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The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap [Hardcover]

Matt Taibbi , Molly Crabapple
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 8 2014
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A scathing portrait of an urgent new American crisis

 
Over the last two decades, America has been falling deeper and deeper into a statistical mystery:
 
Poverty goes up. Crime goes down. The prison population doubles.
Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world’s wealth. The rich get massively richer. No one goes to jail.
 
In search of a solution, journalist Matt Taibbi discovered the Divide, the seam in American life where our two most troubling trends—growing wealth inequality and mass incarceration—come together, driven by a dramatic shift in American citizenship: Our basic rights are now determined by our wealth or poverty. The Divide is what allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime—but it’s impossible to see until you look at these two alarming trends side by side.
 
In The Divide, Matt Taibbi takes readers on a galvanizing journey through both sides of our new system of justice—the fun-house-mirror worlds of the untouchably wealthy and the criminalized poor. He uncovers the startling looting that preceded the financial collapse; a wild conspiracy of billionaire hedge fund managers to destroy a company through dirty tricks; and the story of a whistleblower who gets in the way of the largest banks in America, only to find herself in the crosshairs. On the other side of the Divide, Taibbi takes us to the front lines of the immigrant dragnet; into the newly punitive welfare system which treats its beneficiaries as thieves; and deep inside the stop-and-frisk world, where standing in front of your own home has become an arrestable offense. As he narrates these incredible stories, he draws out and analyzes their common source: a perverse new standard of justice, based on a radical, disturbing new vision of civil rights.
 
Through astonishing—and enraging—accounts of the high-stakes capers of the wealthy and nightmare stories of regular people caught in the Divide’s punishing logic, Taibbi lays bare one of the greatest challenges we face in contemporary American life: surviving a system that devours the lives of the poor, turns a blind eye to the destructive crimes of the wealthy, and implicates us all.

Praise for The Divide
 
“Ambitious . . . deeply reported, highly compelling . . . impossible to put down.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“These are the stories that will keep you up at night. . . . The Divide is not just a report from the new America; it is advocacy journalism at its finest.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“Taibbi is a relentless investigative reporter. He takes readers inside not only investment banks, hedge funds and the blood sport of short-sellers, but into the lives of the needy, minorities, street drifters and illegal immigrants. . . . The Divide is an important book. Its documentation is powerful and shocking.”—The Washington Post
 
“Captivating . . . The Divide enshrines its author’s position as one of the most important voices in contemporary American journalism.”The Independent (UK)
 
“Taibbi [is] perhaps the greatest reporter on Wall Street’s crimes in the modern era.”Salon

“When most of the population either does not know or does not care that the lowest socioeconomic classes live in something akin to a police state, we should be greatly concerned for the moral health of our society.”—The Wall Street Journal

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Review

“Ambitious . . . deeply reported, highly compelling . . . impossible to put down.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“These are the stories that will keep you up at night. . . . The Divide is not just a report from the new America; it is advocacy journalism at its finest.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“[Matt] Taibbi is a relentless investigative reporter. He takes readers inside not only investment banks, hedge funds and the blood sport of short-sellers, but into the lives of the needy, minorities, street drifters and illegal immigrants, to juxtapose justice for the poor and the powerful. . . . The Divide is an important book. Its documentation is powerful and shocking.”—The Washington Post
 
“Captivating . . . The Divide enshrines its author’s position as one of the most important voices in contemporary American journalism.”The Independent (UK)

“Taibbi [is] perhaps the greatest reporter on Wall Street’s crimes in the modern era.”Salon
 
“[Taibbi’s] warning is all about moral hazard. . . . When swindlers know that their risks will be subsidized . . . they will surely commit more crimes. And when most of the population either does not know or does not care that the lowest socioeconomic classes live in something akin to a police state, we should be greatly concerned for the moral health of our society.”—The Wall Street Journal
 
“Trenchant . . . a scathing, accessible, and often riveting look at the U.S. finance industry and justice system.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“Readers with high blood pressure should make sure they’ve taken their medication before reading this devastating account of inequality in our justice, immigration, and social service systems. Taibbi’s chapters are high-definition photographs contrasting the ways we pursue small-time corruption and essentially reward high-level versions of the same thing.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

About the Author

Matt Taibbi has been a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and the author of five previous books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Great Derangement and Griftopia. He lives in New Jersey.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A. Volk #1 REVIEWER #1 HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The premise of this book is simple- America has a two-tier justice system. One for the rich, one for the poor. Now that almost certainly comes as no surprise to anyone. Even though it should, as it goes against the most basic principle of justice in that it is blind to all. But what should come as a surprise is the depth to which the justice system has now become imbalanced in the United States.

