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


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061714275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061714276
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"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 Audio 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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Customer Reviews

The book is an easy read.
Boston Cole
I learned a lot about homelessness that I did not know, and I was given a lesson in the value of hard work, saving money, and making good decisions.
J. Slater
I read this book in three days and at times found myself crying through some chapters while laughing through others.
Mark W. Onorati

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 132 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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70 of 86 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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52 of 66 people found the following review helpful By B Cooke on August 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
Mr. Shepard's abandonment of his project early utterly disproves his thesis that the poor simply need to work harder and think positive. His family illness that caused him to leave early so as to provide "support" would have been impossible had he continued to work at a minimum wage position. Despite seeing the fact that his 5 grand of savings would not have amounted to squat against the massive amount of debt medical procedures would have put them in, he still believes his premise. He is either a hypocrite or extremely dumb.

I'd like to compare Shepard's poverty tourism to another, much better book, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Shepard starts off with the same premise of Jurgis Rudkus, both able-bodied and fresh-faced, believing the poor are only that way because of a character flaw. Rudkus and Shepard both believe that with enough hard work and positive thinking, the world will be yours! (Read one of Shepard's interviews where he points out the poor need to ask themselves "Am I going to continue to go out to eat and put rims on my Cadillac? Or am I going to make some things happen in my life...?"). In both stories disaster inevitably occurs, Rudkus, being an immigrant in a strange land, falls prey to conmen and working the slaughterhouses maims and kills many of his family, and Shepard's family has an unspecified "major illness."

Unfortunately for Rudkus, he can't simply call mommy and go back to the comforts of white middle-class America like Shepard. Rudkus realizes that his suffering was not due to any personal failing but the nature of capitalist business to exploit the masses at every opportunity. Shepard has no such insights and continues to spout neo-liberal platitudes despite them being disproved by his experience.

Also, realize that Shepard defrauded the state of South Carolina's already limited social services budget to fail at proving his point.
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