Evicted

Poverty and Profit in the American City Trade Paperback

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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 • San Francisco Chronicle • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  St. Louis Post-Dispatch •  Politico •  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.

Praise

Shortlisted for the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction 
800-CEO-READ Best Current Events & Public Affairs Book of 2016
One of The Los Angeles Times' 10 Most Important Books of 2016
A New York Times Editors' Choice
One of Wall Street Journal's Hottest Spring Nonfiction Books
One of O: The Oprah Magazine's 10 Titles to Pick Up Now
One of Vulture's 8 Books You Need to Read This Month
One of BuzzFeed's 14 Most Buzzed About Books of 2016
One of The Guardian's Best Holiday Reads 2016

“An exhaustively researched, vividly realized and above all, unignorable book—after Evicted, it will no longer be possible to have a serious discussion about poverty without having a serious discussion about housing.”
—Jennifer Senior, New York Times

"Astonishing...Desmond is an academic who teaches at Harvard—a sociologist or, you could say, an ethnographer. But I would like to claim him as a journalist too, and one who, like Katherine Boo in her study of a Mumbai slum, has set a new standard for reporting on poverty."
Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times Book Review

“Written with the vividness of a novel, [Evicted] offers a dark mirror of middle-class America’s obsession with real estate, laying bare the workings of the low end of the market, where evictions have become just another part of an often lucrative business model.”
—Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times

"It doesn't happen every week (or every month, or even year), but every once in a while a book comes along that changes the national conversation... Evicted looks to be one of those books." 
—Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review

“An essential piece of reportage about poverty and profit in urban America.”
Geoff Dyer, The Guardian’s Best Holiday Reads 2016

"Should be required reading in an election year, or any other."
—Entertainment Weekly

“Thank you, Matthew Desmond. Thank you for writing about destitution in America with astonishing specificity yet without voyeurism or judgment. Thank you for showing it is possible to compose spare, beautiful prose about a complicated policy problem. Thank you for giving flesh and life to our squabbles over inequality, so easily consigned to quintiles and zero-sum percentages. Thank you for proving that the struggle to keep a roof over one’s head is a cause, not just a characteristic of poverty... Evicted is an extraordinary feat of reporting and ethnography. Desmond has made it impossible to ever again consider poverty in America without tackling the role of housing—and without grappling with Evicted.” 
Washington Post

“Powerful, monstrously effective…[Evicted] documents with impressive steadiness of purpose and command of detail the lives of impoverished renters at the bottom of Milwaukee’s housing market…In describing the plight of these people, Desmond reveals the confluence of seemingly unrelated forces that have conspired to create a thoroughly humiliated class of the almost or soon-to-be homeless…But the power of this book abides in the indelible impression left by its stories.”
—Jill Leovy, The American Scholar

“Gripping and important…Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, cites plenty of statistics but it’s his ethnographic gift that lends the work such force. He’s one of a rare academic breed: a poverty expert who engages with the poor. His portraits are vivid and unsettling…It’s not easy to show desperate people using drugs or selling sex and still convey their courage and dignity. Evicted pulls it off.” 
—Jason DeParle, New York Review of Books

“[Desmond] tells a complex, achingly powerful story… There have been many well-received urban ethnographies in recent years, from Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang Leader for a Day to Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Desmond’s Evicted surely deserves to takes [its] place among these. It is an exquisitely crafted, meticulously researched exploration of life on the margins, providing a voice to people who have been shamefully ignored—or, worse, demonized—by opinion makers over the course of decades.” 
—The Boston Globe

"[An] impressive work of scholarship... novelistically detailed... As Mr. Desmond points out, eviction has been neglected by urban sociologists, so his account fills a gap. His methodology is scrupulous."
Wall Street Journal

"A shattering account of life on the American fringe, Matthew Desmond’s Evicted shows the reality of a housing crisis that few among the political or media elite ever think much about, let alone address. It takes us to the center of what would be seen as an emergency of significant proportions if the poor had any legitimate political agency in American life."
—The New Republic

