A self-made British internet entrepreneur leaves a comfortable life to discover why so many people remain trapped in poverty and unemployment in this debut autobiography and manifesto.
At age 15 and from a working-class background, Barker consulted a school adviser only to be told that he should take a job in a shop or enlist in the military. Eschewing both, he persuaded a company to hire him for what he thought would be an entry-level IT position in the 1990s. Disillusioned with the menial work and the lack of training, he impetuously declared that he could solve a technology problem that had stumped college-educated software designers. Derided but successful, he continued his self-education and self-promotion until he was able to form his own company and earn a substantial salary. Barker became disillusioned by the increasing pressure to maximize not the company’s efficiency or the quality of its products (though high) but stockholder profits. Seemingly having achieved the British—and American—dream, he quit. Despite his colleagues’ incredulity, Barker became obsessed with the spiral of despair that had consumed many of his former classmates and why society, while entering the digital age, was seeing an increase in poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and crime. Finding out how and why this happens took him on a journey around the world and into his own sudden decline, where he struggled against complacency, bureaucracy, self-doubt, and the entrenched silos of business, government, and charity. Barker writes simply and directly but never clumsily, even when describing his religious conversion (“I feel that faith is a personal thing and that each person needs to find God in his own way. But I think it is important that people feel comfortable sharing their faith and beliefs with one another, as they also define who we are”). Though set in Britain, this tale detailing the author’s almost Abraham Lincoln–like struggle against adversity should appeal to Americans. Most poignant is his recollection of seeking food from the same soup kitchens he had visited to conduct interviews. Barker examines pervasive social immobility, a welfare program that helps addicts and criminals before the working poor, and a justice system that rewards business owners who declare bankruptcy. His tolerant and inquisitive work calls for the business world to reincorporate integrity and sustainability concepts to meet real human needs.
A disturbing, affecting, and unforgettable work that remains upbeat while asking difficult questions about society.