A scholarly study conducted with dignity and thoroughness.




A sociological study focusing on the experiences of 11 characters toiling in the underbelly of a vibrant American city.

Inspired by the seminal work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (The Weight of the World), Auyero (Latin American Sociology/Univ. of Texas; Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina, 2012, etc.) invited his students to try a similar study of their local Austin “underclass” to show how external forces in society—low wages, lack of health care, racism, gender inequality, being undocumented and trying to attend college, etc.—have adversely affected the lives of real people. Each of the students chose a subject dear to his or her own area of research, spent much time with and interviewed the subject extensively, and fashioned a readable narrative of the subject’s life that underscores the chronic challenges that erode the well-beings of so many Americans—especially “those living at the bottom.” After Maggie Tate’s excellent historical overview of Austin, which puts the city in context as an attractive, creative boom economy with enormous disparity in wealth, each contributor presents the plight of his or her subject. They include Mexican-born Santos, who looked back on a hard life “working for others” and some middle-class success and was threatened by an injury in a car accident that left his uninsured family in near financial ruin; Clarissa, a middle-age, white restaurant worker who was rendered homeless by an accident that exposed her uninsured vulnerability to hospitals and lawyers; Inés, whose delinquent daughter fell into the grips of the state’s Disciplinary Alternative Education Program; Raven, who moved from waitressing to stripping to escorting for the money, slipping into drug addiction and abusive relationships; and Nepalese refugee Kumar, a cab driver who lied about his identity to keep customers from abusing him. Engaging and accessible, the essays dovetail with today’s debates on social inequality and immigration.

A scholarly study conducted with dignity and thoroughness.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4773-0365-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.


The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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