“Wrenching and revelatory… Other sociologists have ventured before into the realm of popular literature… but none in recent memory have so successfully bridged in a single work the demands of the academy (statistical studies and deep reviews of the existing literature) and the narrative necessity of showing what has brought these beautiful, flawed humans to their miseries… A powerfully convincing book that examines the poor’s impossible housing situation at point-blank range.”
—The Nation

“Extraordinary… I can’t remember when an ethnographic study so deepened my understanding of American life."
Katha Pollitt, The Guardian

Evicted stands among the very best of the social justice books… The book is meticulously reported and beautifully written, balancing statistics with family stories that draw you in and keep you there. I hope that all the people who read and loved Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity will give Evicted a chance.”
—Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto 

“I thought I had a sense of the breakdown and despair in America’s poorest communities. I didn’t… Searing… [and] critical.”
Roger Altman, founder and chairman of Evercore and former United States Secretary of the Treasury; Wall Street Journal’s Best Books of 2016

“In this astonishing feat of ethnography, Desmond immerses himself in the lives of Milwaukee families caught in the cycle of chronic eviction. In spare and penetrating prose, this Harvard sociologist chronicles the economic and psychological toll of living in substandard housing, and the eviscerating impact of constantly moving between homes and shelters. With Evicted, Desmond has made it impossible to consider poverty without grappling with the role of housing. This pick [as best book of 2016] was not close.”
—Carlos Lozada, Washington Post

“Like Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, this brilliant book is reportage with the depth and force of fiction. Its eye-opening details and data offer a new way to look at the affordable-housing crisis, the forces that perpetuate poverty and the policies we need to fix a crazily stacked deck.”
—MORE Magazine

"[Evicted] is harrowing, heartbreaking, and heavily researched, and the plight of the characters will remain with you long after you close the book's pages... Desmond's meticulousness shows how precision is not at odds with compassionate storytelling of the underprivileged. Indeed, [it] is the respect that Evicted shows for its characters' flaws and mistakes that makes the book impossible to forget."
Christian Science Monitor

“A superb new book.” 
—Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

"The poverty of others brings up terrible questions of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God and what if, were your circumstances or skin color or gender different, that could be you. Your gaze pulls away. But Desmond writes so powerfully and with such persuasive math that he turns your head back and keeps it there: Yes, it could be you. But if home is so crucial a place that its loss causes this much pain, Evicted argues, making it possible for more of us might change everything.”
VICE

"Evicted is a rich, empathetic feat of storytelling and fieldwork."
Mother Jones

"Evicted successfully interweaves the narratives of white characters living in a trailer park at the most southern point of Milwaukee with landlords and tenants in the sprawling black ghetto of the city’s North Side... Desmond’s book manages to be a deeply moral work, a successful nonfiction narrative, and a sweeping academic survey—all while bringing new research to his academic field and to the public’s attention."
Slate

“I love books that devastate me… I won’t soon forget [Desmond’s] description of a family moving in and out of homeless shelters. [Evicted] was heartbreaking.”
Imbolo Mbue
, author of Behold the Dreamers; The Millions Best Books of 2016 

Evicted is that rare work that has something genuinely new to say about poverty. Desmond makes a convincing case that policymakers and academics have overlooked the role of the private rental market, and that eviction 'is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty'...Evictions have become routine. Desmond’s book should begin to change that."
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Matthew Desmond’s new book makes an undeniable case that we need to fix this all-American tragedy.” 
—Huffington Post

"[A] carefully researched, often heartbreaking book."
Chicago Tribune

"Evicted should provoke extensive public policy discussions. It is a magnificent, richly textured book with a Tolstoyan approach: telling it like it is but with underlying compassion and a respect for the humanity of each character, major or minor."
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"By immersing himself in the everyday lives of poor renters, Desmond follows in the tradition of James Agee, whose monumental 1941 book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men pounded the reader with clear-eyed and brutal descriptions of rural poverty in the Deep South."
Minneapolis StarTribune

