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

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
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Sep 05, 2009

did not like it
bookshelves: 2009, non-fiction
Read in September, 2009

I had been planning on reading this book for a long time and I wanted to like it, but I really didn't. The author seemed ignorant and judgemental. Her detailed description of working at Wal-Mart really bugged me. Seriously - picking up clothes all day was mysterious or surprising to you? You were shocked by employee drug tests and surveillance? Maybe these things were less shocking to me because of our 40-year age difference, but they gave her less credibility.

Having worked at both Wal-Mart and a grocery store that didn't pay enough for rent I feel qualified to judge this book as a failure. The way she always had a car and gave herself a very generous start up money and "outs" was ridiculous.

The 30 Days episode on the same topic was much better.

2009 Summer Challenge category: High school summer reading list
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Jacob Ferrington I think that you might be missing the point of who the audience of this book was. I have read 5 of her books now and have come to see she is writing to people who have missed the cumulative effect of the gradual changes in the value of labor in America over the last 35 years. Of course some of it is going to be obvious to you, you and I never lived in an age when the New Deal actually meant something.
The reason she gave herself the generous "head start" of money and transportation was to highlight that even with something that most of those she is championing do not have, she could not make it. Vilifying Wal*Mart is easy, that is why she did a few jobs to show a trend.

Ehrenreich did not set out to reveal a hidden secret of low-wage labor in America - she set out to highlight it and to distill the morass down to something that can be grasped. If you also read Bait and Switched you will see that she does the same in the white-collar world.

I don't mean to attack your critique, but this book meant a lot to me because I was also at the brunt end of a labor-hating mega-corporation for almost a decade. I also have family that have been beaten to shells of their former selves by these entities. Although it is always obvious that she has an agenda (which makes for bad journalism - something I think is a valid criticism) that does not invalidate what she shows.

It was an entertaining book that has something to say - something that many never take the time to notice when they rave about the "low price guarantee."

Full Disclosure: My wife Aimee and I are in Worker's Comp. litigation with Wal*Mart for an injury she sustained on the job that they are fighting. I also have an agenda! :)


Andrea I don't totally disagree with her message, but I did not like the her, the book, or her methods. I felt that she wasn't really "all in". I think that because she allowed herself to quit whenever she felt like it, her experience was fake.


Because I had seen the same topic covered on 30 Days, I couldn't help but compare the two, and the book came up short. Things I liked better about the tv verstion on the same topic that made it seem more real: they did not start out with transportation, they had to furnish their place themselves, instead of calling their home doctor for medical advice they had to go to the ER. I know they started out with some money, but it was a lower amount, and it was based on what they expected a person in that situation would have. Even thought the tv version limited the experience to 30 days, it still seemed to portray the struggle of low wage jobs better than this book.


Jacob Ferrington I can see why that might be a more complete picture of the situation - the trouble is that if you are going to write a book (of create something for TV) that involves all of those elements, it is hard to stay focused. I know that in life they are all inextricably mixed but when trying to change minds if you involve too many angles you either lose people or give people too many outs when considering your point. Things become obfuscated. I think what made the book to readable and compelling was the focus. It did not deal with peripherals (though utterly important they may be) like health care. I think it may just be an issue of taste but I know when I am talking to someone - say your average FOX news viewer - if I include too much the conversation is over.

I would rather potent points be made one at a time than a deluge of reality that never changes anything. This is why I think the book is getting short shrift. (I am not sure how to spell that and I am too lazy to look it up right now.)

Have a good night, Andrea.


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