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The Spirit Level [Kindle Edition]

Kate Pickett , Richard Wilkinson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)

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Book Description

This groundbreaking book, based on thirty years' research, demonstrates that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them-the well-off and the poor. The remarkable data the book lays out and the measures it uses are like a spirit level which we can hold up to compare different societies. The differences revealed, even between rich market democracies, are striking. Almost every modern social and environmental problem-ill health, lack of community life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness, long working hours, big prison populations-is more likely to occur in a less equal society. The book goes to the heart of the apparent contrast between material success and social failure in many modern national societies.The Spirit Level does not simply provide a diagnosis of our ills, but provides invaluable instruction in shifting the balance from self-interested consumerism to a friendlier, more collaborative society. It shows a way out of the social and environmental problems which beset us, and opens up a major new approach to improving the real quality of life, not just for the poor but for everyone. It is, in its conclusion, an optimistic book, which should revitalize politics and provide a new way of thinking about how we organize human communities.

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.


“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,

“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

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
182 of 199 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inequality- as bad for the rich as for the poor December 23, 2009
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. The question comes about what to do about it, and how best to reduce it.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Why inequality is bad for everyone 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Concept
For me this book is good but it didn't give me any new information or ideas. But that's probably because I'm already "there" in my thinking and my experience. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Ginger Cookie
4.0 out of 5 stars Something to think about --- definitely.
In the book, it was suggested that diverse societal problems, such as drug use, obesity, teenage birth, violence, and imprisonment show correlations with the income inequality of... Read more
Published 23 days ago by Jysoo Lee
1.0 out of 5 stars Manipulative!
This book is a classic case of manipulative data and selective reporting of information that is consistent with the thesis and ignoring or burying that which is inconsistent. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Kenneth R. Glass
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprised By How Strong The Research Is
I began reading this book while on a mission trip in Honduras. Being in that setting caused me to be very open to the book’s message and brought life to all its stats. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Aaron M. Marcelli
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative book
It is a very well written explanation of concepts that are new to most people. The charts and data are well presented.
Published 3 months ago by Linda
5.0 out of 5 stars down stream consequent of THE defining problem of our times
Inequality is the consequence of our corporatist state. Corporations only care about stock profits and this quarter's profits. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Robert K Goldman
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for Research
The Spirit Level is clear and well-written and helpful for a paper I was writing, but I wouldn't read it just for fun.
Published 4 months ago by Mary A Edwards
4.0 out of 5 stars In moderation
Interesting observations, however my personal experience tells me that excessive addiction and generalization of equality, named by the authors as “the spirit level” could lead to... Read more
Published 5 months ago by KriS
5.0 out of 5 stars A timely reminder
It is important to explain why the extremes of inequality found in many advanced capitalist countries is bad for everyone, including the rich and privileged. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Richard Condon à Bruxelles
3.0 out of 5 stars Great premise, smoothed over a little too neatly
A very controversial book with a fascinating premise. What if all of the significant moral ills of wealthy Western societies can be statistically tied to the relative wealth... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jonathan Hakkeem
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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.

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