Customer Review

71 of 90 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Learning How Others Cope and Struggle, November 30, 2008
This review is from: Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream (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. As his adventure unfolds, he will discover that he is naïve about some things, but wisely seeks to learn how to function in any new social group by observing, gaining acceptance from its members, and seeking their counsel. We journey along with him as he learns how to get by living in a homeless shelter and struggles through different temporary employments. Eventually he finds a steady position as a moving man, but he must learn to negotiate the rules and practices of that new profession. He also works through getting an apartment with a roommate from a different socio-economic background, an interesting character that has a different lifestyle and mindset.

In the end Shepard succeeds in reaching his financial goal but must stop the exercise early due to needs of others he recognizes that are greater than his own. This is a sign of some maturity and sensitivity he gains in this process. The book is most interesting as we watch him struggle to understand the ways others see the world and work through how and why he can learn from these encounters. Along with excellent budgeting strategies he does pick up some wisdom along the way, which he reviews in his conclusion.

The book was written before the great Financial Crisis that hit in George W. Bush's final months. During the tough times that lie ahead, Shepard's calls for frugality, community service, and a better support system for the working poor are timely, sound advice for both the U.S. government and its citizens. I do wish, though, that someone at his private college would have taught him to stop using the word I in the objective case, as in "she gave it to him and I" when the correct form is "me." (Someone should have alerted his editors at HarperCollins too.) The rest of his writing was good enough that this recurring error really stood out. Slang and dialect I don't mind, and one should use the accepted form in whatever social situation one is in, as Shepard learns to do while at the shelter or hanging with his new pals--well, the accepted form in the objective case in written English remains "me."
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 8, 2008 4:31:58 PM PST
A. Williams says:
I was all set to purchase this book for my son but, when I got to the part of Scot's review about using "I" in the objective case, I changed my mind. Sorry, but that is one grammatical error that just grates on me whenever I hear it- and I hear it all too frequently these days. Thanks for the warning, Scot.

Posted on Jan 8, 2009 9:26:14 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jan 8, 2009 9:27:53 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 14, 2009 8:24:26 PM PST
So, because of ONE silly grammatical error, you're going to let your son miss this valuable life lesson? Interesting.

Perhaps this book isn't meant for an elitist like you (or your son) in the first place.

Posted on Mar 13, 2009 8:14:54 PM PDT
Scott O. says:
Okay, let me get this straight. He used "I" in the objective case? I agree with Scot, throw this book out. I can remember two years ago, when my financial advisor provided me with an economic forecast that said the housing market would tank, and the DOW would fall below 7000. But I could not get over the fact that "I" had been used in the objective case in the report and therefore threw the financial report away and lost over half my money. Now, I am poor but I did not bow to poor grammar. Beware of this book.......

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 14, 2009 9:19:50 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 14, 2009 9:21:03 PM PDT
Scot Guenter says:
Calm down a second Scott, and look at the review again. I never said "throw the book out." I pointed out many good things about the book, and I gave it three stars. I suggested there was a recurring grammatical error in the book, yes (because it bothered me, and it IS there), but I never suggested not reading it. I wonder why you take it so personally...

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 29, 2009 3:49:50 PM PDT
D. A. Nelson says:
Wow. You are really defensive and missed the point. A very balanced review. Look at the positives

Posted on Dec 1, 2009 9:32:56 PM PST
MightyMighty says:
@Scot Guenter: I hate it when people refer to the "Bush years" and then point to the American poor, as though he had anything to do with them landing up there. There is not one person in this country who landed up poor because of Bush who wouldn't have landed up poor anyway. This is the way liberals like to take long-standing problems, largely caused by the way entitlement programs destroy the family structure and create perverse incentives to NOT do well, and assign them to whatever Republican is in office. Poverty, by and large, is caused by individuals not understanding what needs to be done to succeed. Interestingly, the same people who are poor now, have for the most part been educated in the public school system. Isn't this a place where we should see the playing field leveled? Skills given to those who can't learn them at home?

Posted on Sep 3, 2013 1:19:26 PM PDT
Brett says:
This is a very balanced review. However, I note the reviewer refers to "crony corporate capitalism in the Bush years". Why does he differentiate the crony capitalism that existed under President Bush from that which existed under President Clinton? What of the obvious crony capitalism that exists under President Obama? President Obama's administration has done everything from give compliance waivers to his campaign contributers for aspects of Obamacare, to raiding the factories of companies who donate to his opponents (Gibson Guitars was raided in order to enforce trade laws in India, but their competitor was not, despite their competitor engaging in the exact same practices. Amazingly, it turns out their competitor donated money to the Democrats.)

Politicians, especially modern politcians, are inherently corrupt. The sort of Big Mother government I expect Mr. Guenter advocates for (and which President Bush advocated for with Medicare Part D) allows them ridiculously numerous opportunities for graft and corruption. While smaller government may allow for more corporate corruption, at least the corporations can't (legally) shoot me if I decide I don't want to play their game.

- Brett

Posted on Mar 2, 2014 10:45:40 AM PST
Malina says:
I liked how you made the point of how the author believed his status was the norm in America, many people live in their bubbles and it's awesome to know that other people notice it too.
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