History and sociology are always intriguing but when presented together, they can create a revelatory portrait of our times. Such explorations feel ever more pressing these days in our raw and polarized landscape. These recommendations offer nuance, something that is often missing from the public discourse and invite readers and book club members to learn more about the American experience from where we have been to where we are headed. We hope this stokes some healthy debate and sheds new insights into aspects of the United States--in all its colorful, messy and sprawling glory. Which books would you recommend? Share them with us by posting in the comments section at the bottom!


Strangers in Their Own Land Book Jacket Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Hardcover & ebook Sep 2016. 368 pages. Published by The New Press

The blue-red divide in the United States seems almost impenetrable these days so a glimpse at one side of the fence might be a welcome exercise in developing empathy and understanding the motivations of those whose political persuasions might be different from our own. This brilliant sociological study of a cross-section of Louisiana residents offers the red-state argument through the point of view of one crucial crucible: the environment.
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Evicted Book Jacket Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Paperback Feb 2017. Also in hardcover & ebook. 448 pages. Published by Broadway Books

Wrenching poverty manifests itself in different ways and arguably few socioeconomic indicators make the distinction between the haves and the have-nots clearer than housing. With extensive field research in one the country's poorest cities, Milwaukee, Desmond delivers a scathing indictment of the increasing divide between the rich and the poor that has led to such yawning chasms of desperation. It is no wonder Desmond has been named a MacArthur Genius, his work is insightful and necessary.
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Toms River Book Jacket Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin

Paperback Apr 2015. Also in hardcover & ebook. 576 pages. Published by Island

What happens when multinational corporations start illegally dumping chemical waste in your backyard? As the small New Jersey town of Toms River found out, there was a sharp increase in the rates of childhood cancer. Despite irrefutable evidence laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of the industries, justice and due process took their time to be served. While the setting might have been the '50s and the '60s, this Pulitzer-winner is an essential reminder about the need for environmental regulation without which big business will likely run amok.
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Glass House Book Jacket Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander

Hardcover & ebook Feb 2017. 336 pages. Published by St. Martin's Press

How did a town such as Lancaster, Ohio, once labeled quintessentially "All-American" find itself in such disarray? That's what Brian Alexander shows in this moving and sharply researched analysis which explores how pegging the American dream on one manufacturer can lead to the economy collapsing on itself like a house of cards.
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Hillbilly Elegy Book Jacket Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Hardcover & ebook June 2016. 272 pages. Published by Harper

If a memoir were to serve as a window into the crumbling of the American dream, then this volume should hit the mark. Despite an abusive childhood in Ohio, with an absentee, drug-addicted mother, Vance made it to Yale Law but the long shadow of his early years continue to haunt him. This moving book is as much personal narrative as it is a sociological exploration of the downward spiral of the American dream for a good portion of its citizens.
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Nickel and Dimed Book Jacket Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Paperback May 2002. Also available in hardcover & ebook. 240 pages. Published by Henry Holt and Company

After growing increasingly tired of the rhetoric against welfare and the suggestion that "any job" was better than welfare, Ehrenreich decided to immerse herself in the mechanics of low-wage work. The narrative follows her over the course of a series of jobs from Wal-Mart greeter to maid and as a worker in the fast-food industry. While her revelations, that one low-wage job is not enough to keep room and board on hand won't be news, what is striking is the empathy with which she narrates the stories of those whose plight remains largely unheard.
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City of Dreams Book Jacket City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York by Tyler Anbinder

Hardcover & ebook Oct 2016. Paperback Oct 2017. 768 pages. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

It can be argued that New York City is a perfect microcosm of the diversity that America loves to flaunt, the proverbial melting pot is on full roaring display here. This brick of a book chronicles the narrative of many an immigrant including one enterprising Irishman who fled after the potato famine, while telling the larger story of assimilation and continuous reinvention. An impressive achievement worth diving into.
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Blood at the Root Book Jacket Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips

Hardcover Sep 2016. 320 pages. Published by W.W. Norton & Company

This story, set at the turn of the twentieth century in a small Georgia town traces the ugly history of racism in America all the way back to the antebellum South. An especially relevant book even today that puts the "black lives matter" movement into perspective, this is a tragic and true story of one town's ugly past, lessons from which continue to resonate in our times.
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The Not-Quite States of America Book Jacket The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA by Doug Mack

Hardcover & ebook Feb 2017. 336 pages. Published by W.W. Norton & Company

Sea to shining sea doesn't quite cover it, argues Doug Mack in this compelling history and travelogue mashup. Mack covers the history of the American territories no matter how remote (it's a tough job, someone's got to do it!). In doing so, he unearths a compelling look at American empire and its reach, and the diverse denizens of the "far-flung outposts" who add much vibrant color to these pages.
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