Surviving America in the Twenty-first Century

Book - 2017
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From the beet fields of North Dakota to the National Forest campgrounds of California to Amazon's CamperForce program in Texas, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older Americans. Finding that social security comes up short, often underwater on mortgages, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in late-model RVs, travel trailers, and vans, forming a growing community of nomads: migrant laborers who call themselves "workampers." In a secondhand vehicle she christens "Van Halen," Jessica Bruder hits the road to get to know her subjects more intimately. Accompanying her irrepressible protagonist, Linda May, and others, from campground toilet cleaning to warehouse product scanning to desert reunions, then moving on to the dangerous work of beet harvesting, Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of the dark underbelly of the American economy--one that foreshadows the precarious future that may await many more of us. At the same time, she celebrates the exceptional resilience and creativity of these quintessential Americans who have given up ordinary rootedness to survive. Like Linda May, who dreams of finding land on which to build her own sustainable "Earthship" home, they have not given up hope.
Publisher: New York : W. W. Norton & Company, [2017].
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780393356311
Characteristics: xiv, 273 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Alternative Title: Nomad land


From Library Staff

To be discussed May 26

"Expanding an eye-opening Harper's cover story showing that many Americans can no longer afford to quit work during the so-called golden years, Bruder introduces us to an intrepid bunch that take to their RVs to become migrant laborers, or 'workampers.'"

From the critics

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Jul 08, 2019

While well written and moving, I really thought this book would have made a better documentary. The author nicely described many aspects but I often thought her description fell short of capturing what was happening and the people involved. For instance, the description of the various vehicles and the people who inhabited them or the sugar beet harvesting. I wanted more photos to help me picture what was happening. Also, while interesting, I did not find this topic engaging enough to commit reading the whole book (I did read the whole thing but struggled with whether or not to finish it). A documentary would have been a more appropriate length and medium for a topic, that while sad and disheartening, only effects a very small subset of people. This is not my favorite One Read.

Jun 24, 2019

How little could you make it on? What if you had to? This book is a must-read for anyone who thinks "It can't happen to me." It can. And if it does---what then will you do?

DBRL_KrisA Jun 20, 2019

Enlightening. Inspirational. Depressing. Moving.

This is the book that my community chose this year for its annual OneRead, a program where the entire city is invited to read the same book, and then join up for conversations, educational programs and other activities related to the book.

Although I had been rooting for the other finalist in the voting (Sourdough by Robin Sloan), I'm glad this one was chosen; it was a very educational read, and it's a good springboard for conversations on a wide variety of subjects - poverty in the US and the ever-widening gap between the ultra-rich and the extremely poor; the trend towards tiny homes and mobile home living; the growing over-60 population in the US. I look forward to the programs our library puts together this fall related to the book.

As a man of limited means with only about 15-20 years left till retirement, I was struck hard by the stories of senior citizens and others stuck with no means of income (aside from a paltry social security check) and ever-increasing demands on their dwindling finances. I was especially hit by the stories of middle class (or higher) people, feeling secure in their futures, suddenly losing homes and pensions when the real estate and other bubbles burst in 2007-2008. People who had been working jobs with six-figure incomes, suddenly having to sell their homes and possessions and live in the RVs they had formerly used for vacations.

I was intrigued by the clear comparisons between what's happening now and what happened during the Great Depression of the 1930s - the Hoovervilles of shacks and trailers, and the image of entire families forced to live out of trucks and homemade trailers, moving from one short-term job prospect to another. And things appear to only be getting worse, with the number of unemployed/underemployed and those living out of their cars increasing.

Especially jaw-dropping are the stories of the work environment at Amazon's super-warehouses and at a giant sugar-beet processing plant in North Dakota. If you do buy this book (and I hope you do, or at least read it), I heartily recommend avoiding buying it through Amazon. Reading how these contracted employees are treated - the hours they work, the low wages, the complete lack of any benefits - will make you want to never give Amazon another dime of your money.

Jun 11, 2019

This book is very good. I was very impressed. I have never had this point of view. I really appreciate the ideas in this book. It makes so much sense and now I get why people would do this. Completely.

Jun 11, 2019

Heads up, if you listen to the audiobook: there are lots of pictures and several unread footnotes in the physical book! Worth checking out.

Jun 09, 2019

This is my first Oneread book and I am glad I checked it out. This book is not a typical genre for me either and I found it to be so interesting. I like the way it was written and I enjoyed hearing the stories of the nomads she followed. I highly recommend this book even if it is not one you would typically think to read.

DBRL_Katie Jun 08, 2019

This is my first year taking part in the One Read program. Very excited to talk about this book with others in my community, whether it's unpacking our consumption habits through Amazon or making predictions about its adaptation into a feature film.

VaughanPLGraeme Mar 20, 2019

I'm glad I read this book and liked some aspects of it, but I did find it frustrating in a lot of ways. For me, it didn't go into enough depth about the fundamental reasons behind the increase in transient/migrant older workers. Should we expect this to be a temporary situation largely due to the Great Recession and an aging population? Or does it relate more to larger trends of income inequality and the changing nature of work in a country/world in which companies leverage technology to reduce their reliance on middle income workers, instead needing primarily highly skilled technical professionals as well as people willing to do physically demanding but less technical work for low wages.

Some might argue the book was never intended to focus on the reasons behind this phenomenon, but rather was intended as a portrait of the people living this lifestyle. I can accept that, but personally I never really felt like I got to know and understand the people that were the focus of the book because the narrative kept jumping around to different people and places.

Overall, I guess I just wished this book went into more depth on either the reasons for the trend or the people living this lifestyle. In spite of that, I did find it an interesting book and a valuable introduction to a subculture that doesn't get much attention.

Feb 13, 2019

So when you retire and social security is not sufficient, hit the road in an RV and become an itinerant worker. The author spent 3 years living with the nomads of the highway in their travel parks and as itinerant workers crossing the country working in seasonal jobs in the parks, picking fruits and veggies, or working for Amazon. An eye-opener of the 21st century brans of hobos who his the road under their own terms and with their own supportive culture.

Dec 02, 2018

Read Evicted first

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