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Spirit Level, The Hardcover – Mar 24 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (March 24 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846140390
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846140396
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 3.3 x 22.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 458 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #791,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

'A profoundly important book whose findings challenge the preference for growth over equality' Richard Layard

About the Author

Richard Wilkinson has played a formative role in international research and his work has been published in 10 languages. He studied economic history at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Nottingham Medical School and Honorary Professor at University College London. Kate Pickett is a Senior Lecturer at the University of York and a National Institute for Health Research Career Scientist. She studied physical anthropology at Cambridge, nutritional sciences at Cornell and epidemiology at Berkeley before spending four years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago.


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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is very well documented. It allows us to get informed about the consequences of choices we collectively made for decades. At the same time, it shows us that health problems in America are not only medical problems that could be solved by an extended medicare system.
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If a book's value can be measured by its ability to antagonize right-wing `think-tanks,' then this book is priceless.

The Spirit Level challenges everything we've been told about why people get sick and what it takes to be healthy.

While public campaigns lecture us to eat right, stop smoking, exercise more, etc., in fact, our well-being has very little to do with our individual choices and everything to do with how society is structured. Put simply, inequality is extremely bad for our health.

The United States ranks as the world's most unequal nation, far outstripping all other nations. The top one percent of Americans have a combined net worth that is more than triple the net worth of the other 99 percent combined. And the bottom 40 percent of Americans own less than nothing, because they are sinking in debt.(1)

Wilkinson and Pickett compare income inequality within 23 of the world's richest nations and all fifty US states. They found that, at every income level, people living in more unequal nations and states suffer:

*lower life expectancy
*higher infant mortality
*more homicides
*more anxiety
*more mental illness
* more drug and alcohol addiction
* more obesity
* higher rates of imprisonment
* less social mobility
* more teen pregnancies
* more high-school dropouts
* poorer school performance
* more school-age bullying

And the extent to which people at every income level suffer these problems is directly related to how unequal is the society in which they live.

In contrast, people living in more equal societies and states enjoy better mental, physical and social health - at every income level.
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I read this book after seeing a TED talk on the subject. This was very eye-opening for me in terms of how I view social ills and what causes them. After reading books like Freakonomics, the presentation in this book registered well with me. Wilkinson and Pickette present a researched-backed view of social inequality and the issues it causes. They repeatedly defend this conclusion from many angles, so that it's hard not to understand.

Societies like that in Denmark, Norway, Japan, while different, are in such a contrast to those of the US and UK that I have a hard time not moving to Copenhagen immediately. The visual representation in rates of violence, mental illness, voter turnout, perception of fear, education results, childhood mortality, among countless other variables, are plotted against socially-equal vs. socially-unequal countries (and also the same spectrum of states in the US for a deeper dive). The results are consistent across the board, with social ills increasing as social inequality increases. Being from Canada, at least we're in the middle of the group.

So when I consider some policies in the US which ingrain poverty, and also the coddling of the wealthiest, I understand that the ills that come with that, and the societal danger are not mutually exclusive. I'd recommend the accompanying equalitytrust.org.uk website with the videos and research presented there as well. We can get to a better society worldwide, and understanding this material can surely help with that.
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This is a book that every citizen should read. The "look out for yourself" attitude ultimately hurts all of us, and this book provides the data to prove it. It is unfortunate that inequality is increasing in our society.
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"The Spirit Level" assembles most, if not all, the most significant trends in social science over the past several decades. The fact that the authors are medical professionals seems to account for the strained, repetitious narrative. The graphs alone speak volumes. Wilkinson (an uncharismatic public speaker, to say the least) denies that inequality constitutes a "theory of everything," but this book suggests otherwise. The psychological and political implications of the content, in particular, deserve further study.
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One does not have to google too deep to be convinced the authors; Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, are active advocates for progressive causes so the uneasy feeling that the evidence presented in their book was sifted and selected to suit the author's preconceptions should not cause much surprise. Indeed, by the end of the book the authors have cast aside any pretence of being disinterested researchers. This is not to suggest their effort should be written off as political rhetoric, just that a grain or two of salt may be called for.

The bulk of the book is devoted to examining, one by one, various social ills and demonstrating they are correlated, in rich societies at least, to the degree of income inequality within the society. The greater the inequality; the worse off the society, regardless of its overall wealth. This explains, for example, why the USA, one of the world's wealthiest countries, has higher levels of mental illness, lower life expectancies and so on, than poorer countries in which income is distributed more equally than in the U.S. The results are consistent both in comparisons between selected rich countries and in comparisons between the U.S. individual states. The data presented is extensive and well documented.

It is easy to concur with the authors. After all, isn't it obvious that taking inequality to the extreme by limiting all income to one or a few individuals would be disastrous? And too, we have the example of the odious income of Wall Street bankers which has had less than ideal results. Still, some of the correlations cited are more difficult to accept as causal than others. For example, call it a gut feel but it seems likely something more than just income inequality is needed to explain high rates of obesity.
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