Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review: Broke, USA by Gary Rivlin

For two years, I've written about personal finance for a few websites - first interest.com and cyberhomes.com, then bankaholic.com and now bankrate.com, creditcards.com and a few custom publications. I'm not financially savvy person and certainly wasn't when I started on this beat, but as I worked up from shorts to full blown features about deceptive practices of the credit card industry, I developed a stronger grasp on why money is such a complicated thing for so many people, especially because the deck is stacked against them.

Gary Rivlin's Broke, USA
shows how that deck is stacked in the favor of people who have realized how to exploit the poor. He looks into how payday lenders, pawn shops, check cashers and rapid tax refunders have sliced into the earnings of people who can least afford it, and the subprime mortgage crisis where he says the greed of a few caused harm to so many.

It's a bleak story, and probably not what most people would read on the first few days of their vacation, but that's what I did - the week the Federal Consumer Protection Bureau became a reality, at least by law so far.

The book is fascinating and frightening, though the narrative is slow and sometimes boring. I told a friend it reminded me of The End of Overeating, which was full of information that I think people should know but did not have a narrative that would pull almost any reader through (see Born to Run, Omnivore's Dilemma as examples of books that achieved that).

I don't know if that would stop people from finishing the book. I know I have an interest because of my work. But if you've ever wanted to learn why the poor stay poor, read this book. It's a painful eye opener.

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