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The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It Hardcover – April 24, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“A very impressive and important book” ―William Julius Wilson, The Nation

The Great Divergence by Timothy Noah is a book about income inequality, and if you're thinking, ‘Do we really need another book about income inequality?' the answer is yes. We need this one.” ―Joe Nocera, New York Times

“In The Great Divergence, the journalist Timothy Noah gives us as fair and comprehensive a summary as we are likely to get of what economists have learned about our growing inequality....Along the way, he enlivens what might otherwise be a dry recounting of research findings with fast-paced historical vignettes featuring colorful characters like the novelist Horatio Alger, the labor leader Walter Reuther, and the business lobbyist Bryce Harlow.” ―Benjamin Friedman, New York Times Book Review (front page review)

The Great Divergence is a welcome antidote…. I particularly recommend Noah's list of solutions…. his book is both much needed and a delight to read.” ―Andrew Hacker, The New York Review of Books

“Timothy Noah has written a graceful book on income inequality in America, based on his prize-winning 2011 series for Slate. And The Great Divergence is well-timed: it emerges just as inequality is being transformed, via crisis and stress, from an academic backwater into a leading issue of the age … In short, this is a valuable book.” ―James K. Galbraith,

“Superb … Noah is our unpretentious Detective Columbo, walking us through theories of the case.” ―Rich Yeselson, The American Prospect

“A timely, cogent and fair-minded book from journalist Timothy Noah about the shrinking of the U.S. middle class…. the sentences are graceful, and the points are clear…. I was glad last week when Noah was available to debate Edward Conard, whose forthcoming book, Unintended Consequences, embraces harsh economic inequity as the just reward for innovators. Conard, a former partner in Bain Capital, resides in the upper 0.01 percent income bracket. Noah's book is a rebuttal, a potent argument that the ‘worst thing we could do to the Great Divergence is get used to it.'” ―Karen R. Long, The Plain Dealer

“Noah's…thesis is seductive…. [his] book is a valuable addition to the political landscape. Uncontrolled inequality is undermining many of America's best attributes. As he concludes, ‘The worst thing we could do to the Great Divergence is get used to it.'” ―Sasha Abramsky, The Washington Spectator

“Noah successfully explains complex economic trends in common parlance. In this presidential election year, his book provides an excellent introduction to the hot topic of income inequality. Recommended for the 99 percent and anyone else concerned with the future of America's middle class.” ―Rebekah Wallin, Library Journal

“Economic equality has slipped to an alarming low in the United States. In The Great Divergence Timothy Noah does an excellent job of telling us how this happened--and why it matters … [an] essential new … accessible, erudite book.” ―Jordan Michael Smith, The Christian Science Monitor

“A reader might assume that he's already read Tim's award-winning series in Slate, and the beautiful slideshow that went with it, and wonder whether he needs to read the book as well. The answer is yes - this is in no way a padded out magazine article. The series was about inequality itself; the book is more of a story--and really, in its way, a dramatic one.” ―Mark Schmitt,'s "Ten Miles Square" blog

“One of 2012's most important books … a landmark analysis of the subject.” ―Ed Kilgore,'s "Political Animal" blog

“So you're busy and stressed and have time to read just one book on America's faultline crisis of widening inequality. This is the one. Tim Noah, a pro's pro among the nation's press corps, reveals why America has increasingly become a land of haves and have-nots--and how to reverse that soul-crushing trend--with insight, verve, thoroughness and surprising passion. A must read.” ―Ron Suskind, author of Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President

“This book is profoundly fascinating and important. The growth of income inequality over the past three decades has caused a contentious partisan debate based more on ideology than fact. Timothy Noah provides a clear, dispassionate look at what has (and has not) caused this trend and what we can do about it. Everyone who cares about the future of America's middle class should read it.” ―Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs, Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin and President of the Aspen Institute

“This may be the most important book of the year. Timothy Noah explores the most significant long-term trend in our country, and he writes with an ease and clarity that makes reading this book a pleasure. Buy it now and read it. You'll probably end up buying more copies for your friends and colleagues.” ―Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Gamble

“This is the book the 99 percent has been waiting for. Crisply lucid and brilliantly argued, The Great Divergence manages to entertain at the same time that it explains. Best of all, Noah offers some strikingly sensible steps to undo the economic polarization that is tearing America apart.” ―Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed; Bait and Switch; and Bright-Sided

“A lucid, original, fascinating, and very useful guide to the biggest threat to America's future as a democracy. Noah has pulled together the whole array of explanations for the increasing Third World-ization of America--and he has sorted them out for us, with a guide to which are most important and what we can do about them. This is the book that should have been given out at the Occupy movements and--well, to everyone.” ―James Fallows, author of China Airborne and Breaking the News

“Timothy Noah has taken the most consequential domestic issue of this or any election and made us understand it in a completely new way. The Great Divergence is compelling, important and hugely readable. I learned something new in almost every sentence.” ―Jonathan Alter, author of The Promise and The Defining Moment

“An instant classic.” ―Ariana Huffington

“Essential background reading for the coming elections.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Comprehensive, fair-minded, and lucid … Noah makes a convincing and passionate case for why rising inequality harms a working democracy.” ―Publisher's Weekly

