Alissa Quart, "Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves from the American Dream" (Ecco Press, 2023)


The promise that you can "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" is central to the story of the American Dream. It's the belief that if you work hard and rely on your own resources, you will eventually succeed. However, time and again we have seen how this foundational myth, with its emphasis on individual determination, brittle self-sufficiency, and personal accomplishment, does not help us. Instead, as income inequality rises around us, we are left with shame and self-blame for our condition.

Alissa Quart argues that at the heart of our suffering is a do-it-yourself ethos, the misplaced belief in our own independence and the conviction that we must rely on ourselves alone. Looking at a range of delusions and half solutions--from "grit" to the false Horatio Alger story to the rise of GoFundMe--Quart reveals how we have been steered away from robust social programs that would address the root causes of our problems. Meanwhile, the responsibility for survival has been shifted onto the backs of ordinary people, burdening generations with debt instead of providing the social safety net we so desperately need.

Insightful, sharply argued, and characterized by Quart's lively writing and deep reporting, and for fans of Evicted and Nickel and Dimed, Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves from the American Dream (Ecco Press, 2023) is a powerful examination of what ails us at a societal level and a plan for how we can free ourselves from these self-defeating narratives

Acclaimed journalist Alissa Quart is a contributor to The Washington Post and New York Times and the author of several nonfiction works including Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers and Squeezed: Why our Families Can’t Afford America, as well as works of poetry like Thoughts and Prayers. Alissa Quart is the executive director of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and the editor with David Wallis of Going for Broke: Living on the Edge in the world’s richest country which we discussed on this podcast in February.

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Thomas Discenna

Tom Discenna is Professor of Communication at Oakland University whose work examines issues of academic labor and communicative labor more broadly.

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