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Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream

3.36  ·  Rating Details ·  1,539 Ratings  ·  307 Reviews
“DON’T believe the naysayers. The American Dream—the fable that says if you work hard and follow the rules, you’ll make it—is alive and well.”
New York Post


Adam W. Shepard’s Scratch Beginnings is the fascinating and eye-opening account of the grand social experiment the author undertook in response to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed. Subtitled “Me, $25, and the Sear
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published October 14th 2008 by Harper (first published November 30th 2007)
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Aug 20, 2008 Cheri rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Right upfront, this book is poorly written by an arrogant young white male just barely out of college. As a "rebuttal" (and I use that loosely, considering the authors lack of writing skills) to Nickel and Dimed, the book fails miserably.

The author starts out with $25 and proceeds to milk the system for a year until he "pulls himself up by the bootstraps" and ends up with $2,500, an apartment, and a run-down truck. Along the way he remarks that all the other poor slubs he meets should be able t
Sep 17, 2008 Erica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book resonated with me as my family firmly believes in the "American Dream". To start out with nothing, then work your way up to a house, car, to be able to afford children then ultimately the ability to give them opportunities that you never had yourself.

After reading other peoples reviews I had to say, at least Adam Shepard had the guts to go out and live in homeless shelters and to experience poverty on the ground level. All the personal criticisms that other reviewers gave (too white,
Feb 28, 2008 Cameo rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Pretentious drivvel. Making your way through life, starting from 'nothing' might be an interesting excercise, but not legit when you start with an ivy league education, excellent health care your entire life, and an escape to mommy with a quick phone call.

This guy is a joke and only slaps himself on the back and reinforces the idea that anyone in any situation and background can get ahead. - I'm not convinced that's so.
Aug 06, 2009 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm giving this book a 5 star rating not because it's elegantly written, or that the story is so gripping I couldn't put it down. On the contrary, I read it piece-meal over the course of 3 weeks.

This book deserves a 5 because I REALLY liked the guts and determination this guy showed.

I scoff at you Goodreads reviewers that gave him a 1 star because of gems like this: "Thank you for telling me that a single, white, college educated (even if you don't put it on your resume) male, who is heterosex
Feb 07, 2008 Denise rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not the Nickel & Dimed rebuttal I was hoping for. This young man is a go-getter, but his book, his approach and his viewpoints are so much of what is expected from a young, healthy white male, fresh out of college with a loving, supportive family at home. He has concern for those in more dire situations, but his expectations of them to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps is not realistic. Also his expectation of those more fortunate to make sacrifices for those less fortunate so that ...more
April Hedges
Sep 24, 2012 April Hedges rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"Gee whiz everybody! If I just try my hardest, and never give up, I can be anything! All I need is a can-do attitude!"

That's the tone of this entire book.

I read this book after reading Nickel and Dimed, since it is supposedly a rebuttal to that book, and Ehrenrich even mentions it in her afterword. It is not, in any way, a rebuttal to Nickel and Dimed. There is nothing in Scratch Beginnings that resembles journalism, sociology, research, or anything of the sort. It is a memoir of a naive, conce
Nov 02, 2011 Jim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The best part about this book was its premise . . . what if all you had to your name was $25.00 and the clothes on your back? Could you survive? Thrive? Work your way up and achieve the American Dream? Adam Shepard decided to try it and wrote this book about his experiences.

Unfortunately, his experiences just weren't all that interesting. He does a good job describing what life was like in a homeless shelter, and starting at the very bottom of the workforce as a day laborer. He takes you with hi
Jul 25, 2011 Beth rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: work
I don't recommend this. It's a quick read, but the author didn't put a lot of thought into his experiment (and I disagree that this makes him "unbiased," as he claims). He is described on the back as "earnest," and I think that's a nice way of explaining that he seriously overuses the exclamation point. Every chapter ends with basically the same thing: Now I'm on the road to success, because I have the right attitude (unlike the working poor)! Not a fan.
Elliot Ratzman
This is the douchebag’s Nickel and Dimed. Recent college grad—who completely missed the lessons of Ehrenreich’s experiment in low wage work—decides he’s going to “prove” the “American dream” is still possible by starting with $25 and pulling himself up by his bootstaps in Charleston, SC. He lives in a homeless shelter for a few months while taking some hard, dirty jobs. Soon, he’s employed—with interesting tidbits about the daily lives of movers—and has settled into an apartment, bought a truck ...more
Nov 14, 2007 Terrie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the interests of full disclosure, Adam sent me a copy of his book when he saw it was on my to read/wishlist. I really enjoyed it. The pacing and style were good, and he has a real ear for dialogue. Definitely laugh-out-loud funny in a few places. All but the last chapter is a straight up narrative of his experience, so it's engrossing. It's pitched as a contrast to Nickel and Dimed, which I read several years ago and was interesting in terms of her experience but not so much the conclusions, ...more
Sep 02, 2008 Daniel marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Please see the bottom of my review
Adam Shepard is, in my opinion, not too different from what I call “Nomadic Trustafarians.” Picture this, young rich brats, usually just out of college (as Shepard) from areas of socio-economic deprivation like Lincoln and Duxbury, MA; most of Fairfield County, CT; Scarsdale and Great Neck, NY; Alpine and Summit, NJ; the “Main Line” near Philly, etc.

