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99 must-reads on income inequality

By John D. Sutter, CNN
updated 7:33 AM EDT, Fri August 23, 2013
Noah Selwyn, 22, is a student at Community College of Philadephia. "(President) Obama came into office guns blazing wanting to do the right thing," he said. "But he's bending over too far. I've been waiting for this since 2008. A huge veil has been over our eyes." <!-- --> </br>
Noah Selwyn, 22, is a student at Community College of Philadephia. "(President) Obama came into office guns blazing wanting to do the right thing," he said. "But he's bending over too far. I've been waiting for this since 2008. A huge veil has been over our eyes."
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Sutter asked readers for reading suggestions on income inequality
  • Here are 99 books, websites, docs, etc, crowdsourced from readers
  • Sutter is tackling income inequality as part of his Change the List project
  • Readers voted for him to cover this and four other social justice topics

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) -- Earlier this week, I asked readers of this column to submit ideas for a list of "99 must-reads on income inequality." When I put out that call, I hedged a bit, saying 99 was my goal, for symbolic, we-are-the-99% type reasons, but that a smaller number would be just fine, too. Well, I underestimated you. Within 24 hours of the query, I'd collected more than 100 distinct books, films, YouTube clips, websites and documentaries on this topic.

As of writing, I have more than 150 unique suggestions in my inbox, via Twitter/FB/Google -- and on my desk in Atlanta, since a few colleagues dropped off or mailed me books. I'm so grateful for these submissions. And I know readers are, too. One professor wrote to me saying she plans to use it as part of a course. Others said they're eager to see what their peers think are the most valuable and insightful works on this topic.

I can't take credit for any of this. It's all you. You're actually the reason I'm reporting on income inequality in the first place, since many of you voted for it to be part of the Change the List project, which focuses on social justice for bottom-of-the-list places.

Ninety-nine of your suggestions are below. Don't read too much into the order. It has more to do with when the works were suggested than how significant they are.

Happy reading, and please let me know what you think.

1. "The Price of Inequality," by Joseph Stiglitz

2. "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man," by John Perkins

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

3. "Player Piano," by Kurt Vonnegut (Vonnegut's first novel; according to the back cover, it's a "chilling tale of engineer Paul Proteus, who must find a way to live in a world dominated by a super computer and run completely by machines.")

4. "Economic Growth and Income Inequality", by Simon Kuznets

5. "Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else," by Chrystia Freeland

6. "The Unwinding," by George Packer

7. "A Tale of Two Cities," by Charles Dickens (Heard of him?)

8. "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand ("I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.")

9. "How Class Works," animation, by Richard Wolff

10. "Random Family," by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

11. "Behind Beautiful Forevers," by Katherine Boo (The Pulitzer-winner explores inequality in Mumbai's "undercity.")

12. "Highly profitable companies ..." by Matthew Yglesias, Slate

13. "In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters," NYTimes.com map (National map shows a poor kid's odds of climbing to the top of the income ladder, by location.)

14. "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," by Ruby Payne

15. "The Big Sort," by Bill Bishop

16. The Bible (James, Chapters 2 and 5, and the books of Job and John were recommended. From James: "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here's a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?")

17. "The Other America," by Michael Harrington

18. "The One Percent," documentary by Jamie Johnson (The Johnson & Johnson heir is pretty good at biting the hand that feeds him.)

19. "Progress and Poverty," by Henry George

20. "Winner Take All Politics," by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson

21. "The Haves and the Have-Nots," by Branko Milanovic

22. "A Theory of Justice," by John Rawls

23. "Park Avenue" documentary, by Alex Gibney (New York's Park Avenue is home to enormous wealth and excruciating poverty.)

24. "Wealth Inequality in America," YouTube video

25. "Inequality and New York's Subway," by The New Yorker (This is fascinating in its minimalism. See median household incomes mapped by subway stop.)

26. "Nickel and Dimed," by Barbara Ehrenreich (Just read it. The author tries to live on low-wage jobs and finds it's nearly impossible. Heartfelt and so well-written.)

27. "The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger," by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

28. "Wealth of Nations," by Adam Smith

29. "The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism," by George Bernard Shaw

30. "740 Park," by Michael Gross (Gross examines one of the richest buildings in the world.)

31. "Savage Inequalities," by Jonathan Kozol

32. "The Jungle," by Upton Sinclair

33. Podcast on the "Economics of Enough"

34. "America the Beautiful," by Ben Carson

35. Nick Hanauer's TED Talk on income inequality

36. "The Case for Happiness-Based Economics," by Kentaro Toyama

37. "Superclass," by David Rothkopf

38. "Love and Capital," by Mary Gabriel

39. "Why the rich don't give to charity," by Ken Stern, The Atlantic ("One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans -- those with earnings in the top 20% -- contributed on average 1.3% of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid -- those in the bottom 20 percent -- donated 3.2% of their income.")

