Today I have a new audiobook review for you of a book that I had been wanting to read for a while. It’s on an extremely important topic – that of housing insecurity in America – and was written focusing on the plight of eviction in Milwaukee.
I actually received a physical copy of Evicted by Matthew Desmond from Blogging For Books. When I saw that Evicted was available on the service I jumped at the chance of requesting it since it had been on my reading list for a while. In the end, I decided that it would fit better in my reading schedule as an audiobook and I think it worked well in that medium.
Much of the book involves excerpts from interviews or interactions between the author and residents of Milwaukee affected by eviction (read by a narrator), so it was a captivating but saddening story to listen to. You can read my full review below!
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Publication Date: March 1st 2016
Length in hardcover: 418 pages
Goodreads rating: 4.47
(Audiobook published by Random House Audio)
In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.
The topic. Ahead of reading this book, I of course knew that people all over America (and the world) struggle with housing insecurity, either having to move constantly from one place to the next or ending up in homelessness. I didn’t fully understand the social, economic and personal mechanisms that combine to turn eviction and housing insecurity for some into what is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy. Through the people he chose for his study, Desmond really captures the way in which living under constant potential threat of eviction forces people to only think in the short term, preventing them from being able to make long term positive changes in their life which would allow them to create a more stable housing situation for themselves.
Reading about a variety of experiences. Desmond followed 8 different families as part of his ethnography, and what I thought was most interesting and valuable is that he represented the points of view of both tenants facing eviction, and landlords of properties that perpetrate frequent evictions. The reader is exposed to the different kinds of realities that can lead a person to live in a cycle of eviction, as well as the motivations (primarily financial) that drive the actions of the landlords in largely poorer neighborhoods that are constantly dealing with rent backlogs and tenant churn. Having both viewpoints at either side of the equation helped me understand the complexity of the issue and its human dimension.
That it was personal. This was probably my favorite part of the book. It was extremely moving to get a window into the lives of the 8 families on which the book centers. Each individual is treated with warmth and respect in Desmond’s account regardless of their circumstances. However, the author also doesn’t pull punches when it comes to discussing serious and distressing issues the tenant families face that have contributed to perpetuating their cycle of eviction. From addiction, to domestic violence, mental illness and other health issues, unemployment and unreliable family members, it’s hard to see the people interviewed by Desmond struggle throughout the book but also really important to bear witness to the effects of of eviction. What’s surprising and inspiring is how much love, happiness and support those struggling often show to each other even in the midst of unbelievably trying situations.
The structure. I had two issues with the book that had to do with structure and scope. A study of this kind on eviction that spanned not just one but multiple urban areas would have likely been hugely costly and lengthy, so I understand why Desmond decided to primarily focus on Milwaukee. It did leave me wondering about the nuances in the ways in which eviction impacts other cities in America, including my own city – Los Angeles – where I imagine based on the lack of affordable housing that the situation is quite dire. Desmond also leaves the majority of analysis on the economic, social and personal impact of eviction until the final chapter of the book, so in some cases the anecdotal stories of the people he interviewed felt unmoored from a larger and contextualized investigation into the systemic impact of eviction.
An important and moving read that will open your eyes to the ways in which eviction can turn into a self-perpetuating loop of disenfranchisement and hardship.
Matthew Desmond is the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and codirector of the Justice and Poverty Project. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, in addition to Evicted he is the author of the award-winning book, On the Fireline, coauthor of two books on race, and editor of a collection of studies on severe deprivation in America. His work has been supported by the Ford, Russell Sage, and National Science Foundations, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. In 2015, Desmond was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant.
Have you read Evicted? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
You can also read my other recent Just Read reviews, including for historical fiction novel Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict, Isabel Allende’s new novel In The Midst Of Winter, historical fiction novels The Last Days Of Night by Graham Moore and The Rules Of Magic by Alice Hoffman, contemporary novel The Best Kind Of People by Zoe Whittall, and political memoir What Happened by Hillary Clinton.
Please note this post contains affiliate links from Book Depository. Thank you to Blogging For Books and the publisher for providing a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.