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The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press (December 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608190366
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608190362
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Wilkinson and Pickett make an eloquent case that the income gap between a nation's richest and poorest is the most powerful indicator of a functioning and healthy society. Amid the statistics that support their argument (increasing income disparity sees corresponding spikes in homicide, obesity, drug use, mental illness, anxiety, teenage pregnancies, high school dropouts—even incidents of playground bullying), the authors take an empathetic view of our ability to see beyond self-interest. While there are shades of Darwinism in the human hunt for status, there is evidence that the human brain—with its distinctively large neocortex—evolved the way it has because we were designed to be attentive to, depend on, and be depended on by others. Wilkinson and Pickett do not advocate one way or the other to close the equality gap. Government redistribution of wealth and market forces that create wealth can be equally effective, and the authors provide examples of both. How societies achieve equality, they argue, is less important than achieving it in the first place. Felicitous prose and fascinating findings make this essential reading. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"A important book ... [Wilkinson and Pickett] argue that gross inequality tears at the human psyche, creating anxiety, distrust and an array of mental and physical ailments — and they cite mountains of data to support their argument."—Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

“Wilkinson and Pickett make an eloquent case that the income gap between a nation's richest and poorest is the most powerful indicator of a functioning and healthy society…Felicitous prose and fascinating findings make this essential reading.”

Publishers Weekly (starred)

 

“In this fascinating sociological study, the authors do an excellent job of presenting the research, analyzing nuances, and offering policy suggestions for creating more equal and sustainable societies. For all readers, specialized or not, with an interest in understanding the dynamics today between economic and social conditions.”—Library Journal


The Spirit Level will change the way you think about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, especially if you live in the United States. You will reexamine what it means to be successful, how you will seek and achieve personal satisfaction, and what you owe your fellow citizen.”—Jo Perry, BookBrowse.com

 

“It has taken two experts from the field of public health to deliver a major study of the effects of inequality on society. Though Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett are British, their research explores the United States in depth, and their work is an important contribution to the debate our country needs.”—Robert B. Reich, from the foreword


“Might be the most important book of the year.”—Guardian

“Fascinating and deeply provoking…The Spirit Level does contain a powerful political message. It is impossible to read it and not to be impressed by how often greater equality appears to be the answer, whatever happens to be the question. It provides a connection between what otherwise look like disparate social problems.”—David Runciman, London Review of Books

“This is a book with a big idea, big enough to change political thinking … In half a page [The Spirit Level] tells you more about the pain of inequality than any play or novel could.”—John Carey, Sunday Times

“Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett don’t soft-soap their message. It is brave to write a book arguing that economies should stop growing when millions of jobs are being lost … we know there is something going wrong, and this book goes a long way towards explaining why … anyone who believes that society is the result of what we do, rather than who we are, should read The Spirit Level because of its unarguable battery of evidence, and because its conclusion is simple: we do better when we’re equal.”—Lynsey Hanley, Guardian

“A crucial contribution to the ideological argument. [The Spirit Level] demonstrates the scientific truth of the assertion that social democrats have made for a hundred years – sometimes more out of hope than intellectual certainty … Equality is not just a policy for the poor; it benefits us all and, therefore, should appeal to us all … The importance of The Spirit Level is that it provides a vital part of the intellectual manifesto on which the battle for a better society can be fought.”—Roy Hattersley, New Statesman

“The connection [between income inequality and dysfunctional societies] is spelt out with stark clarity in Wilkinson and Pickett’s remarkable new book. Income inequality, they show beyond any doubt, is not just bad for those at the bottom but for everyone.” —Will Hutton, Observer

“Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett put forward compelling evidence that income inequalities are at the root of a wide range of health and social problems in society.”—Niall Crowley, Irish Times Weekend Review

“Wilkinson and Pickett make a powerful argument as they pile on the charts linking inequality and society’s problems.”—Brian Clegg, BBC Focus

“[That Inequality causes social ills] is a sweeping claim, yet the evidence, here painstakingly marshaled, is hard to dispute.”—Economist

“The Spirit Level reconciles the contradictory impulses the financial crisis creates [and] marshals voluminous evidence.”—Guardian

“Many readers will be inspired as I am by a new book, The Spirit Level … Wilson and Pickett compare not only different countries, but also the 50 US states. They show that greater equality benefits not just the poor, but all occupational groups. [The Spirit Level has] lots of graphs but no jargon.”—Peter Wilby, New Statesman

“[Wilkinson and Pickett] argue that, among the rich countries of the world, states with less inequality in incomes perform better on a wide range of indicators … The argument is a powerful counter to any simple equation of social progress and the advance of GDP.”—John Kay, Financial Times