40. The Poverty Clinic, by Paul Tough, The New Yorker

41. "The House I Live In," documentary by Eugene Jarecki

42. "Screwed," by Thom Hartmann

43. "Richistan," by Robert Frank

44. "You Call This Democracy?" by Paul Kivel

45. "The Conscience of a Liberal," by Paul Krugman

46. "The Wretched of the Earth," by Frantz Fanon

47. "Reckless Endangerment," by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner

48. "Ill Fares the Land," by Tony Judt

49. "The FairTax Book," by Neal Boortz (Wanna get rid of the IRS? Here's your book.)

50. "Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945" by Thomas Hungerford, for the Congressional Research Service

51. "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts," by Karl Marx

52. "The Grapes of Wrath," by John Steinbeck

53. "The American Way of Eating," by Tracie McMillan

54. "Animal Farm," by George Orwell ("All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.")

55. "How much inequality is necessary for growth," by Fuad Hasanov and Oded Izraeli, Harvard Business Review ("Although our findings suggest that modest increases can generate growth, other data indicate that heightened inequality shortens growth spells and may halt growth. Reducing inequality, though, has clear benefits over time: It strengthens people's sense that society is fair, improves social cohesion and mobility, and broadens support for growth initiatives. Policies that aim for growth but ignore inequality may ultimately be self-defeating, then, whereas policies that decrease inequality by, say, boosting employment and education have beneficial effects on the human capital that modern economies increasingly need.")

56. "The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions," by Thorstein Veblen

57. "Orange is the New Black," Netflix series

58. "Wage Inequality and the Rise in Returns to Skill," by Chinhui Juhn et al

59. "Rules for Radicals," by Saul Alinsky

60. "Mayday for America's Middle Class," by Hedrick Smith ("If America is going to get beyond paralyzing gridlock and dangerous brinkmanship in the budget battles this fall, what's needed is a shift in the economic mind-set that has dominated Washington for three decades. To paraphrase what Albert Einstein reportedly said at the dawn of the Atomic Age in 1945: You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.")

61. "Why Nations Fail," by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

62. "Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-2002," by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez

63. "Unequal Democracy," by Larry Bartels

64. "Wealth and Poverty," George Gilder

65. "Rich Schools, Poor Schools," by Arthur Wise

66. The Catechism of the Catholic Church - Social Justice (A reader suggested Chapter 2, Article 3. One excerpt: "Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples. International solidarity is a requirement of the moral order; world peace depends in part upon this.")

67. Dorothea Lange's photography (Think Dust Bowl.)

68. "The Working Poor: Invisible in America," by David Shipler

69. "All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America," by Joel Berg

70. "Targeting the Wealthy Kills Jobs," by T.J. Rodgers, Wall Street Journal

71. "If You're an Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich?" by G.A. Cohen

72. The Inequality Issue of The Economist

73. "The Capitalist Revolution," by Peter L. Berger

74. "Getting Rich: America's New Rich and How They Got That Way," by Lisa A. Keister

75. "13 Bankers," by Simon Johnson and James Kwak

76. "The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity," by Michael Marmot

77. "Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America," by Cynthia Duncan

78. "America: What Went Wrong," by the Philadelphia Inquirer (This 1990s newspaper series really stuck one reader, who wrote in an e-mail to me that "it took my breath away when I read it as a young man in my late 20's; and it continues to have a profound impact on my thinking today - particularly about concerns over the American middle class.")

79. "Out of this furnace," by Thomas Bell

80. "Equality and Efficiency: The Big Trade Off" by Arthur Okun

81. "The New Good Life," by John Robbins

82. "Workonomics" section of Upworthy.com (Engineered for clickability, with headlines like, "Hey Broke People: This Statistic Will Piss You Off.")

83. "The United States of Inequality" video, BillMoyers.com

84. Monty Python clip on "Constitutional Peasants" ("Oh, there you go, bringing class into it again ...")

85. "The Other Wes Moore," by Wes Moore (From an online book description: "Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? Wes Moore, the author of this fascinating book, sets out to answer this profound question.")

86. "Moral Man and Immoral Society," by Reinhold Niebuhr

87. "The Politics of Rich and Poor," by Kevin Phillips

88. "A Modest Proposal," by Jonathan Swift

89. "Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality," by Benjamin I. Page and Lawrence R. Jacobs

90. "Five American Authors on Wealth Poverty and Inequality," by Ichiro Kawachi and Philippa Howden Chapman

91. "Caesar's Column," by Ignatius Donnelly

92. "The Time Machine," by H.G. Wells

93. "Debt: The First 5,000 Years," by David Graeber

94. "The Great Gatsby," by F. Scott Fitzgerald ("The loneliest moment in someone's life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.")

95. "How Unequal Can America Get," YouTube of Robert Reich

96. "Twilight of the Elites," by Christopher Hayes

97. "Third World America," by Arianna Huffington

98. "It's the inequality, stupid," by Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot, Mother Jones ("A huge share of the nation's economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90% of us? $31,244.")

99. "The Maximum Wage," by Sam Pizzigati

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

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