“Desmond seems to be that rare person who is a dedicated and careful researcher and a phenomenal writer. The stories he tells in Evicted are gripping and intimate, at the same time as compelling as a novel and painstakingly illustrating how people are trapped and what the systemic implications are of that. I literally could not put it down… [Evicted] feels like it has the potential to catalyze a movement.”
Shelterforce

"[A] masterful, heartbreaking book… The stories in Evicted are a haunting plea for us to do the right thing by families who ache for the simple routines that build a life – evening baths in a working tub for the kids, dinner cooked in one’s own kitchen, windows and doors that keep cold and danger out, a place to call home.”
Sojourner

“[An] unflinching, richly detailed narrative… Evicted is an important book that provides an unvarnished account of the lives of the troubled and disorganized – some would say vulnerable – poor. It is thick with detail … and represents a new installment in a tradition dating back to Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives (1890)… One can find passages to admire on almost every page of Desmond’s book.”
—City Journal

“An intimate and beautiful work as poignant as it is insightful… Often you hear that an author writes well for an academic, as if he were being graded on a curve. But Desmond is a good writer, period. His prose is vivid and energetic; his physical descriptions can be small gems.”
Bookforum

“A groundbreaking work… Desmond delivers a gripping, novelistic narrative… This stunning, remarkable book – a scholar’s 21st-century How the Other Half Lives – demands a wide audience.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Gripping storytelling and meticulous research undergird this outstanding ethnographic study… Desmond identifies affordable housing as a leading social justice issue of our time and offers concrete solutions to the crisis.” 
Publishers Weekly (starred)

"Highly recommended."
Library Journal (starred)

"It’s hard to paint a slumlord as a sympathetic character, but Harvard professor Desmond manages to do so in this compelling look at home evictions in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of America’s most segregated cities... [Desmond] does a marvelous job telling these harrowing stories of people who find themselves in bad situations, shining a light on how eviction sets people up to fail... This is essential reading.” 
Booklist (starred)

“Evicted is astonishing—a masterpiece of writing and research that fills a tremendous gap in our understanding of poverty. Taking us into some of America’s poorest neighborhoods, Desmond illustrates how eviction leads to a cascade of events, often triggered by something as simple as a child throwing a snowball at a car, that can trap families in a cycle of poverty for years. Beautiful, harrowing, and deeply human, Evicted is a must read for anyone who cares about social justice in this country. I loved it.”
Rebecca Skloot
, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

“This story is about one of the most basic human needs—a roof overhead—and yet Matthew Desmond has told it in sweeping, immersive, heartbreaking fashion. We enter the lives of both renters and landlords at shoulder height, experiencing their triumphs, struggles, cruelty, kindness, loss, and love. One hopes that Evicted will change public policy. It will certainly change how people respond to the world and those who inhabit it.”
Jeff Hobbs, author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

"This sensitive, achingly beautiful ethnography should refocus our understanding of poverty in America on the simple challenge of keeping a roof over your head."
Robert D. Putnam, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University, and author of Bowling Alone and Our Kids

"This is an extraordinary and crucial piece of work. Read it. Please, read it.”
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family

“Matthew Desmond tells stories of people at their most vulnerable. The characters that populate this lyrical book, many of whom are women and children, are our true American heroes, showing great courage and mythic strength against forces that are much larger than the individual. Their stories are gripping and moving—tragic, too. It’s a wonder and a shame that here, in the most prosperous country in the world, a roof over one’s head can be elusive for so many.”
Jesmyn Ward, author of Men We Reaped and Salvage the Bones

“Evicted is a striking account of a severe and rapidly developing form of economic hardship in the U.S. Matthew Desmond’s riveting narrative of the experiences of families in Milwaukee embroiled in the process of eviction will not only shock general readers, but it will broaden the perspective of experts on urban poverty as well. This powerful, well-written book also includes revealing portraits of profit-seeking landlords, as well as important findings from comprehensive surveys to back up the ethnographic research. Evicted is that rare book that both enlightens and serves as an urgent call for action.”
William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University, and author of When Work Disappears