Taibbi lays out two tales. The first is of poor Americans, usually minorities, who are being arrested without cause in the hopes of the police finding something to charge them with. It's fishing at its worst. One poor individual gets arrested for blocking sidewalk traffic after standing outside his house, at 1 AM, after finishing his work shift. The police don't care. His defence lawyer tells him to take a plea ($50, no $25). The judge tells him to take a plea. Finally, it turns out that the charge is dismissed. But is that justice? Hauling an innocent man to court because he's young (-ish, ~30) and black and was standing outside is, well, insane. Another young homeless man (this one actually white) gets 42 days in jail for having half a joint in his pocket.

What about the people who finance the drug trade to the tune of billions of dollars? Well, HSBC was caught laundering money for the Russian mafia, for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels, for Iran, for North Korea, and for a bank with known ties to Al-Qaeda. BILLIONS of dollars. Caught red-handed. So how many days do the guilty here spend in jail? None. They get a fine of $1.9 billion dollars. Seem like a lot? It's not. That's one month's profits for breaking nearly every law regarding illegal banking and no one gets a sniff of jail time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars With liberty and justice for a few. May 15 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Spells out in very clear and easy to read terms how far down the road America has traveled to become two Americas. White hot anger at the corporate crooks avoiding prison and tears for those not being able to. The book ends on somewhat of a hopeful note that maybe, just maybe, the regulatory agencies are waking up. Maybe the Blankfeins and Dimons aren't sleeping as well at the moment. Let us hope so.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not Taibbi at his vituperative best, and a bit tedious at times. Still, this is a very important social problem that Taibbi discusses, well worth our attention.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  366 reviews
91 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Depressing, but necessary read April 14 2014
By Keith Sowa - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In this book, Taibbi further explores themes he touched on in Griftopia, where he discussed in exceptionally fine detail the various cons, swindles, and other criminal activity (to call it what it is, really, since it seems like so many avoid doing that) perpetrated by the American finance sector during the 2008 financial crisis. Although it's not really necessary, I'd read that book before I read this one, because it provides a lot of background, and just because the contents of that book explain that debacle better than anyone else could, or even bothered to.

As opposed to recounting what happened like he did in Griftopia, The Divide explains how the crooks at places like Lehman Brothers got away with what they did, or rather, how they did so in full view of regulators and then dodged prosecution by the Department of Justice. He juxtaposes this with the "other" justice system the opposite end of the wealth spectrum is subject to. Perhaps this isn't a new concept that Taibbi or anyone else just figured out - fans of Chappelle's Show might remember the Law & Order parody where Dave switched the white collar criminal and the drug dealer? - but in any case Taibbi draws this contrast to stark effect. The wealthy are more or less immune to prosecution no matter how egregious their crimes are, especially in the context of their work, due to any combination of the details being too arcane or the government being unable/unwilling to effectively investigate or prosecute. As for the poor, well, poverty is effectively a crime in itself, some people have more rights than others, something that's invisible to many people stuck somewhere between not caring and feeling they deserve it - after all, there must be a good reason all those people are going to prison even though violent crime is actually going down, right? It's easier just to not think about.

Taibbi's greatest talent as a writer is his ability to convey extremely complicated topics into ordinary language just about anyone can understand, this is one of the main reasons I was a big fan of his over at Rolling Stone. I believe him to be the best reporter out there to cover the seas of mud in the finance sector, and make no mistake, Taibbi is definitely an old-school reporter at heart, digging up mundane data, going through dry, dusty documents nobody seems to care about for our benefit. This book doesn't have Taibbi's usual tone, which at times borders on irreverent/bombastic (I mean that affectionately), but understanding these problems are important if we're ever going to get anything done about it.
80 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whatever your viewpoint, this book likely will change it. April 20 2014
By Steven G Duff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
You could bookend this with Christa Freeland's "Plutocrats." But where that recounts a lot of dry history and statistics interspersed with its revealing interviews, Taibbi isn't afraid to roll up his sleeves and go to the story. This is a book written with a wry sense of the absurd situations it details. Corruption at both the top and the bottom of our society. But to very, very different ends.

Remember: this is the guy that went to the Florida "rocket docket" court, recording how thousands of people were stripped of their homes under the flimsiest pretexts, often with outright fabricated evidence. In "Divide" he goes again where the stories are: to Bed-Sty, the outer NYC boroughs, and the courts. And documents how miserably the system treats the disadvantaged. What you think you know from "Law And Order", believe it: you don't. Kafka himself couldn't improve on some of this. At one point Taibbi refers to all this as a "descent into madness." And after reading it, it's hard to argue with that.

