Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Review: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed about covering all of the time I've missed in this spot, so I'm just going to skip the "where I've been" post for now.  Let's talk about books instead.

I like to read.  I like the escape of a good story, learning something new, and even just the way certain words combined together make me feel.

Like from one of my favorite books, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman:  "I was trying to align myself along some sort of grain in the world I could barely feel..."  mmm, YES

The most recent book I've finished is called The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi, a non-fiction book about the difference in the way we punish huge crimes on Wall Street (we don't) and how we punish minorities (often more violently than necessary for the crime- if there even was one).  It seemed a really relevant piece to read with the grand jury decision in Ferguson this week.

The book description gives a good summary:
Poverty goes up.  Crime goes down.  The prison population doubles. 
Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world's wealth.  The rich get massively richer.  No one goes to jail.

I found myself enraged after just a few pages.  And scared.  Taibbi compares the US today to Russia under Stalin because of how we live by two sets of laws: the recorded laws, and the actually enforced laws.  For example, Taibbi tells multiple stories about black men being thrown in the back of vans for crimes that white people in higher income neighborhoods would never dream of being arrested for (like blocking pedestrian traffic).

One example that I found especially poignant was the contrast between a story about two black men in a low-income community and one of the richest hedge fund managers on Wall Street.  The two black men were pulled over and arrested for driving a car that seemed too nice- the cops were suspicious that the owner could afford such a nice car in that neighborhood, so it was automatically assumed that he had stolen it (when in reality, he had not).  On the other hand, the Wall Street manager made significantly more money than all of his peers for 14 years running, and no one assumed he was doing anything wrong (when in reality, he was).

Reasons to read it:
To learn what the really, really rich can get away with
To learn what the really poor have to put up with
Because Matt Taibbi makes non-fiction easy to read

Lindsey's complaint:
Even though it was non-fiction, the author clearly adds in a lot of his opinions.  While I think this makes it easier and more enjoyable to read, it made me question the information he was providing, since he was clearly biased.  It does make for some pretty funny descriptions.  For example, Taibbi describes one of the Wall Street managers as, "A lipless, pale-faced Irish Catholic from Concord, Massachusetts, who wears Coke-bottle glasses and appears in public wearing the pinched, joyless manner of a constipated nun..." Tell us how you really feel, Matt.

Difficulty: medium.  It's still non-fiction, but he includes lots of interesting stories.

Have you read the book?  What did you think?

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