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Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 1, 2016

4.6 out of 5 stars 217 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of March 2016: It’s the rare writer who can capture a social ill with a clear-eyed, nonjudgmental tone and still allow the messiness of real people its due. Matthew Desmond does just that with Evicted as he explores the stories of tenants and landlords in the poorest areas of Milwaukee during 2008 and 2009. It’s almost always a compliment to say that a nonfiction book reads like a novel and this one does – mostly because Desmond gets very close to the “characters,” relating their words and thoughts and layering on enough vibrant details to make every rented property or trailer come alive. You can almost forget that these are actual people with actual problems until he delivers a raw jolt of reality: the woman who’s evicted because her boyfriend beats her up; the tenant whose baby daughter dies in a house fire; the tenant who pushes a “friend” out a window for using all her cell phone minutes; the landlord who refuses to fix stopped-up pipes, so tenants allow garbage and sewage to pile up in the property.

Through both personal stories and data, Desmond proves that eviction undermines self, family, and community, bearing down disproportionately hard on women with children. In Milwaukee, being behind on rent gives landlords the opening to serve an eviction notice, which leads to a court date. On the face of it, it may seem easy to side with the landlords—of course tenants should pay their rent. But as Evicted pulls back layer after layer, what’s exposed is a cycle of hurt that all parties—landlord, tenant, city—inflict on one another. Whether readers agree with Desmond’s conclusions for how to break this cycle in order to strengthen families and neighborhoods, it’s obvious by the end of Evicted that there is no easy fix, and that people—some addicts, some criminals—will slip through the cracks. But it should be just as obvious that we must still try.

—Adrian Liang

Review

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


“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

“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 

“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, The 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

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 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

“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

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

 “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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (March 1, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553447432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553447439
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (217 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By G. Kellner VINE VOICE on November 19, 2015
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Evicted" is the story of eight families in Milwaukee, WI--six families struggling mightily to pay the rent on their increasingly crappy apartments, and two sets of landlords. The landlords are either a new breed of venture capitalists or merely slumlords, depending on your perspective. Since roughly 2000, rents have shot up while the properties have either stayed the same or declined, so that by 2013 about one out of every three poor families spent seventy percent of their income on housing. Think about that for a minute.

As a result of this, poor families are always one crisis--really one unexpected expense--away from being evicted. The ramifications of being evicted on one's emotional, financial, and physical states are profound. First, once someone gets evicted, finding any kind of housing becomes extremely difficult--one of the ladies called 90 apartments before she found one that would take her and her two kids. You can place blame on these struggling families if you want to, but the fact of the matter is it's extraordinarily difficult for them to succeed, or even to just get by.

I found this book very interesting--to say I enjoyed it would be wrong because much of it is depressing. It made the problems of the urban poor personal. I quite liked some of them and I was rooting for them--"Please, let this landlord call her back!" I felt bad when Vanetta went to prison for armed robbery after her hours were cut, and I cheered when Scott finally got clean. I read it all the way through the endnotes, which are also quite interesting and provide some insights or background info. I really wanted to find out how all the families were doing today (the book takes place in 2008-2009) because I became attached to them and had come to care about them.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A difficult book to get through. Not that it was poorly written or boring just its subject matter was hard. And that is what made it so powerful. More real stories than boring analysis which is right up my alley. Statistics are fine but I want to know about the real people and their stories not just graphs and charts. I had a real rough patch 25 plus years ago and was very near what a lot of these people are going through. I know their fear, panic, depression, feeling of worthlessness first hand and that is what made this book an excellent read for me.

When I got my feet back on the ground and bought my first house we used to have a mail box right out front. At the end of the month I used to write my check for my mortgage at night when I did my bills and go to the mailbox and put it in. I used to look up at the stars, close my eyes, and thank God that I had a place to stay for another 30 days. Although many years have past the scars of that time never left me and never will and I am glad. A reminder of what could happen. All of these people have my sympathy because I have been there myself.

Powerful and relevant-well worth the time.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Evicted is a powerful and brutal read. I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to nonfiction reading, but as a life long renter, I was intrigued by this topic. Fortunately, my experiences as a renter have been as far removed from the experiences depicted in this book as you can get. The author focuses on the city of Milwaukee, and paints a truly disturbing picture of families and individuals held hostage by exorbitant rents, condemned properties and a vicious cycle of poverty that holds them in a death grip.

I was more than a bit intimidated by this 400+ page volume, and was convinced that I had committed myself to a giant volume of dry statistics and government policy. It didn't take me long to realize how wrong I was. This is an extremely well written book with a driving narrative that is compelling and hard to put down. Desmond follows eight families as they struggle to pay the rent, keep the lights on and their children fed. He also gives us a glimpse of a typical landlord, seeking to make profits off of those with little to no income. Reading about these people trying to make ends meet on a shockingly low income is painful and eye opening.

I was feeling battered and weary from these tales of crime, poverty, drug abuse and bad decisions and was wondering if the author would ever offer up any sort of solution. He does at the end, and to my novice view, it seems amazingly simple. Evicted has changed many of my preconceptions and has saddened me beyond words. I think I had a rather abstract view of life in America's inner cities, but this book has brought it into focus and made the plight of inner city residents all too real.

Heartbreaking, fully sourced, and brutal, Evicted is a must read for any American and should serve as a call to action for anyone looking to make a difference whether it be addressing the issues of homelessness in your hometown or changing government policy. A must read.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
We're all familiar with the basic genetics of disease, and how each of us is predisposed to specific physical problems passed down to us in the mix of genes from our parents. Poverty and the associated problems might not live in our genes, but it is certainly hereditary. Matthew Desmond does a phenomenal job of planting us in the midst of the kind of poverty most of us never experience. We see how insurmountable the climb out of that kind of all-encompassing poverty can truly be. We also see the psychological damage this kind of life causes to those who are taught, whether intentionally or not, that they don't matter.

In this book, we meet a number of people whose very existence revolves around the struggle to survive. When 70% of your monthly income goes to rent, your everyday concerns become things like whether to pay the electric bill or buy groceries. You are consumed by decisions in which the answers are always the lesser of two evils: starve or freeze.

Then we meet the landlords. For many of these people, housing the poor is an easy and lucrative business. The landlords have the upper hand, holding the threat of eviction over their tenants to ensure they don't complain about the abysmal living conditions. While the author makes no judgments about these landlords, I certainly did.

This book is well written, compelling, engrossing, and incredibly hard to read. The content made me ache inside. We are forced to acknowledge that we have become the kind of nation that pampers their dogs, worships celebrities and the wealthy, and ignores the human suffering in our midst. The poor have no voice, at least not one we hear.

Make sure you read the closing chapter entitled 'About This Project'.
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