- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; First Edition edition (December 22, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1608190366
- ISBN-13: 978-1608190362
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 176 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger Hardcover – December 22, 2009
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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.)
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“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
Top customer reviews
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Its graphs and analyses make a deep case for the role of income inequality in causing all kinds of social problems. The authors blend quantitative sociology, philosophy, psychology, climate science, and other fields in a way that can sometimes seem scattered but generally works well. This isn’t a book that purports to have “the” solution to income inequality, and this is a good thing.
In a nutshell: the data and arguments of this book should have been the platform of Occupy Wall Street.
The Spirit Level is a very analytical approach to the topic of income inequality that is presented in an understandable format. The first couple chapters set the scene in describing the difference between wealth and inequality and how our success in getting things may actually be setting up cultural failure. Some of the points are key insights to human behavior. Pages 36-37 are very fascinating in describing the evolution of self-esteem. We now have a population of people who put off great self-esteem but not because they are accomplished or talented. Rather, these seemingly confident individuals continue to tell themselves they are right about everything and in turn are the most racist, violent and insensitive people in our culture.
By this same token, many people today measure success only as in comparison to others. They must continually show to themselves and others that they have more than most of those around them. This promotes a cultural values system that leads to great inequality. The majority of the book then goes on to detail all the negative social consequences that seem to come as a result of inequality. Countries are listed in accordance to their level of inequality. Beyond that, the book lists each of the 50 American states according to the same criteria. Each chapter is then dedicated to a social problem everyone would agree is a cultural negative (violence, mental illness, obesity, teenage pregnancies and poor education). Research results are given on each topic that show with amazing consistency how inequality (whether in a country or state) causes more of the negative social reality. These parallels hold true whether the country (or state) is rich or poor. It is simply the level of inequality that seems to make the condition worse.
The final chapters then give some suggestions toward correcting this disparity. One of these was a solution to global warming in which everyone is given credits for waste or pollution allocation. Poorer people who are then not going to use all of theirs could sell them to richer people who want/need more to meet their standard of living. This would be a voluntary redistribution of wealth that would work to correct multiple social wrongs. Another option outlined was the idea of bringing democracy to the workplace in a way more similar to our political system in America. In our country, everyone gets one vote for our politicians, but if money is how we vote in the marketplace, then those who have less money aren’t able to have their votes be heard.
The book contains much more than I could describe here and goes into greater detail on the subjects in which I did mention. I will say that I was curious and possibly skeptical going in. The book has made me more aware, though, of the crippling effect of poverty and inequality even within my own southern community. If there were five books I could force everyone in the world to read, this would be one of them.
Our current political system is literally making us chronically ill and dying younger. This effect is independent of poverty. As a physician with children, their message is clear. The text is well written (and dense). It has been a slow read for me. I am using this text is a reference for a lecture I plan to give our medical students this spring. Highly recommended.