These rich, college educated, but very naive people temporarily “go native” in many third world countries, notably Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Thailand
Jan 11, 2014 Miketuttle rated it it was ok
Kudos to the guy for setting a goal, intentionally strapping on ankle weights, and learning something. But where did he get? Still out there hustling with his hand out for a job from someone else.

Even within the premise of the book, I would have liked to have heard more about his inventive budgeting. All we got was 1) don't spend more than 30% of your take-home on housing; 2) eat cheap, unhealthy food; 3) get the transmission checked.

All he really had to do was work, eat and sleep. A couple of d
Jul 02, 2013 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of the negative reviews for this book are mystifying to me, particularly those loaded with vitriol and contempt. The author is by my lights a well-meaning, well-intentioned young man who is conducting a simple experiment in order to refute the main contention of Nickel and Dimed, namely that it's not really possible to get by on low wages and work your way up. Many who write reviews are pointing out that our hero lacks other obstacles, such as chronic health problems, stupidity, bad educati ...more
Jan 27, 2011 Julie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
College-educated, middle class, ablebodied, heterosexual white guy proves to himself that he can start with nothing and end up with something in contemporary America.

Which as you may have guessed, does not mean to me that EVERYONE could, or even MOST PEOPLE could.

He picks a random city in the south, puts 25$ in his pocket, and decides to challenge himself. In a year, can he have his own place to live, a car, and something like 2K in his bank account. He says he won't rely on his family and other
I read "Nickel and Dimed" while in college and, like the author of "Scratch Beginnings," found it to be very disheartening. This author does one better by starting out in a homeless shelter and trying to work his way to independence. The home point is that the American dream is still possible, but it depends on the determination and initiative of the person seeking it. An interesting read.
Ursula Pierce
Jan 18, 2017 Ursula Pierce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
There are plenty of criticisms that you can heap on this book. If a young, single, well-educated, healthy, white male with no evident mental illnesses or substance abuse problems can't make his way out of poverty, yes, there is something seriously wrong. However, his privilege has no doubt been addressed elsewhere, and anyway he addresses it in the book. I do think that he would have found things harder had he gone to Philadelphia or New York or Los Angeles--even allowing for several years of in ...more
Madison J
Apr 20, 2012 Madison J rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Scratch Beginnings
Adam Shepard

Scratch Beginnings was a very easy read and a very eye-opening novel. This novel is the story of a young, college graduate who gives up his privileged lifestyle to prove a fellow author’s theory on life wrong. Barbara Ehrenreich’s books Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch are both two novels that give society no hope or courage of changing their societal situation, and Adam Shepard wanted to to prove her beliefs false. Adam Shepard started with basically the cloth
I was interested by this book because of the concept, but not necessarily because I thought it an accurate representation of "starting from nothing". There is no way to undo all the experiences of your life, including education (even if you don't state it on your resume). It still, I guess, makes for an interesting "thought exercise".

Except that it wasn't merely a thought exercise. I couldn't help wondering the whole time how the case workers and what not felt after they knew it was all just an
Steph Patt
Feb 09, 2014 Steph Patt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I read this book as an assignment for a diversity and tolerance class I am taking. It was not my first choice in the line of allowable readings, but my second pick. It is a true story of a man, Adam, who decides to prove to the world that with a little hard work you can achieve the American dream. Adam sets off on a bus to Charlotte, NC and begins his journey. Right away he finds room at a homeless shelter and begins working his way up through the chains of poverty. He makes up a false story to ...more
Петър Стойков
Една книга много ме издразни:

И авторът на настоятаща го е издразнила, затова в неин отговор прави собствен експеримент - опитва се да види дали ако почне от нулата, ще успее да се оправи с нормална работа, кола и апартамент за 1 година. И успява, за разлика от дебелата, богата лелка от предишната книга, която се отказва от експеримента си и решава че не, никой не може да успее да се издигне сам с много работа в САЩ.

