Josh's Reviews > Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
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's review
Oct 19, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: could_not_finish

While well written and often amusing, this book just kept leaving a bad taste in my mouth, but I couldn't figure out quite why. Then it hit me. I asked myself, "Who is the audience for this book?" and I realized that it was obviously some minority that lives a cloistered life of ease and hasn't ever worked a job. Anyone who HAS ever worked a job knows that it's a degrading, stupid, dehumanizing experience. Why would we give our minuscule pay to Ehrenreich to tell us so?

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Katie Medill You're prob exactly right. But doesn't that mean that it fulfills its purpose? It is meant to "educate" the "minority that lives a cloistered life of ease" on the trials of many working people that they might not otherwise understand at all.

Josh The fact that a book like this can become a best seller certainly tells us something about who buys books, though it's probably not something that's a surprise.

I do have another issue with this book, however, if we want to talk about its purpose. If informing was her main purpose, why the stunt? She continually apologizes for the fakery of the whole project. I mean, being well educated and having hope (because she knows she can walk away at any time) are two pretty huge differences between the author and the people she is meant to be describing. It's a stunt worthy of a Morgan Spurlock or Michael Moore. It's interesting and feeds into our "reality TV" mentality, but is it really the most effective way of raising awareness?

How is this more or less effective than Studs Turkel's work, which simply lets working people speak about their lives?

Katie Medill I suppose it could be more effective to some in that it creates some sort of bridge (though very contrived) between the two polar social classes. I can see how hearing the stories of working people BECAUSE they are coming from working people maintains a distance between a "socially elite" reader and the speakers in the text. But when "one of them" (economically elite) tries to experience what the lower working class does and report back, it might actually be more meaningful because they can relate to the author (Ehrenreich) in a way they cannot directly relate to the lives of the people she is writing about.

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