About the Author

Timothy Noah was recently named "TRB," the lead columnist at The New Republic. He wrote for Slate for a dozen years, and previously served at the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, and the Washington Monthly. He edited two collections of the writings of his late wife, Marjorie Williams, including the New York Times bestseller The Woman at the Washington Zoo. Noah received the 2011 Hillman Prize, the highest award for public service magazine journalism, for the series in Slate that forms the basis of The Great Divergence.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 1st US Edition edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 160819633X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608196333
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #779,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Timothy Noah is a senior editor of The New Republic, where he writes the TRB column and a political blog. Previously he was a senior writer at Slate, a reporter in the Washington bureau of the Wall Street Journal, an assistant managing editor at U.S. News & World Report, and an editor of the Washington Monthly. In 2011 Noah's ten-part Slate magazine series, "The Great Divergence," which formed the basis of this book, won the Sidney Hillman Award for magazine journalism, and in 2010 Noah was a National Magazine Award finalist in the online news reporting category for his Slate coverage of the health care reform bill. Noah has edited two posthumous volumes of journalism by his late wife, Marjorie Williams, including the New York Times bestseller "The Woman At The Washington Zoo," which in 2006 won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award. He lives in Washington with his two teenage children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Robert D. Harmon VINE VOICE on April 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As for what it sets out to do -- describe, in well-researched detail, the economic mess that America is in -- it succeeds. We've heard the talking points, and we've seen some details, in bits and pieces, in columns like those of Paul Krugman and Robert Reich. Here, at least, is a resource for anyone who wants to understand, and discuss, the problem in coherent terms.

The picture Mr. Noah describes is alarming enough, in his telling. Inequality in wealth has revived since its low point in Eisenhower's time, certainly inequality took off in Reagan's. Inequality in _income_ is even more unequal, and more alarming, as he shows. Demographic data -- shifts in family and ethnicity -- is one factor, but just one. The cost of a college education rises rapidly, is debt-ridden rapidly, at a time when it's the new minimum for skilled labor and a middle-class existence. Jobs going offshore is part of it, but not all. Government tax reform since Reagan was part of it, but shifts in government regulation and social policy, much more so. The fall in labor-union power and membership, and the rise in the uppermost weathy, is part of it, but Europe had the same global-market shocks but much less union decline and less visible-wealth rise.

In this light, the "why it matters" chapter may seem just a series of rebuttals to the conventional wisdom, and I can see how it might have disappointed other reviewers. Reading this chapter, the reader needs to remember all the material that went before. Yes, we understand: inequality is not good; income disparity does matter -- a lot -- and creates, yes, unhappiness; the quality of life is not improving even though productivity has; and deny it as you will, inequality is on the rise.
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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful By not a natural on February 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Timothy Noah's book The Great Divergence is interesting and well-written, an easy read, for the most part, and loaded with information from a broad and varied range of sources. As Noah acknowledges, there is nothing really new in the book, and folks who have an abiding interest in income inequality, its causes and consequences, will find themselves in familiar territory. However, for a reader who has not been pretty thoroughly immersed in this literature for the last decade or so, there is just too much information to assimilate in a brief period. The Great Divergence runs just under two hundred pages, but much of the material presented is statistical in nature, and though it's not hard to understand, there is just too much to remember, even in a general way, unless the reader takes the time to absorb it.

As one might imagine from the title, Noah's work will not appeal to all readers. It seems quite clear that its approval rating will be pretty high among those who lean a bit to what passes for the left in this day and age, but the same evaluation will be abysmally low among those on the right. There was a time, say thirty or forty years ago, when forecasts such as this were not so easily made. After all, the Republican Richard Nixon was President when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency were created, and Nixon was the last President to impose broad-based wage and price controls. Whatever the value of these endeavors, today they would be anathema to just about any Republican and to most Blue-Dog Democrats, inviting characterization as manifestations of up-dated Stalinism. The polarization of political life in the U.S.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Timothy Noah is a journalist by trade; he had produced a solid book largely documenting the economic reality of "the rich getting richer," and the poor becoming more the inverse, which has indisputably occurred in America over the last 30 years. In the introduction Noah states that the title to this book was first utilized by Nobel Prize winner, and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman, in his 2007 book The Conscience of a Liberal. Noah's book is replete with sufficient numbers, graphs, and references to other economic works to prove that the rich have become much richer, at the relative expense of virtually everyone else. The last "Gilded Age" ended with the Great Depression of the `30's. Afterwards, for almost 50 years, incomes of Americans tended to converge, a phenomenon that Noah calls the "Great Compression." Starting at the beginning of the `80's, incomes commenced their divergence, and have again attained the extremes of the `20's Gilded Age.

Why have the vast majority of Americans tolerated the trend whereby so much wealth is concentrated in the hands of so few? Of course, not all have, as witnessed by the "Occupy Wall Street" protests. But Noah postulates, and I would concur, that at least one reason is the enduring myth of upward mobility. Like the billboards that we have here in Albuquerque, touting the latest winner at a casino, it is as though we all have the chance to win - as indeed we do!- but that masks, and is its own diversion from the central reality that most players in a casino lose, just as most Americans are losing in the wealth game to the very few. Noah devotes one chapter to debunking the upward mobility myth. One's own wealth (or lack of it!
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