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The Other America: Poverty in the United States Paperback – August 1, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Harrington's classic account of an isolated and self-perpetuating underclass was originally published in 1962.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“An excellent book—and a most important one.” –The New Yorker

“Mike Harrington has made more Americans more uncomfortable for more good reasons than any other person I know. For most people, that would be achievement enough. But for Mike it was only the beginning—because the more he saw that was wrong with America, the harder he fought to make it right.” –Senator Edward Kennedy

The Other America is a “scream of rage, a call to conscience.” –The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (August 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068482678X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684826783
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on February 4, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Few works of contemporary non-fiction have had more lasting impact on the social consciousness of the overall society from which it arose than "The Other America", Michael Harrington's now classic tome on the egregious conditions under which what we would now call the "underclass" lived in mid-20th century American society. With an uncommon verve and uncanny precision, Harrington painstakingly detailed the disgusting and shocking realities of life for those many millions of Americans of both color and ethnicity living lives of desperate poverty in the midst of the affluent society. Millions of readers, myself included, were shocked to discover the extent to which this world coexisted with our own, and many of the social action programs that arose in the 1960s and thereafter used this book as a kind of reference guide to the realities of poverty in contemporary society. Indeed, what is most disturbing about anyone re-reading the book is the discovery of how little conditions have changed for those who through the accident of birth, color, and ethnic origin, find themselves inexorably trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.
Sadly, for all the glad-handing of politicians and the proclamations by global corporations of the new and more widespread prosperity of the 1990s, the sobering truth is that very little progress has been made. Indeed, in more recent books such as William Finnegan's excellent "Cold New World", Harrington's basic thesis of the co-existence of a starker, poorer, and powerless populace left stranded to live lives of quiet desperation is reconfirmed, putting the lie to the many proclamations of universal opportunity and promise that politicians now ballyhoo.
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68 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Brad Beaubien on April 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Other America was first published in 1962, before Johnson's "Great Society" and "War on Poverty," before Vietnam, before the urban riots of the late 60s, before the Civil Rights legislation, and before the formation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As such, it may well seem a dinosaur to apply the revelations and ideas proposed by author Michael Harrington to a society that has advanced so far. Or has it? Harrington develops his thesis on the central premise that poverty in America is both there and widespread. More importantly, however, is the fact that it is hidden. People no longer have day-to-day contact with the urban poor. Before the mass exodus of the middle class, the majority of Americans lived in or near areas inhabited by the poor. Even if they did not, they walked through or drove through the rows of tenements on their way to work downtown. They saw the conditions the poor lived in and saw the faces of the poor. When Harrington wrote, as is true today, the "ghetto" is a place to avoid. We have successfully severed all economic use of the poor from our daily lives and are able to drive into downtown from the suburban fringe without even having to stop to see the lives of the poor. Even today's trend toward reconstructing highways below-grade so as to have less impact on the poor neighborhoods they divide further removes the lives of the poor from our daily routine-we don't even have to see the buildings pass by anymore. They are safely beyond the highway wall. Harrington differentiates between the poverty existing today and that of previous urban centers. The old ethnic ghettos were indeed permeated by poverty, had miserable living conditions, and were centers of disease and urban mischief.Read more ›
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is the seminal work on the poor in America, analyzed within the context of government proffered, anti-poverty programs. It is a scathing critique and analysis of the war on poverty, where bold rhetoric and political grandstanding have often supplanted action. The author in his analysis categorizes poverty as a cultural and often institutional way of life that would require radical innovations, social planning, and long term financial investment, were the government really serious about eradicating poverty in America. What is amazing is that the arguments made by the author, when he wrote this book forty years ago, are still sound today.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By J Bezos on December 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
What is most amazing about Harrington's book is how accurately it describes today's society. The impact of this book, first published in the early 60s, is testament to the power that a single book can have on a nation and its people. It directly affected the thoughts and actions of President Johnson's "war on poverty". Unfortunately, this "war on poverty" may never come to a conclusion, even in the richest country in the world.

The book itself contains a good introduction by Howe, who puts the impact of Harrington's work in context. Filled with statistics, which are unfortunately not well referenced, the case is made that the scale of poverty in the US is a travesty and an outrage. Harrington himself lived amongst the poor and disenfranchised members of New York's society for a brief period of time and he writes about their general hopelessness and lack of purpose in life. The descriptions and analysis of this book allow you to view the world through the 'lens' of poverty, to know (on a superficial level) the crippling and depressing lives of our society's poorest members. Harrington was perhaps the leading American socialist of his time, so be warned that his views and crituqes have a liberal/leftist stance and that much of the book disparages the efforts of the US government (perhaps, rightly so).

As an added bonus, this edition of the book includes some insightful afterwords by Harrington about poverty in the 70s and 80s. Overall, an important and powerful work that is a must-read for anyone concerned with the issue of poverty in the US (which should be everyone, shouldn't it?).
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