Tightrope, like other books exploring poverty in America, is at its best in describing human interest stories with real empathy and compassion. Kristof, who himself grew up in rural America, describes the lives of his schoolmates and neighbors in a way only someone from such a background could possibly express.
Understanding that awful mix of tremendous disadvantage and poor life choices that make up the lives of the generationally poor alone makes the book worth reading.
What’s disappointing is that Kristof and WuDunn combine this powerful portrayal with rather standard solutions from the liberal perspective. In a curious mix of bad reasoning, the authors blame the lack of progress on combatting poverty in America on the policies of Nixon, Reagan and other sundry Republicans.
The lack of an adequate communities, loss of family supporting blue-collar jobs, recidivism, chronic drug use and other aspects of poverty can all be solved by big government. In fact, the effort to shrink the federal government is the authors’ primary reason for America’s backwards progress on poverty.
It’s fine to hold a typical liberal perspective but there are many pages spent on describing policy solutions that are well-known. Obvious inconsistencies with this theory, such as Nixon’s creation of Medicaid, are simply not discussed. Even Clinton’s welfare reform gets scarce mention!
In short, one has one very good book powerfully evoking the lives of the desperate poor together with a boring book of rather tired and banal policy recommendations that could be pulled verbatim from the Democratic 2020 platform.
In the end, I was beaten over the head too many times by the need for big government to enjoy this book. But those with a more liberal tilt might find this more palatable. Recommended for the narrative—best left up to the each reader to assess the validity of its policies.