and my dad and I have had a lot of discussions around it, as this one is very much a “there but for the grace of God/fate/nature/luck go I”.  My family had similar origins in Eastern Kentucky to the author’s, but due to actions and influence from a few key people, my life is quite different (one could say privileged).  For Coastal Elites wanting to understand Middle America, or for non-US people wanting to understand what has happened politically and economically over the last years for many Americans, this is a good read)

White Working Class (4*) by Joan C. Williams (this is another great book to understand the economic and political evolution in the United States from the perspective of the White Working Class.  I would recommend this book for both Coastal Elites and non-US people wanting to understand life for many Americans.  When I was a child, the middle class felt a lot more inclusive, with both blue-collar and white-collar incomes closer together.  That has changed significantly in the US through my lifetime, and the lack of prosperity and hope for many has brought about a lot of our problems)

The Forgotten Americans (5*) by John E. Schwarz (I read this book, along with the next one,  in a class called Social Inequalities during my undergraduate studies at Northwestern, and this book was a big part of my change from believing in the American Dream, to realising the fallacies behind it and structural issues against it.  It was difficult but necessary insight to realise how hard work on its own isn’t enough to raise the next generation out of poverty.  I was shocked to learn that some schools didn’t have basic facilities functioning, let alone labs or theatre, while wealthy suburb schools had amazing facilities on par or better than universities. Although this book is a bit dated now, it can help to explain the rise of the current situation, which has only increased the economic divide)

Ain’t No Makin’ It (5*) by Jay MacLoed (this was the other required reading that made me realise the fallacy of the American Dream, and particularly for children growing up in low-income areas.  I’ll also put this one under Race in the United States, as it is relevant there as well, as it very much illustrates the influence of race on upward mobility)

Fascism: A Warning (4*) by Madeleine Albright (perhaps wrongly placed in the US, as there is quite a bit of the history of Fascism, but as the book is intended as a warning to Americans, I put it here.  Quite powerful and scary to see how close the US is dancing on the edge of fascism)