cover image Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope

Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Knopf, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-65508-4

Husband and wife journalists Kristof and WuDunn (A Path Appears) turn a compassionate lens on the failed state of working-class American communities in this stark, fluidly written portrait. In profiling residents of Baltimore, Md., and Pine Bluff, Ark., as well as Kristof’s classmates from rural Yamhill, Ore., the authors seek to counteract the “cruel narrative that working-class struggle is about bad choices, laziness, and vices.” They urge readers to reflect not only on “individual irresponsibility” but on the “collective irresponsibility” of American society, especially in comparison to other first-world countries where the social safety net is stronger. The authors highlight the successes of local nonprofits, including a Pine Bluff after-school program, but contend that pockets of individual charity cannot solve the nation’s systemic problems. Threaded throughout are policy suggestions emphasizing the importance of early childhood education, universal health coverage, fair tax rates, commonsense drug policy, affordable housing, and strong worker protections. Kristof and WuDunn avoid pity while creating empathy for their subjects, and effectively advocate for a “morality of grace” to which readers should hold policy makers accountable. This essential, clear-eyed account provides worthy solutions to some of America’s most complex socioeconomic problems. (Jan.)