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The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger [Hardcover]

Richard Wilkinson , Kate Pickett , Robert B. Reich
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 22 2009
The eye-opening and headline-generating UK bestseller that shows how one single factor—the gap between its richest and poorest members—can determine the health and well-being of a society.

“This is a book with a big idea, big enough to change political thinking…In half a page [The Spirit Level] tells you more about the pain of inequality than any play or novel could.”
Sunday Times (UK )

It is well established that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. Now a groundbreaking book, based on thirty years’ research, takes an important step past this idea. The Spirit Level shows that there is one common factor that links the healthiest and happiest societies: the degree of equality among their members. Not wealth; not resources; not culture, climate, diet, or system of government. Furthermore, more-unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them—the well-off as well as the poor.

The remarkable data assembled in The Spirit Level reveals striking differences, not only among the nations of the first world but even within America’s fifty states. Almost every modern social problem—ill-health, violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy, mental illness—is more likely to occur in a less-equal society. This is why America, by most measures the richest country on earth, has per capita shorter average lifespan, more cases of mental illness, more obesity, and more of its citizens in prison than any other developed nation.

Wilkinson and Pickett lay bare the contradiction between material success and social failure in today’s world, but they do not simply provide a diagnosis of our woes. They offer readers a way toward a new political outlook, shifting from self-interested consumerism to a friendlier, more sustainable society. The Spirit Level is pioneering in its research, powerful in its revelations, and inspiring in its conclusion: Armed with this new understanding of why communities prosper, we have the tools to revitalize our politics and help all our fellow citizens, from the bottom of the ladder to the top.

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Review

"A important book ... [Wilkinson and Pickett] argue that gross inequality tears at the human psyche, creating anxiety, distrust and an array of mental and physical ailments — and they cite mountains of data to support their argument."—Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

“Wilkinson and Pickett make an eloquent case that the income gap between a nation's richest and poorest is the most powerful indicator of a functioning and healthy society…Felicitous prose and fascinating findings make this essential reading.”

Publishers Weekly (starred)

 

“In this fascinating sociological study, the authors do an excellent job of presenting the research, analyzing nuances, and offering policy suggestions for creating more equal and sustainable societies. For all readers, specialized or not, with an interest in understanding the dynamics today between economic and social conditions.”—Library Journal


The Spirit Level will change the way you think about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, especially if you live in the United States. You will reexamine what it means to be successful, how you will seek and achieve personal satisfaction, and what you owe your fellow citizen.”—Jo Perry, BookBrowse.com

 

“It has taken two experts from the field of public health to deliver a major study of the effects of inequality on society. Though Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett are British, their research explores the United States in depth, and their work is an important contribution to the debate our country needs.”—Robert B. Reich, from the foreword


“Might be the most important book of the year.”—Guardian

“Fascinating and deeply provoking…The Spirit Level does contain a powerful political message. It is impossible to read it and not to be impressed by how often greater equality appears to be the answer, whatever happens to be the question. It provides a connection between what otherwise look like disparate social problems.”—David Runciman, London Review of Books

“This is a book with a big idea, big enough to change political thinking … In half a page [The Spirit Level] tells you more about the pain of inequality than any play or novel could.”—John Carey, Sunday Times

“Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett don’t soft-soap their message. It is brave to write a book arguing that economies should stop growing when millions of jobs are being lost … we know there is something going wrong, and this book goes a long way towards explaining why … anyone who believes that society is the result of what we do, rather than who we are, should read The Spirit Level because of its unarguable battery of evidence, and because its conclusion is simple: we do better when we’re equal.”—Lynsey Hanley, Guardian

“A crucial contribution to the ideological argument. [The Spirit Level] demonstrates the scientific truth of the assertion that social democrats have made for a hundred years – sometimes more out of hope than intellectual certainty … Equality is not just a policy for the poor; it benefits us all and, therefore, should appeal to us all … The importance of The Spirit Level is that it provides a vital part of the intellectual manifesto on which the battle for a better society can be fought.”—Roy Hattersley, New Statesman

“The connection [between income inequality and dysfunctional societies] is spelt out with stark clarity in Wilkinson and Pickett’s remarkable new book. Income inequality, they show beyond any doubt, is not just bad for those at the bottom but for everyone.” —Will Hutton, Observer

“Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett put forward compelling evidence that income inequalities are at the root of a wide range of health and social problems in society.”—Niall Crowley, Irish Times Weekend Review

“Wilkinson and Pickett make a powerful argument as they pile on the charts linking inequality and society’s problems.”—Brian Clegg, BBC Focus

“[That Inequality causes social ills] is a sweeping claim, yet the evidence, here painstakingly marshaled, is hard to dispute.”—Economist

“The Spirit Level reconciles the contradictory impulses the financial crisis creates [and] marshals voluminous evidence.”—Guardian

“Many readers will be inspired as I am by a new book, The Spirit Level … Wilson and Pickett compare not only different countries, but also the 50 US states. They show that greater equality benefits not just the poor, but all occupational groups. [The Spirit Level has] lots of graphs but no jargon.”—Peter Wilby, New Statesman

“[Wilkinson and Pickett] argue that, among the rich countries of the world, states with less inequality in incomes perform better on a wide range of indicators … The argument is a powerful counter to any simple equation of social progress and the advance of GDP.”—John Kay, Financial Times

“A spruce, straightforward writing style is periodically illustrated with clear, easy-to-grasp graphs, presenting information from a wide array of sources … it is fascinating.”—Stephen Price, Sunday Business Post Agenda

“Compelling and shocking.  All free marketers should be made to memorize it from cover to cover.”—Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Independent

About the Author

Richard Wilkinson has played a formative role in international research on inequality, and his work has been published in ten languages. He is professor emeritus at the University of Nottingham Medical School.
 
Kate Pickett is a senior lecturer at the University of York and a National Institute for Health Research Career Scientist. They live in North Yorkshire, England.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book April 2 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read Jan. 4 2011
Format:Paperback
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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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This analysis of income inequality and its effects on societies worldwide is compelling. If politicians do not heed the conclusions, humanity will suffer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars How inequality is killing us Sept. 3 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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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