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Nonfiction Review: Tightrope by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Title: Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope

AuthorNicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Year Published: 2020

Category: Adult nonfiction
Pages: 320 (including notes and index)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)USA (OR, AL, OK, MD)

FTC Disclosure: I paid for this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): The Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of the acclaimed, best-selling Half the Sky now issue a plea--deeply personal and told through the lives of real Americans--to address the crisis in working-class America, while focusing on solutions to mend a half century of governmental failure.

With stark poignancy and political dispassion, Tightrope draws us deep into an "other America." The authors tell this story, in part, through the lives of some of the children with whom Kristof grew up, in rural Yamhill, Oregon, an area that prospered for much of the twentieth century but has been devastated in the last few decades as blue-collar jobs disappeared. About one-quarter of the children on Kristof's old school bus died in adulthood from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents. And while these particular stories unfolded in one corner of the country, they are representative of many places the authors write about, ranging from the Dakotas and Oklahoma to New York and Virginia. But here too are stories about resurgence, among them: Annette Dove, who has devoted her life to helping the teenagers of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as they navigate the chaotic reality of growing up poor; Daniel McDowell, of Baltimore, whose tale of opioid addiction and recovery suggests that there are viable ways to solve our nation's drug epidemic. These accounts, illustrated with searing images by Lynsey Addario, the award-winning photographer, provide a picture of working-class families needlessly but profoundly damaged as a result of decades of policy mistakes. With their superb, nuanced reportage, Kristof and WuDunn have given us a book that is both riveting and impossible to ignore.
Review: Kristof and WuDunn are so good at taking topics which could be dry and turning them into fascinating stories. They weave into the facts tales of friends and people they've met who symbolize the issues they are talking about.

This is an important book about topics that many Americans would prefer to ignore: childhood programs, education, drug and alcohol addiction (and recovery efforts), joblessness, prison sentencing, and the (mis)treatment of the working class.

Each chapter focuses on an issue, bu the above topics are themes that run through the entire book. I like at the end where the authors have 10 suggestions for what readers can do from donating to volunteering and they say what they feel needs to happen in order to combat these issues. Some examples are high-quality childhood programs; universal high school graduation (most everyone in this book seems to have dropped out by the age of fifteen); universal health coverage and more.

I was impressed with Kristof and WuDunn before when I read Half the Sky, but the fact that they are still so close to the people that Nick grew up with even though they differ politically, educationally, and in all facets of life, speaks volumes on both sides of their relationships.

Challenges for which this counts: 

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