Surviving America in the Twenty-first Century

Book - 2017
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"From the beet fields of North Dakota to the National Forest campgrounds of California to Amazon's CamperForce program in Texas, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older Americans. Finding that social security comes up short, often underwater on mortgages, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in late-model RVs, travel trailers, and vans, forming a growing community of nomads: migrant laborers who call themselves "workampers." In a secondhand vehicle she christens "Van Halen," Jessica Bruder hits the road to get to know her subjects more intimately. Accompanying her irrepressible protagonist, Linda May, and others, from campground toilet cleaning to warehouse product scanning to desert reunions, then moving on to the dangerous work of beet harvesting, Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of the dark underbelly of the American economy--one that foreshadows the precarious future that may await many more of us. At the same time, she celebrates the exceptional resilience and creativity of these quintessential Americans who have given up ordinary rootedness to survive. Like Linda May, who dreams of finding land on which to build her own sustainable "Earthship" home, they have not given up hope."--Jacket flap.
Publisher: New York : W. W. Norton & Company, [2017]
Edition: First Edition
ISBN: 9780393249316
Branch Call Number: 331.398 Brud
Characteristics: xiv, 273 pages : illustrations


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May 31, 2018

Book looks at the phenomenon of older Americans in financial straits taking to the open road, looking for temporary work, family-like connections and ‘freedom.’ I’d heard about people like this taking to the open road in their RVs, but less recently, and with the consequences of The Great Recession added in making many now having less financial resources. Amazing how technology connects them and the companies like Amazon and Minnesota’s own Crystal Sugar depend on them.

May 26, 2018

A compelling and sympathetic read. Describes individuals who work hard to make their lives 'their's' and who draw strength from community even as they are transient. The author does a nice job of relating the challenges faced as well as the root of many of those challenges as negative consequences of poor decisions. Uplifting in the end though as resilience and opportunity are the themes that dominate - life is hard, harder when we make poor decisions, but it is sweet when blessed with freedom to define and pursue dreams. Read this as a final book in a series of fine reads starting with Hillbilly Elegy, Evicted, and Janesville: all are worthwhile.

May 11, 2018

Light on analysis, full of real people.

May 10, 2018

The books reads easy, but looks a bit unfinished business...seems to me that it could be written as a series of articles, and not a book. Maybe that is only me, but I was expecting deeper analysis and a better story.

PS. Now I see that another comment below also mentioned the article feel of the book...interesting!

Apr 22, 2018

I read this book for my book club. The writer certainly did her work by following the "Van Kampers" for 3 years, doing research. In doing so, I believe she may have portrayed them in a more positive light than most would hold them. Although this group denounces the traditional values of home ownership associated with the "American Dream," the ultimate dream of the protagonist, Linda, that ends the story, is to accomplish her own land, her own home.
VanKampers or however one classifies them are the bane of the Seattle area at this time, although they do not adhere to the values stated by the group. Our area VanKampers have moved from sanctioned "homeless camps" to industrial areas, and now into residential areas. They say they enjoy better water/mountain views, parks, and better amenities--however they do this at the expense of residential homeowners who actually pay the taxes that fund these resources. When the Kampers are forced to leave, a wake of garbage, human waste, syringes and needles, and ecological damage is left behind. If one steps away from this book and takes a larger perspective, the picture painted here is a real nightmare.

Mar 27, 2018

If you have ever wondered about (or considered being) a nomadic worker or vandweller, you should read this book for some interesting and revealing insights into this alternative lifestyle! It is also an entertaining and interesting read; well-researched and written.

Mar 02, 2018

Couldn't quite get into this book. Maybe Bruder is aiming for a Barbara Ehrenreich/Nickel and Dimed vibe or feel, but didn't seem to work in this case. I agree with the reviewer who said this felt too much like some magazine article. Too repetitive, like she's being paid by the word. I think I bring some personal prejudice to this book, however, as Bruder spends time talking about people working in campgrounds: Personally? What's up with this weird American obsession with camping??

Feb 14, 2018

An interesting read that is more like a very long magazine article.

The stories of the RV nomads gets repetitive and some digressions seemed intended to add length to the book, such as a very boring and completely unnecessary history of some land one of the people intends to purchase.

On the whole, this book was best when revealing details about the lives of people in this situation. The writer also raises interesting questions, but doesn't actually answer them, such as the habit of so many of the nomads to put on a sunny face when dealing with hardships, or questions regarding the demographics of the nomads. That one seems like some research on homeless demographics over all would have added insight, but it's not included here.

I really felt the book was most interesting at the start, when the lifestyle is really being revealed.

Jan 31, 2018

I had to wait to process Jessica Bruder's exceptional book before writing a review as it can be difficult to absorb. Traveling 49 states over 4 decades a part of me knew a Kampforce population was out there traveling the hiways and biways of America long before the Great Recession. Though the US economy is in a so called rebound, this well researched and personally experienced book proves a large group of Americans are far more in dire straits than we hoped. Many of these travelers described their situations as a form of "freedom." I'm sure that is a way to retain their dignity. "Houseless", not homeless they call it. God knows it would be difficult to maintain a positive outlook after being pushed into this way of life. It is often said many Americans are just "one health care bill" away from bankruptcy. But, a broken health care system is just one of the many financial maladies that put these travelers on the road.
I see this as the "underbelly" of a fractured American dream that casts aside rather than assists those who are less fortunate. To me this is a modern day version of "The Grapes of Wrath" stretching like a giant spider web over the Western U.S. Knowing many were traveling with children was heartbreaking. A fascinating and enlightening book but not a comfortable read for the unprepared. This ain't Todd & Buzz traveling Route 66.

Jan 01, 2018

A remarkable book. At first I was 'merely' fascinated and then it became something else entirely. Imagining myself in such precarious circumstances--it almost happened to me in 2009 but a miracle came my way. Lilypad's comment below is spot-on.

There are funny parts and there are joyful parts. The sense of freedom is spoken of time and time again by the various vankampers. But it is a hard way to live - they don't think of themselves as homeless but as houseless. Big difference. As states and cities squeeze these people vankampers become stealthy, where to safely park, move their vehicles at night and again in the morning, how to keep clean, how to manage on $500 a month in social security. They follow the jobs from beet factories to campgrounds workers to the Amazon warehouses during peak season Love Amazon? Think again.

AND they are almost all white. Why is that? These van people really need to keep a low profile and stay under the radar. Not to easy to do when you are a person of color. Reminds me of the Great Migration and the "green book" that listed the safe places for black people to stop and sleep/eat/use the facilities as they drove north and west. And so once again I am reminded that even in extreme and dire circumstances white privilege counts for something.

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