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Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream Paperback – February 9, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


"Don't believe the naysayers. The American dream---the fable that says if you work hard and follow the rules, you'll make it---is alive and well." ---New York Post --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

From the Back Cover

What can you get with $25 and a dream?

Adam Shepard graduated from college feeling disillusioned by the apathy around him and was then incensed after reading Barbara Ehrenreich's famous work Nickel and Dimed—a book that gave him a feeling of hopelessness about the working class in America. He set out to disprove Ehrenreich's theory—the notion that those who start at the bottom stay at the bottom—by making something out of nothing to achieve the American Dream.

Shepard's plan was simple. With a sleeping bag, the clothes on his back, and $25 in cash, and restricted from using his contacts or college education, he headed out for Charleston, South Carolina, a randomly selected city with one objective: to work his way out of homelessness and into a life that would give him the opportunity for success. His goal was to have, after one year, $2,500, a working automobile, and a furnished apartment.

Scratch Beginnings is the earnest and passionate account of Shepard's struggle to overcome the pressures placed on the homeless. His story will not only inspire readers but will also remind them that success can come to anyone who is willing to work hard—and that America is still one of the most hopeful countries in the world.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 221 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061714275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061714276
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

117 of 143 people found the following review helpful By Richard Lyman on January 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
I have three children ages 12, 17 and 20. I received this book for Christmas and am fascinated by it and will get copies for my children as well as for some of their friends. A person can choose to be nickle and dimed, or can choose to create a plan and stick to it. Scratch Beginnings is not the Idiot's Guide for Getting out of Homelessness, but it is proof that anybody with determination can do it.

Our church is in downtown Charlotte, NC and we do a lot of work with the homeless. During the winter, we host Room at the Inn twice weekly to handle the overflow from the Men's Shelter. I have spent several nights at church with the homeless group and have always been amazed the majority of the them have full time jobs. They just can't accumulate the nut to get the apartment deposit, utility hookups, etc. The others seem to fall into the groups described at the Charleston shelter: the addicted and the crazies.

There are no easy answers when it comes to homelessness. I have seen some great success stories and some horrible failures including a dead man on a doorstep. I want my children to read your book for two reasons: 1) to know that they have no excuses for not making it in this life as they have had every advantage and a safety net the size of the oceans, and 2) they need to understand the roots of homelessness and what it takes to rise above it. The closest thing I have read to this book is "Finding Fish," which is more a story of redemption and the importance of family.

I help teach the AP econ class at a local high school and am going to talk to the teachers about getting the book added to the curriculum. Many of these kids have no clue when it comes to budgeting, goal setting and delayed gratification. Scratch Beginnings is an important lesson.
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82 of 103 people found the following review helpful By Scot Guenter on November 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I liked the premise of this book: Adam Shepard, a recent college graduate, who comes from a background of some privilege, decides to take only a sleeping bag and $25, chooses a city at random in the southeast of the United States, and sets off on a quest: he wants to see if it is possible to start with next to nothing and within a year achieve the goal of owning a working automobile, a furnished apartment, and at least $2500 in savings.

Some of his initial assumptions troubled me. He said the motivation of his social experiment was his rejection of Barbara Ehrenreich's arguments in "Nickel and Dimed" and "Bait and Switch," which he unfairly reduced and summarized as "working stiffs are doomed to live in the same disgraceful conditions forever," because "hard work and discipline" are "futile pursuits." Ehrenreich was critiquing the disadvantages the working poor and the middle class must suffer under crony corporate capitalism in the Bush years; to be fair to her, she had high admiration and regard for those who worked hard struggling to make ends meet, and she called for a change in how our economic system works. Part of Shepard's argument seems to be, "see, if I can do it, anybody else can do it too." At the beginning of the book, he sees his own perspective, advantages, and life experience as the norm. He is an educated white male athlete, strong, in his early 20s, who was raised in a nice suburb and is very healthy. He says he identifies with no political group, and believes therefore his approach and analysis will be free of bias.

There is a strong self-assuredness here that is both a folly and strength of youth.
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86 of 110 people found the following review helpful By Verita VINE VOICE on September 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
All he succeeds in proving is that life is easier for a young, single male with no dependents who is safe sleeping under a tarp. Women can't do this. Duh. And, jobs for able-bodied young uneducated men tend to pay better than the same level of job for women. He could move furniture. A woman his age could not. Who is supposed to work the gazillion underpaid jobs at Walmarts, supermarkets, etc.? Does he suggest these jobs go unfilled? What will the workers live on while they are trying to force the salaries up? Also, could he please pay back the social services money he defrauded the state into spending on him?

As other reviewers have pointed out, if he had had to deal with a medical emergency, he would not have been able to, even the family medical emergency would have ruined him. What is a middle aged person, or an elderly one, newly poor, to do? What is a woman with three children whose husband deserts them to do? All this author is doing is playing peasant and making people who lack compassion feel better about their selfishness. No matter how he tries to emulate the conditions of poverty, he cannot. He cannot look malnourished, with bad skin or missing teeth he can't afford to replace. He looks middle class and employers like and trust him. He knows how to talk to middle class employers. People who grow up in abject poverty often do not realize the most basic things, that they must be on time, friendly but formal on job interviews, that they must dress appropriately and what that is. They often cannot spell or speak properly. Like many conservatives, this author takes much too much for granted, assuming that he was born speaking well, with good hygiene and health. No, he was raised to those things, and that makes him a child of privilege even if he is not wealthy.
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