"Evicted paints a detailed and heartbreaking portrait of the country’s eviction problem, and how it feeds into a cycle of poverty."
BuzzFeed 

"Sociology’s next great hope… [Desmond] is positioned to intervene in the inequality debate in a big way.”
Chronicle of Higher Education

"The extent of Desmond’s research is truly astonishing. More astonishing still is the fact that he’s able to condense all of his observations and data into a single nonfiction volume that is both unsettling and nearly impossible to put down."
Chicago Review of Books

“Remarkable… [Desmond] has a novelist’s eye for the telling detail and a keen ear for dialogue… [His] book is a significant literary achievement, as well as a feat of reporting underpinned by statistical labour, with details provided in copious endnotes. It is eloquent, too, on the harm eviction does — not just to individuals but also to communities and to the quality of civic and urban life.”
—The Financial Times

“Desmond’s acute observational skills, his facility with reported dialogue and his ability to wrench chaotic stories into clear prose make Evicted a vivid, if sometimes grueling, read.” 
The Independent

“A monumental and vivid study of urban poverty in America… Evicted demands attention.”
—The Sunday Times

“By exposing the difficulties these families face in obtaining and keeping decent and affordable shelter, Desmond illuminates, as few others have recently done, the lives of America’s poor and, by extension, that of the country as a whole.”
Times Literary Supplement

"This combination of novel, experience-driven academic research and reportage is part of what makes Evicted such a valuable contribution to non-fiction literature about the lived experience of poverty."
—Rabble

“Desmond, a young sociologist whose fieldwork in Milwaukee was the subject of ‘Disrupted Lives,’ this magazine’s January-February 2014 cover article, here details several of those lives in painful, novelistic detail. But it is all fact—and all twenty-first-century American.”
Harvard Magazine

Evicted is more than good journalism. While Desmond’s skill as a writer creates a narrative pull, his training as a sociologist forces him to ask why we haven’t had more data on perhaps our most pressing domestic crisis.”
—Christian Century

“[Evicted] could do more than anything written in years to get fixing welfare reform and addressing urban poverty back on the national agenda. It will be hard for anyone to read Evicted and not be outraged over this nation’s treatment of millions of low-income Americans. That is a huge accomplishment, and Desmond deserves high praise.”
Beyond Chron

"Desmond shines as an ethnographer, providing rich description and engaging accounts of the daily struggles of people attempting to find some kind of stability amidst the chaos, powerlessness, and uncertainty of poverty... The combination of rigorous research and important policy recommendations makes this work valuable to a wide audience; it is a must-read.”
—Journal of Children and Poverty

Evicted presents a passionate, intricately crafted argument that access to stable housing makes or breaks a person’s life. Desmond weaves these human stories together with years of additional research… to build a compelling case for drastic overhauls in how the country approaches public housing. He even offers a solution to the problem he describes.”
—Progressive Magazine

"For the two or three weeks I was reading this book, it formed my topic of conversation with friends, and at night, when I went to sleep, it filled my thoughts."
—Spectator

“Riveting… [the stories] bring to mind characters from Dickens and Steinbeck.” 
—America Magazine

“Desmond does more than paint a haunting picture of the poverty and instability created by housing insecurity. He tears past market ideology to show the power of landlords and the way they decide who the city will work for and how… [A] masterpiece of sociological ethnography.”
—Dissent Magazine

"It is impossible to fully convey the subtlety and energy of [Evicted]... a tour de force."
—Books and Ideas

 “A compelling and compassionate ethnography… [this book] demands being read cover to cover. Matthew Desmond’s Evicted is a moving, insightful, and deeply moral text that captures powerful, devastating scenes and draws much-needed attention to the brutal and beautiful lives at the intersection of American capitalism and poverty.”
—Sapiens

"Desmond's important book might set out practical prescriptions for solutions such as improving the size of the housing voucher program, but the deeply touching portraits are what really make Evicted the heavyweight that it is. It should be mandatory reading for everyone, especially politicians and others who walk the corridors of power. That such bruising poverty can exist in the world's richest country is a scathing indictment of our regulatory policies."
Poornima Apte, BookBrowse.com

Reader's Guide

1. Have you ever been evicted or do you know anyone who has? If the answer is yes, what was your/their experience like, and how has it affected your/their life?

