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Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  12,050 ratings  ·  1,993 reviews
*Finalist for the National Book Award and the Kirkus Prize*
*Instant New York Times Bestseller*

*Named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR, Shelf Awareness (Nonfiction), Bustle, and Publishers Weekly (Nonfiction)*

An essential read for our times: an eye-opening memoir of working-class poverty in America that will deepen our understanding of the ways in which class shapes our countr
Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published September 18th 2018 by Scribner
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Linda C Maybe because people invested their time, an possibly their money, into something that they felt was repetitive and they didn't like. It's their right…moreMaybe because people invested their time, an possibly their money, into something that they felt was repetitive and they didn't like. It's their right to write whatever they want on their review or page. (less)
Macaela It looks like it will be released in September, however you are able to pre-order now.
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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Richard Derus
Real Rating: 2.5* of five

TODAY, 9 JUNE 2019 available on Kindle for $2.99

DNF @ 41%

Entirely because the book is written as though to the author's unborn—nay, unconceived—daughter. It's simply too cutesy-poopsie-woopsie a conceit for me. I love the style of the author's sentences, and I appreciate the depth and quality of her research. This topic...the immense and widening gap between Haves and Have Nots, the cultural forces behind the pernicious lie of class, the racism inherent in judging rural
tl;dr: I was really excited about Heartland but a gimmick makes it fall flat.

I was giddy when I heard about Heartland--finally, a book had come along with the power of Nickled and Dimed!

Sadly, despite the glowing blurb from Barbara Ehrenreich, Heartland is not that powerful. Even for a memoir, it lacks impact

There is one thing Ms. Smarsh does well in Heartland, and that's provide a nuanced look into the women of her immediate family. She's clear on their weaknesses and also very clearly proud o
Jan 09, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heartland is Sarah Smarsh's memoir of growing up poor in rural Kansas, herself the youngest of generations of poor women, and the effect that systematic poverty has on her people. The book contains some interesting points about growing up rural and poor, and includes some eye-opening anecdotes about herself and her family.

And yet, I'm not sure this book ever rises above the sum of its parts. Yes, there are some interesting tidbits, but I'm not sure Smarsh ever really consolidates them into makin
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The American Dream has a price tag on it. The cost changes depending on where you’re born and to whom, with what color skin and with how much money in your parents’ bank account. The poorer you are, the higher the price.

This is the book I'd hoped Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis would be but wasn't. Sarah Smarsh grew up poor in a dysfunctional farming family in Kansas. In this book, she talks about her childhood, what is what like growing up in an unstable and som
This is a memoir that has really good content — a great discussion of social class and poverty in middle America — but the author's decision to write the book as if she were addressing her unborn child drove me bonkers.*

And yet, Sarah Smarsh has a good life story to share, so I kept reading and tried to ignore the pretentious writing style. Sarah grew up in rural Kansas in a hardworking family that was constantly trying to stay afloat. Sarah says that at a young age, after seeing so many women
Oct 04, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book with much anticipation after hearing the author interviewed on the New York Times Book Review Podcast. The small town upbringing, the succeeding despite difficult challenges, being the first of your clan to earn a college degree, etc., rang true with me. But I was disappointed in the execution and underwhelmed by the writing.

The contrived literary device of speaking to a never-born child, (usually out of the clear blue and without warning), was startling and distracting. It didn
Clif Hostetler
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
This is a very well written memoir that not only recounts memories of growing up in Kansas (30 miles west of Wichita), but ponders the plight of working class poor with a deeply humane sensitivity that offers clarifying insight into social conditions of the heartland. In addition to the intimate details of family history the book’s narrative reviews the history of the Homestead Act, the progressive politics of early Kansas statehood, the farming crisis of the 80s, the Reaganomic swerve toward co ...more
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in The Richest Country on Earth” is a resounding story by Sarah Smarsh of her family life, heritage and farming culture on the Kansas prairie. With the passage of the Homestead Act (1862) over 270 million acres of land was available for settlement on the American plains. Settlers could receive up to 160 acres of land at no cost if they lived and cultivated their land for a period of five years. Smarsh, raised on family farmland, wrote that her ...more
Melissa Stacy
I purchased a copy of the 2018 memoir, "Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth," by Sarah Smarsh, after this book became a National Book Award nonfiction finalist in 2018.

