The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2020
Advent / Christmas Calendar
Hardback: Princeton UP, 2020
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A 43-year-old white man I will call Darin was recently divorced and recovering from a car accident when he was fired from his job in a biscuit factory. “We all have different bottoms,” he explained to me in an interview in a small town in coal country. “I reached mine after I overheard the man I’d always assumed was my real dad introduce me as his stepson. That was my bottom.” Then it was a quart of whiskey a day.
“Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism” is about just such men. But it begins with a larger mystery. Over the last century, Americans’ life expectancy at birth has risen from 49 to 77. Yet in recent years, that rise has faltered. Among white people age 45-54 — or a time many view as the prime of life — deaths have risen. Especially vulnerable are white men without a four-year bachelor’s degree. Curiously, midlife deaths have not climbed in other rich countries, nor, for the most part, have they risen for American Hispanics or blacks. In fact, black people with B.A.s are now more likely to live through midlife than white people without B.A.s.
But generally speaking, aren’t white men privileged? What could be going on? The Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, a 2015 Nobel Prize recipient, say such men are dying of drug overdoses, drink-induced liver disease and suicide — what they call deaths of despair. Their book is a big-picture complement to Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s tragic close-up in “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.” Case and Deaton’s book is not so much a page-turner as a page-muller. It is a highly important book.
- from Arlie Russell Hochschild’s review
of this book for The New York Times
( Read the full review. )
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