За да е истински експеримента, авторът з
Feb 27, 2012 Mirra rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-psa
At first I found this book to be intriguing, I thought it would be interesting to see what happened to him. He graduated college then with $25 in his pocket he started a project, to prove that you can really, to build him self up from nothing. He did not take his background or credentials with him. his goal was to have a car, an apartment, a job and $2,500 in the bank by the end of the year. he stayed in a homeless shelter for a while, found jobs through them, got medical care through them, food ...more
Feb 14, 2009 Annie rated it it was ok
Shepard says he did this experiment and wrote the book as a counterpoint to Barbara Ehrenreich's books about the failure of the American Dream. Well, he did it -- started with $25 and the clothes he was wearing, ended a year later with a pick-up truck, living in a furnished apartment, and having saved over $5,000. It was a brave experiment, and he contends that with the right attitude anyone can do it. Luckily, he acknowledges that many people live without achieving even the basics of the Dream ...more
Jun 26, 2008 Elizabeth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who read Nickel and Dimed, whether they liked it or not
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Kent
Shelves: non-fiction
Kent let me borrow his copy of this book. I have good and bad things to say about it. Shepard read Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich, didn't like it and didn't agree, and set out with nothing but $25, the clothes he was wearing, and a goal. He wanted to have a car and a set amount of money in a set amount of time. He does it. And in way under the time limit. He definitely showed it is possible. I applaud him for that.

What kept me from liking it more has little or nothin
Jan 03, 2009 Erin rated it really liked it
This was not particularly well-written but a very thought-provoking and often funny account of the author's social experiment of starting out with $25 in a new city and seeing if he could accomplish the American Dream. Many reviewers have criticized the author for being a middle-class white boy who could seemingly never understand what others who grow up in poverty experience. While this may be so, I give him great credit for trying to understand the plight of those in poverty going so far as to ...more
Feb 21, 2008 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I heard about this book through an interview with the author on the Get Rich Slowly blog. It sounded interesting and my library didn't have a copy, so I emailed Adam Shepard and he sent me a PDF of the book. How cool is that?

The book itself was an excellent read. I mean, it's not an instant classic or anything but if you approach it with the attitude that this guy is conducting a social experiment, it's really fascinating. As I read it I related it to my own life and the luxuries that I have. We
Dec 14, 2008 Craig rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Is the American Dream dead? Can someone with only determination still 'make it' in America? Adam Shephard, a 24 year old recent college graduate, decided to test that supposition after reading books in his college sociology course that claimed that the American Dream was dead, that nowdays people born in poverty or driven to poverty by circumstances are destined to stay there.

Adam's plan: randomly pick a city in the southeast part of the US and starting with nothing but $25 and the clothes on hi
Mandi Lynn
Jul 17, 2013 Mandi Lynn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to make this short. Everyone should read this book. It's a book that I can set down happy and content. Shepard's story is inspiring and hopeful. No, I don't read memoirs often. Yes, I was forced to read this for school, but by the end of the book and I wanted to shout, "Yes, someone who is determined to get out there and prove something!"

Why didn't I give it give stars? I was about to, but to me five stars means I just can't stop reading and have no complaints what-so-ever. That's why
Another life of privilege, another slum-cation! As in Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, Shepard decides to embark on a poverty project, only his premise is that he can prove that the American Dream is alive and well and that anyone can make something from nothing. The book is far too preachy, maintains a false sense of humility while covertly seeking praise, and overlooks the classism and white privilege that plays a role in carrying him toward his one-dimensional goals.

This kid said it right towar
Jun 14, 2009 Molly rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs-bios-etc
I was unimpressed with this trite, arrogant look into poverty. Thank you for telling me that a single, white, college educated (even if you don't put it on your resume) male, who is heterosexual, and healthy, finds it pretty easy to get a job, apartment, and generally succeed. Wow, I didn't know that. My final thought is that the $5,000 that he ended up with at the end of his one year stint could have easily been donated (in part) to the homeless shelter where he spent 70 days. C'mon, let's all ...more
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