The "Divide" of course is cash. But this is no screed against "the rich." If that's what you think you've not read the book, or completely missed the point. To wit: if you commit a massive, white-collar crime, but you've got enough (i.e. near-infinite) cash, you're now too much trouble and risk to even indict, let alone prosecute. And if -- like me - you've wondered why none of the people who committed these global frauds on a massive scale have ever been prosecuted for any of it, this book gives you a detailed, compelling, and depressing answer.

Taibbi points out most of us will never see any of this. Out of sight, out of mind. The poor are segregated away. And the corrupt wealthy never have to interact with any of the people who are so profoundly impacted by their frauds. These are the guys who ripped off us off, burned down our 401Ks, rigged Libor rates to line their own pockets with our mortgages. And then moved on to other cushy positions, presumably doing much the same.

One review here (by someone who claims to have read all of 3 pages) complains about Taibbi's assertion of "a miserable few hundred bucks" collected by welfare cheats in San Diego. But let's be clear: Taibbi never suggests these people should be let off. But he does spend considerable ink contemplating for example, about the corrupt execs at institutions like HSBC. Execs who brazenly laundered money for the Iranians and the Sinaloa cartel. (They actually opened a special teller window to fit the boxes of cash that were brought in!) About how these guys got off scot-free with a fine paid by HSBC. And never even saw the inside of a courtroom. While people who buy those street dime bags that HSBC so thoughtfully enabled can spend years, or a lifetime, in prison. Lose their kids. Their right to vote. And then even if they do get out can't get a job. "A billion dollars or a billion days." Does that seem like "equal justice for all?" Not to me. Not to Taibbi. And it won't to you after you read this.

Taibbi suggests a larger, deeper, and more sinister subtext. About what we claim to profess as a nation: due process, equal justice, simple fairness. Money and power have always had their sway of course. But the inescapable takeaway from this is that we've simply given up on these ideals; they're now just too much trouble. As a nation we no longer give a damn. That's the real divide. And the real outrage.
96 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read April 11 2014
By Joel Schwalb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Once again, Matt Taibbi get it right. If you are at all concerned about the future of real justice replacing our present system of justice in Ameica, you must read this book. Taibbi makes it crystal clear that the "Divide" is real and that if you are an executive of a large corporation, you can get away with huge crimes with no personal penalty but if you are poor or middle class, you can pay a huge price for a minor infraction or some times no infraction other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is truly a major scandal that needs to be rectified. Read this book and let your voice be heard !
87 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taibbi is revealing truths about the US that are hard to take but necessary if we are ever to correct them. April 9 2014
By CYRBY - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Taibbi tells about the divide between rich and poor and how politicians foster conditions to maintain and increase the separation. There are more Americans in jail than ever were jailed in Stalin's Russian gulags for instance and the time to correct the situation is running out fast. The poor go to prison and the rich go to the Bahamas.
103 of 119 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Author with each new book is becoming more mature, so far best Taibbi's book April 8 2014
By Denis Vukosav - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
With `The Divide' Matt Taibbi, an editor of Rolling Stone magazine, returns on the literary scene with his new work after with previous `Griftopia' and `The Great Derangement' he spoke about the America after 9/11 and activities that took place behind-the-scenes of the financial crisis in recent years.

In this last book he touched a theme that is extremely painful because it interferes with the justice and concerns a large number of people - he speaks about today's different ways of crimes persecution depending whether they were committed by poor people, while on the other hand the rich people lightly pull out of all the problems thanks to their money and influence, which it carries.

I read his earlier works and though I generally like the uncompromising style that the author fosters, it must be recognized that it is evident that the author with each new book is becoming more mature, and his stories that get better are deprived of general accusations.

Although it is usually not a subject when reviewing this type of book I cannot avoid to mention the great black-and-white illustrations that can be found on the pages of the book, the work of illustrator Molly Crabapple, depicting various motifs associated with justice.

The book is quite extensive, consisting of nearly 500 pages, but it seems that the author didn't need to prepare a lot to spoke with full inspiration about dissatisfaction today's (ordinary) man feels, while on the other side encounters injustice by looking at how those who have a lot, thanks to system are destined to have even more.

Therefore with full right can be said that this is the best Matt Taibbi's book that besides author fans can be recommended to other readers who have not yet been introduced to the work of this author and want to read a good quality non-fiction work.
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