How was your holiday season? If it was filled with love, plenty, and relaxation, congrats! I hope you enjoyed it to the fullest. But now that you're back to work and settling into 2018, Bill Gates has a book recommendation for you that will remind you just how many of your fellow Americans aren't so lucky, and why you should be grateful for your good fortune.
On his blog recently, he recommended a number of reads, including Evicted, by Gates Foundation grantee, Princeton sociologist, and MacArthur Foundation "Genius" grant winner Matthew Desmond. Gates showers praise on this exploration of poverty and housing insecurity in America, suggesting that the book is worth reading for every American who hasn't personally experienced the threat of eviction and homelessness.
An empathy workout for the blessed.
The book is a deep dive into a simple but horrifying statistic: millions of Americans are evicted from their homes each year. Why is that number so high and what are the knock-on effects of all those forced moves? In the course of digging into this important issue, Desmond paints "a brilliant portrait of Americans living in poverty," Gates claims.
That's a painful but important picture for those of us blessed with more comfortable lives to examine, Gates insists. "I have no personal experience with the kind of crisis faced by... the people profiled in Evicted, so I can only learn about it by hearing their stories. This book gave me a better sense of what it is like to be very poor in this country than anything else I have read," Gates reports.
"I also got a glimpse of how gut-wrenching it must be when someone piles up your belongings on the curb and you don't know where your family is going to sleep that night," he adds.
Desmond offers nuanced and moving portraits of individual Americans struggling to keep a roof over their heads while also serving up startling statistics, like this one highlighted by Gates: "Most experts agree that the ideal is to spend no more than 30 percent of your income on housing; according to Desmond's research, most poor families have to spend over 50 percent on housing, and for many it's over 70 percent."
"When you're paying so much to keep a roof over your head, there's no room for bad luck," Gates stresses.
Why this less-than-cheerful read is worth your time.
The book might be engrossing, but it obviously isn't a cheerful page turner, so why take the time to read it? Besides offering a useful empathy workout to those of us who are more privileged, as Gates suggests, it's also likely to help you appreciate what you have, and gratitude has been shown by science to be a key to both happiness and success.
The book's exploration of the causes of this housing crisis and possible solutions (as of yet incomplete pending further research, Gates notes) will also make you a better informed citizen. "Evicted is well worth reading for anyone who wants to better understand poverty in America. It is beautifully written, thought-provoking, and unforgettable," Gates concludes.
If you're looking to be more clear-eyed, informed, grateful, and empathetic this year, consider picking it up.