This memoir was massively disappointing, and overall frustrating to read. If you have read any of these nonfiction books -- "Nickel and Dimed," "Evicted," "Hillbilly Elegy," "The Other America," "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," "Random Family," "Just Mercy," "Between the World and Me
Jennifer Blankfein
Follow my reviews on Book Nation by Jen.

It is possible that I have overdosed on stories about indigence and the cultural divide, so for me, Sarah Smarsh’s message was strong yet her story felt repetitive. Smarsh tells us about her family and how their extreme poverty lead to generations of teenaged pregnancies, drinking, abuse, lack of education, bad or absent parenting, and all the while her family worked hard to live. We learn everything through the author
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a lifelong Kansan who came from a working class family in Topeka but knew nothing of the life of the rural parts of my state, I declare this essential reading. Essential not just for Kansans like me, but for so many who have no idea what rural poverty looks like.

Sarah Smarsh recounts the story of her family--most notably the women who held the family together--while also weaving it into the larger dynamics of an increasingly crueler American capitalism that began with Reagan and continues to
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From the moment I head about this book I knew I had to read it, because I knew in a sense it would be a book about me and my people. Other than Julene Bair's One Degree West, there aren't many books about what it is like growing up in rural Kansas, "flyover country."

At one point Sarah Smarsh writes, "there was no language for whatever I represented on campus." Like Sarah, I grew up poor (though not in the kind of abject poverty and abuse that she did), but still poor in rural central Kansas on a
Jun 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like reading about lives that are very different from my own. Sarah Smarsh is a good writer, and it was interesting to learn her family history and her views on the world. But I really wish this book had been organized chronologically instead of thematically. She jumped around in time, which made it hard to keep track of her many relatives and what they were doing. And I’m not really sure what each chapter’s theme was supposed to be, since they were each so long and had multiple messages. Ther ...more
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
National Book Award for Nonfiction Longlist 2018. Smarsh has chosen to write about her own family’s multigenerational struggle in Kansas to get ahead by working any way that they could to make ends meet. She focuses particularly on her female relatives and how their decisions contributed to their poverty—her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all had their first child at 16-years-old. Having children at such a young age causes them to drop out of school, assume financial responsibilities ...more
Dec 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you’re thinking of writing your memoir about class and poverty to your not-yet-born/never-to-be-born daughter ’August’ my advice is – don’t. It’s weird and unneccessarily distracting.
(3.5) If you were a fan of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, then Heartland deserves to be on your radar too. Smarsh comes from five generations of Kansas wheat farmers and worked hard to step outside of the vicious cycle that held back the women on her mother’s side of the family: poverty, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, broken marriages, a lack of job security, and moving all the time. Like Mamaw in Vance’s book, Grandma Betty is the star of the show here: a source of pure love, she played a m ...more
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had such high hopes, given the reviews I'd read and the accolades this book is getting., no.

First, it's written as a letter to her non-existent child, which is a completely unearned gimmick that takes what seems like a serious memoir and turns it into being too cute by half. But that's fine, because so is the writing--so many tortured metaphors, so many too-cute turns of phrases, it read like an extended New Yorker piece.

When she's writing about her family and history, it's engaging.
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
From the NBA shortlist for non-fiction comes this memoir about growing up poor in a “flyover” state. While I can agree with a lot of what she says about growing up in a rural setting, I sometimes felt she over-dramatized some of it. That in addition to the weird way of talking to her ‘daughter’ throughout made this more of a so-so read for me.
Janilyn Kocher
Aug 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heartland is a great read. I enjoyed Smarsh's family history immensely. However, I'm not buying her assertion that she grew up in poverty. I suppose my definition of poverty differs from hers. She always had a roof over her head and food to eat. Smarsh never had to live in a car or under a bridge as many people have. From my perspective, Smarsh was rich in love and perseverance that she learned from her family. Various family members spent a fortune on booze and smokes over the years, which beli ...more
What if Hillbilly Elegy went further and actually included discussion on social class and discrimination against poor and working class people, especially women? Heartland explores why even if some people do leave poverty, most don't, why the pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps narrative is not a response to the behemoth of class oppression and social disdain that working people face every day. Don't read Hillbilly Elegy to "understand middle America." Read Heartland if you want a more accurate ...more
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heartland belongs on the shelf next to books like Desmond’s Evicted, Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, and Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed. Smarsh’s book provides a strong voice for and about breaking the destructive cycles of families, the economics of class, and the fact that birth should not be the reigning mark of future prospects. Smarsh is a talented writer who tells the story of her grandparents, parents, and extended family with clarity and warmth.