“A spruce, straightforward writing style is periodically illustrated with clear, easy-to-grasp graphs, presenting information from a wide array of sources … it is fascinating.”—Stephen Price, Sunday Business Post Agenda

“Compelling and shocking.  All free marketers should be made to memorize it from cover to cover.”—Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Independent


More About the Author

Richard Wilkinson has played a formative role in international research and his work has been published in 10 languages. He studied economic history at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Nottingham Medical School and Honorary Professor at University College London. Kate Pickett is a Senior Lecturer at the University of York and a National Institute for Health Research Career Scientist. She studied physical anthropology at Cambridge, nutritional sciences at Cornell and epidemiology at Berkeley before spending four years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago.

Customer Reviews

A fine book, which clearly presents arguments and data in a way that should be clear to even the most statistically challenged reader.
S Wood
A chart shows that Singapore, Portugal and the U.S. rank highest in inequality and lowest in trust, while the opposite is true for Japan, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
George Fulmore
In contrast, people living in more equal societies and states enjoy better mental, physical and social health - at every income level.
Susan Rosenthal

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

182 of 199 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Nicholas P. G. Davies on December 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I welcome this book. It is a superb summary of the problems that inequality actually creates. Inequality issues are often presented as being about the poor, but this book shows that we are all poorer for living in more unequal societies. Inequality is as bad for the rich as it is for the poor. Society is poorer as inequality becomes greater.

The impacts of inequality show up in poorer health, lower educational attainment, higher crime rates, lower social capital, lower trust, lower co-operation the more unequal the society becomes. Wilkinson and Pickett give us clear evidence for these statements.

For the last twelve years we have endured in the UK a Labour government that preaches equality (then wonders "equality of what?") whilst actually presiding over increasing inequality and reducing social mobility.

Wilkinson and Pickett present their evidence well, in summary and clearly. I have the benefit of having been reading the research work on inequalities over several years so I recognised their evidence. If you need further evidence then you could follow the references, or read some of Wilkinson's The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier earlier works, or Michael Marmot's useful book, "The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity." Their presentation of evidence is strong, and it is difficult after seeing their evidence to argue in favour of greater inequality at all.

Inequality is clearly a bad thing for a society, and its constituent individuals.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Sharon E. Cathcart VINE VOICE on January 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Pickett and Wilkinson have put together a very interesting study of the results of income inequality on societies. They examined the wealthiest countries in the world, comparing the top and bottom 20 percent for income, as well as all 50 US states. What they found in their comparisons, which use data from WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and numerous other reputable scientific organizations, is that those societies where income inequality is greater have increased social problems across the board.

Among the wealthiest nations, Japan was found to have the least inequality between the wealthiest and poorest, and the US and the UK to have the highest. Rates of such problems as lack of trust between people, mental health issues, teenage pregnancy, school dropout rates and crime were found to be higher along the same continuum as the income inequality scale. The continuum was identical among the 50 US states.

Pickett and Wilkinson found that countries or states which expended more public funds on education and welfare also had lower rates of the problems they studied, which flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that using funds in this fashion creates social problems. They provided some interesting possibilities for relieving the inequality gap, including employee ownership of companies and increase taxation of the super-wealthy.

Overall, this is a fascinating look at the sociology of income equality. The problems in unequal societies were not limited to those at the lower end of the spectrum, as one might expect, but were found all the way across the board. Well worth reading for those with an interest in sociology.

(Review based on uncorrected advance proof.)
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Malvin VINE VOICE on January 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The Spirit Level" by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett is a groundbreaking piece of social science research and analysis. In this assiduously researched book, the two British academics demonstrate a powerful link between income inequality and a host of social ills including obesity, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and crime. This compelling book should give every thinking person pause to reconsider how we might be able to do much better as individuals and as a society.

This is a story that could not have been told five years ago. New data available from the World Bank has allowed the authors to make comparisons between market economies from around the world, as well as comparisons within the 50 U.S. states. Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Pickett painstakingly show how the degree of income differential within and between states is highly correlated with social dysfunction. For example, the U.S., U.K. and Portugal -- where income is highly concentrated at the top -- consistently score worse in nearly every social problem when compared with Sweden and Japan, where income is much more evenly distributed.

Crucially, Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Pickett explain that reducing income differentials at the low and high ends decreases the stress and anxiety that comes from status competition, therefore improving life outcomes for everyone (not just the poor). This is an important insight because it sweeps away the commonly held notion that social dysfunction is someone else's problem; by showing that life expectancies level off and actually decrease at a certain income level, the authors argue convincingly that we are all in it together.
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