99 must-reads on income inequality


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

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
Edythe McNamee/CNN
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,” 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