Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Help wanted: Must-reads on income inequality and the rich-poor gap

By John D. Sutter, CNN
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Mon August 19, 2013
New York's Park Avenue was the subject of a recent documentary about income inequality.
New York's Park Avenue was the subject of a recent documentary about income inequality.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Sutter is covering income inequality for the Change the List project
  • Help him compile a list of 99 "must-reads" on income inequality
  • Submit your top picks on Facebook, Google+ or in the comments below
  • Readers voted for Sutter to cover this topic as part of Change the List

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- Journalism sometimes has a bit of a short-term memory problem. If something didn't happen, or wasn't written, this day, this hour, this minute, then it's easy for us Internet writers to pretend it didn't happen. Or to forget about it and move on to the next post.

The problem with this myopia, of course, is that history is a wise teacher, and all good reporting should build on a thoughtful understanding of the past and the present.

That's why I'm asking for your help in creating a list of "must-reads" on the subject of income inequality. That topic, which you voted for me to cover as part of the Change the List project, has been examined thoughtfully by countless writers, philosophers, historians, politicians, journalists, Web designers and documentarians. As I embark on a series about inequality in the United States, it makes sense to survey the smart, exciting works already out there. Why not make the creation of this must-read list a collective, public experiment? Hopefully, we all can benefit from the process, and the list will be public so others can learn from it, too.

Submit your top picks via these Facebook or Google+ posts -- and make the case for why your favorite book, doc or website should be included. You can also leave a comment at the bottom of the page here if you prefer.

My plan is to compile a list of 99 (or so) must-reads from your submissions.* I'm using the term "must-read" loosely. I think the list should include books and articles as well as thoughtful websites, charts, videos or documentaries.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

To get things started, here are 10 of my picks, in no particular order:

1. "Inequality.Is" - This website from the Economic Policy Institute is the best online primer I've found. It explains why inequality is a problem, how it was created and what might fix it.

2. "A Theory of Justice" - The 1971 book by the late John Rawls is often cited as the philosophical basis for opposing income inequality. It's a dense book, but thought-provoking.

3. "Park Avenue" - A documentary by Oscar winner Alex Gibney. It uses the famous New York avenue as a metaphor for American inequality; Park Avenue is home to both extreme wealth, in Manhattan, and extreme poverty, in the Bronx.

4. "The Great Divergence" - Journalist Timothy Noah argues, as his book's description says, that growing inequality "may be the most important change in this country during our lifetimes -- a drastic, elemental change in the character of American society, and not at all for the better."

5. "Wealth Inequality in America" - Chances are you're one of the 6.8 million people who has viewed this YouTube video. It's based on the work of Harvard's Mike Norton.

6. "Inequality and New York's Subway" - A New Yorker interactive, which maps median income levels by subway stops in New York. The power is in its minimalism. Take a look at the 2 train map. It passes through neighborhoods with median incomes of $205,192 and $13,750.

7. "Nickel and Dimed" - A first-person journey by writer Barbara Ehrenreich, who agreed to try to make a living doing jobs that required no higher education or specialized skills.

8. "Born Rich" - Jamie Johnson, from the wealthy Johnson & Johnson family, directed this documentary about his own life and the lives of his super-rich friends and acquaintances. It reveals a fascinating and complicated picture of wealth in modern America.

9. [Untitled letter] - In March 2013, 90 "economists, academics and development experts" sent a letter to a panel tasked by the United Nations with creating a post-2015 development agenda. The experts argue income inequality should be a global priority, in part, because "inequalities threaten our ability to pursue fair and sustainable development as much as they threaten eradication of extreme poverty."

10. "The Spirit Level" - Written by two epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, this book makes a strong, statistics-based argument that ugly social problems -- from obesity to incarceration rates -- are associated with unequal societies. Better health and well-being would follow, they argue, if our societies were made to be more equal.

This quickly thrown-together list has plenty of limitations. It focuses almost entirely on the United States, particularly New York. All these works were published in 1971 or later, which is a huge weakness of my list. Most of them presuppose inequality is a problem, or set out to prove that it is. So, conservatives, skeptics, historians, literary types and international readers: Help me get some diversity going here!

I look forward to your submissions, and thanks in advance for the help with this project.

*Readers of The Atlantic may notice that this concept of a crowdsourced must-read list is based on Alexis Madrigal's "Tech Canon," which he compiled in a similar manner in 2010.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT