“Desmond has written a brilliant portrait of Americans living in poverty. He gave me a better sense of what it is like to be poor in this country than anything else I have read.”
MacArthur Genius Matthew Desmond’s New York Times bestselling book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City draws on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data. Evicted won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, the National Books Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction, the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association, and the Barnes & Noble’s Discover New Writers Award. It was named one of the Best Books of 2016 by nearly three dozen outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal. Including it on her personal best-of-the-year list, Jennifer Senior of The New York Times also called it 2016’s most “unignorable” book: “Nothing else this year came close.”
“Desmond is an academic who teaches at Harvard—a sociologist or, you could say, an ethnographer. But I would like to claim him as a journalist too, and one who…has set a new standard for reporting on poverty.”
This landmark work of scholarship and reportage takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.
The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.
“Evicted is astonishing—a masterpiece of writing and research that fills a tremendous gap in our understanding of poverty. Taking us into some of America’s poorest neighborhoods, Desmond illustrates how eviction leads to a cascade of events, often triggered by something as simple as a child throwing a snowball at a car, that can trap families in a cycle of poverty for years. Beautiful, harrowing, and deeply human, Evicted is a must read for anyone who cares about social justice in this country. I loved it.”
Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship. As Jacob Blumgart of Slate writes, “Desmond’s book manages to be a deeply moral work, a successful nonfiction narrative, and a sweeping academic survey—all while bringing new research to his academic field and to the public’s attention.”
Desmond is a professor of sociology at Princeton University. His primary teaching and research interests include urban sociology, poverty, race and ethnicity, organizations and work, social theory, and ethnography. In 2015, Desmond was awarded his MacArthur Genius Grant for “revealing the impact of eviction on the lives of the urban poor and its role in perpetuating racial and economic inequality.” In 2018, he received the Stowe Prize for Writing to Advance Social Justice, awarded by the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center to authors whose work shines a light on critical social issues. Previous recipients include Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bryan Stevenson.
In April 2018, Desmond’s Eviction Lab at Princeton University published the first-ever dataset of millions of evictions in America, going back to 2000. Desmond launched the Eviction Lab in 2017 after conversations with renters and policymakers convinced him that collecting national data on eviction would help answer fundamental questions about residential instability, forced moves, and poverty in America. Desmond and his team believe that stable, affordable housing can be an effective platform to promote economic mobility, health, and community vitality. They hope their findings will inform programs to prevent eviction and family homelessness, raise awareness of the centrality of housing insecurity in the lives of low-income families, and deepen our understanding of the fundamental drivers of poverty in America.
A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, Desmond is also the author of the award-winning book On the Fireline, the coauthor of two books on race, and the editor of a collection of studies on severe deprivation in America. He has written essays on educational inequality, dangerous work, political ideology, race and social theory, and the inner-city housing market. The principal investigator of the Milwaukee Area Renters Study, an original survey of tenants in Milwaukee’s low-income private housing sector, Desmond has been supported by the Ford, Russell Sage, and National Science Foundations. He is a Contributing Writer for The New York Times Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune.
For more information on Matthew Desmond, please visit justshelter.org.