For the full review:
John Bohnert
I would have enjoyed this book much more if it was linear.
The book made me appreciate how lucky I was growing up in my blue collar family.
We were poor. A family of five living in an eighteen-foot-long trailer in a trailer park.
The trailer didn't even have a bathroom. We had an icebox that needed blocks of ice.
My folks didn't do drugs, drink, or even smoke cigarettes like many of the characters in this book.
Dad worked hard but we lived paycheck to paycheck.
My parents valued education even though
Elizabeth A.G.
This is an inspiring memoir that not only reveals the multi-generational familial story of the author's life, but also delves into the greater societal issues of the working poor. Sara Smarsh confronts, in hindsight and from personal experience, the economic woes of farming and minimum wage work in the changing national narrative of business, profits, and class inequality in the Kansas heartland. Economic policy changes as in the Homestead Act, the more progressive Kansas politics, the 1980 farm ...more
I wanted to like this book, because the author has such an important point of view to share, but she has made a muddle of it. I understand memoirs not being in chronological order, especially from chapter to chapter, but this author jumps around from page to page. I made it to page 225 of 288 before I skimmed the rest, because I couldn't handle the jumping around anymore.

A family tree would have been nice. Her maternal grandmother is only like 8 years older than her father, and her paternal gran
This memoir tells a story that is seldom heard - a story of the lives of poor people in America who are white. Sarah Smarsh grew up on a farm in rural Kansas, moving between there and Wichita throughout her childhood. Her mother and grandmother had both become mothers at age 16. Sarah escaped that life, but to her credit her memoir focuses on telling the story of poor Kansas farmers.

The best part of this memoir is the focus on women living in poverty. Women who cannot get ahead, or ever complete
Dana Stabenow
Poverty doesn't just happen; it's engineered. Most laws are made by the privileged few to benefit their own class, and even those few representatives and bureaucrats of good intentions have no idea how life is lived on a scale so far beneath their own, so that the laws they pass to help never do and nearly always end in being punitive, which just helps to more institutionalize the poverty.

Smarsh is a fifth generation Kansas farm girl whose main goal from the time she was a child is to make a li
Sep 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
Strong initial effort by author Sarah Smart combines memoir with facts and figures to further explain her family’s hardships over the last century. This combination approach is a difficult one to pull off because readers are constantly pulled from the engaging family narrative and flung head first into demographic data explaining the larger state/national issues. But the most disruptive element of the book is the almost constant reference to the author’s imaginary daughter. The first time the au ...more
Many years ago, I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and it knocked my socks off. When I saw Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland had been favorably compared to it and recommended to people who liked it, I jumped at the opportunity (provided by Scribner and NetGalley) to read it in exchange for my honest review.

First of all, thanks a LOT, Sarah! I was awake most of the night reading, then thinking about this book! Like The Glass Castle, so many things in it resonated strongly with me while it both e
I had hoped to be keener on this one. Best feature for me were the stories of the grandmothers and mother.
Alex Givant
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, poverty, economy
Last year I been reading through number of books about poverty and poor people's struggle in USA (be it economic - like Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America; political - like Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, American Prison: A Reporter's ...more
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Sarah Smarsh is a Kansas-based journalist who has reported for The New York Times, The Guardian and many other publications. Her first book, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, was a finalist for the National Book Award. A 2018 research fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Smarsh is a frequent speak ...more

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“Society’s contempt for the poor becomes the poor person’s contempt for herself.” 6 likes
“But the American Dream has a price tag on it. The cost changes depending on where you’re born and to whom, with what color skin and with how much money in your parents’ bank account. The poorer you are, the higher the price. You can pay an entire life in labor, it turns out, and have nothing to show for it. Less than nothing, even: debt, injury, abject need.” 5 likes
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