Americans Reaching for Hope
By Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunnBuy Now
Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s China Wakes, Half the Sky, A Path Appears, and Thunder from the East are available in Vintage paperback.
Also available from Penguin Random House Audio and Random House Large Print With 40 photographs.
Jacket photograph © Lynsey Addario
Jacket design by Chip Kidd
Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher, New York aaknopf.com 1/2020
Across the country communities are struggling to stay afloat as blue-collar jobs disappear and an American dies of a drug overdose every seven minutes. Stagnant wages, weak education, bad decisions, and a lack of health care force millions of Americans into a precarious balancing act that many of them fail to master. With stark poignancy, Tightrope draws us deep into this “other America,” and shows that if America is to remain a superpower, it must empower all its people.
Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn tell this profoundly personal story in part through the lives of people Kristof grew up with in rural Yamhill, Oregon. It’s an area that prospered for much of the twentieth century but has stumbled in the last few decades as manufacturing jobs evaporated. About one-quarter of the children on Kristof’s old school bus have died from drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, suicide or reckless accidents. One family had five smart, talented children on the bus; four are now gone, and the youngest survived mostly because he spent years in prison. The next generation has lost its footing as well, for the community’s strong social fabric has ripped and family structure has crumbled. The upward mobility of the previous generation has collapsed. While these particular stories unfolded in one corner of the country, the authors find these problems in Alabama, Oklahoma, Virginia, Tennessee and across the heartland.
But here, too, are stories of hope and resurgence, among them: Annette Dove, who devotes her life to helping the teenagers of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as they navigate the chaotic reality of growing up poor, and Daniel McDowell, of Baltimore, an army veteran whose journey from opioid addiction to recovery suggests that there are viable ways to address our nation’s drug epidemic. Taken together, these compelling accounts illuminate a desperate stratum of America—and a way forward.
With their superb, nuanced reporting, Kristof and WuDunn have given us a book that is both riveting and impossible to ignore. While our present state may seem grim, they issue a clarion call to strengthen America by strengthening each American, so that this country can compete once again at the top of its game. To do so, we must demand better of our leaders, our business executives and ourselves.