2. What was your experience reading Evicted? Were you surprised by what you learned? Was any particular scene or character’s story emotionally painful for you to witness?

3. Many people have very codified perceptions of “people who get evicted” and suspect that those people are largely responsible—through bad decision making—for their circumstances. Did you feel this way before reading Evicted? Why or why not? Did your opinions change after reading the book? If so, how?

4. In Evicted, author Matthew Desmond takes a narrative approach to an important topic and follows the stories of several real people. Which person’s story were you most drawn to and why?

5. Sherrena Tarver claimed to have found her calling as an inner-city entrepreneur, stating, “The ’hood is good. There’s a lot of money there” (page 152). How did Sherrena profit from being a landlord in poor communities? Do you think her profits were justified? What responsibilities do landlords have when renting their property? What risks do they take? Do you sympathize with Sherrena or not? 

6. On Larraine and her late boyfriend Glen’s anniversary, she spends her monthly allocation of food stamps on “two lobster tails, shrimp, king crab legs, salad, and lemon meringue pie” (page 218). Can you relate to her decision? How might you have judged her differently without knowing the backstory that Desmond provides? 

7. Because they have children, Arleen, Vanetta, and Pam and Ned frequently find themselves shut out of available housing and resort to lies in order to secure a place to live. Are these lies justified? If you have children, how far would you go to shelter your family? 

8. Although eviction is the central issue in Evicted, affordable housing interacts intimately with many other social issues. For example: Do parents who have trouble finding/providing safe housing for their children deserve to have their children taken away and put in foster care? Would affordable housing make it easier for addicts and recovering addicts (such as Scott) to enroll in programs that increase chances of rehabilitation? What other major issues can you think of that eviction affects, whether in this book or in the world in general? 

9. How does race factor into the types of struggles faced by the individuals profiled in Evicted? What about being a woman? Or a single parent?

10. Did reading Evicted inspire you to want to help others in positions similar to those of the people in the book? If so, how do you think you might get involved? (Hint: Visit JustShelter.org to learn more about groups and organizations in your local area who are already fighting the good fight!)

11. Why do you think Crystal made the decision to let Arleen and her sons stay until they found another residence? How did tenants such as Crystal and Arleen rely on friends and extended kin networks to get by? Did this do anything to lift them out of poverty or distress? What limitations do these short-term relationships have? Why do you think agencies such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children seek to limit kin dependence?

12. Landlords repeatedly turned down Pam and Ned’s rental applications because they have children. Why? Do you think families with children should have any protection when seeking housing? Why do you think families with children were not considered a protected class when Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968? Do you think it is fair for landlords to charge tenants with children monthly surcharges and children-damage deposits? Why or why not? 

13. Why did Doreen choose not to call Sherrena when the house was in desperate need of repair? Do you agree that “The house failed the tenants, and the tenants failed the house” (page 256)? What effects does living in a home that is not decent or functional have on a person’s psychological and emotional health? 

14. Do you think housing should be a right in America? 

15. Many Americans still believe that the typical low-income family lives in public housing. Unfortunately, the opposite is true; only 1 in 4 families who qualify for any kind of housing assistance receive it. In Evicted, Desmond proposes a universal housing voucher program. What do you think of that idea? 

16. The government spends much more money on homeowner tax benefits for affluent families than on housing assistance to poor families. Is this situation justified? How would you address this issue? 

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