What causes poverty? And what can be done about it? Social scientists, researchers and even novelists (fiction) have tackled the subject, but poverty, as we all know is a world-wide ages-old problem that is extensive and complex. Nearly half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day; 1.3 billion people live on $1.24 a day.

50 Best Books On Poverty

So what is one to do? How can this brightest of all generations begin to tackle this problem? Many of the 50 books that follow offer pathways to a solution; other books simply explain the problem in very stark terms, through the lives of the poor.

50. Nickel and Dimed : On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Minimum wage is definitely not a living wage, even though millions of Americans live on it — if they are lucky enough to find a job (or two) — as shown by Ehrenreich’s narrative of the couple of years she spent in the underpaid and exploited classes. Ehrenreich was inspired by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 to $7 an hour?

To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered that even the “lowliest” occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts. And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.

49. Microfinance and Poverty Reduction by Susan Johnson and Ben Rogaly

This book takes a pretty sophisticated and analytical approach to solving the issue of poverty, but it’s well worth wading into. It considers various types of microfinance schemes and compares the effectiveness of different approaches in aiding poverty reduction.

The provision of credit and other financial services has become increasingly seen as the answer to the problems facing poor people. Microfinance interventions have the capacity to increase incomes, contribute to individual and household security, and change social relations for the better. But it cannot be assumed that they will do so and it may often be more effective in terms of poverty reduction to combine credit provision with other development activities. This book helps explain why.

48. “Why Nation’s Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty,” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

Fascinating stuff. This engaging and accessible book analyzes current economic conditions and tries to answer why some nations are rich and others are poor and what possibly can be done about it. It’s an age-old question: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine? Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are? 

Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence? 
Acemoglu and Robinson show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it).

47. So Rich, So Poor: Why it’s so hard to end Poverty in America by Peter Edelman

Former top adviser to Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Clinton administration official as well as lifelong antipoverty advocate Peter Edelman writes a brilliant analysis of how a country with a GDP over $15 trillion can have such an outsized number of unemployed and working poor. He proposes solutions to combat 21st century poverty in the U.S.

If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle. The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top.

46. The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph E. Stiglitz

America currently has the most inequality, and the least equality of opportunity, among the advanced countries. While market forces play a role in this stark picture, politics has shaped those market forces. Get the hook?

In this best-selling book, Nobel Prize–winning economist Stiglitz exposes the efforts of well-heeled interests to compound their wealth in ways that have stifled true, dynamic capitalism. Along the way he examines the effect of inequality on our economy, our democracy, and our system of justice. Stiglitz explains how inequality affects and is affected by every aspect of national policy.

45. All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America by Joel Berg

Hunger “ain’t” ever funny, but in All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America, Berg manages to engage the reader in a critique of the conditions that create and sustain hunger in the United States with humor and clever analysis. He reasons why we haven’t yet solved the solvable problem of hunger in America, and offers pragmatic solutions on mobilizing the necessary resources.

With the wit of Supersize Me and the passion of a lifelong activist, Berg has his eye on the growing number of people who are forced to wait on lines at food pantries across the nation—the modern breadline. All You Can Eat reveals that hunger is a problem as American as apple pie, and shows what it is like when your income is not enough to cover rising housing and living costs and put food on the table. A spirited call to action, All You Can Eat shows how practical solutions for hungry Americans will ultimately benefit America’s economy and all of its citizens.

44. The Missing Class, by Katherine S. Newman and Victor Tan Chen

Fifty-seven million Americans-including 21 percent of America’s children-live a notch above the poverty line, and yet the challenges they face are largely ignored. While government programs assist the poor, and politicians woo the more fortunate, the “Missing Class” is largely invisible and left to fend for itself. Missing Class parents often work at a breakneck pace to preserve the progress they have made and are but one divorce or unexpected hospitalization away from sliding into poverty. Children face an even more perilous and uncertain future because their parents have so little time to help them with their schoolwork or guide them during their adolescent years.

This book describes-through the experiences of nine families-the unique problems faced by this growing class of people who are neither working poor nor middle class. Newman and Tan Chen trace where these families came from, how they’ve struggled to make a decent living, and why they’re stuck without a safety net. An eloquent argument for the need to think about inequality in a broader way, The Missing Class has much to tell us about whether the American dream still exists for those who are sacrificing daily to achieve it.

43. A Framework for Understanding Poverty, by Ruby K. Payne

People in poverty face challenges virtually unknown to those in middle class or wealth–challenges from both obvious and hidden sources. The reality of being poor brings out a survival mentality, and turns attention away from opportunities taken for granted by everyone else. If you work with people from poverty, some understanding of how different their world is from yours will be invaluable.

Whether you’re an educator–or a social, health, or legal services professional–this book gives you practical, real-world support and guidance to improve your effectiveness in working with people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Since 1995 A Framework for Understanding Poverty has guided educators and other professionals through the pitfalls and barriers faced by all classes, especially the poor. Carefully researched and packed with charts, tables, and questionnaires, Framework not only documents the facts of poverty, it provides practical yet compassionate strategies for addressing its impact on people’s lives.

42. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more.

Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith.

41. The Working Poor, by David K. Shipler

A stark look at modern day America. Shipler makes clear in this humane study, how the invisible poor are engaged in the activity most respected in American ideology—hard, honest work. But their version of the American Dream is a nightmare: low-paying, dead-end jobs; the profound failure of government to improve upon decaying housing, health care, and education; the failure of families to break the patterns of child abuse and substance abuse.

He also exposes the interlocking problems by taking us into the sorrowful, infuriating, courageous lives of the poor—white and black, Asian and Latino, citizens and immigrants. We encounter them every day, for they do jobs essential to the American economy. We meet drifting farmworkers in North Carolina, exploited garment workers in New Hampshire, illegal immigrants trapped in the steaming kitchens of Los Angeles restaurants, addicts who struggle into productive work from the cruel streets of the nation’s capital—each life another aspect of a confounding, far-reaching urgent national crisis.

40. When Work Disappears, by William Julius Wilson

Wilson is a leading authority on race and poverty, and in this book, he challenges decades of liberal and conservative think-tankers to look squarely at the devastating effects that joblessness has had on our urban ghettos. Marshaling a vast array of data and the personal stories of hundreds of men and women, Wilson argues that problems endemic to America’s inner cities; from fatherless households to drugs and violent crime.

Wilson’s achievement is to portray this crisis as one that affects all Americans, and to propose solutions whose benefits would be felt across our society. At a time when welfare is ending and our country’s racial dialectic is more strained than ever.

39. Promises I Can Keep, by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas

Millie Acevedo had her first child before the age of 16 and dropped out of high school to care for her newborn. Now 27, she is the unmarried mother of three and is raising her kids in one of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods. Would she and her children be better off if she had waited to have them and had married their father first? Why do so many poor American youth like Millie continue to have children before they can afford to take care of them?

Over a span of five years, sociologists Edin and Kefalas talked in-depth with 162 low-income single moms like Millie to learn how they think about marriage and family. Promises I Can Keep offers an intimate look at what marriage and motherhood mean to these women and provides the most extensive on-the-ground study to date of why they put children before marriage despite the daunting challenges they know lie ahead.

38. Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits, by C.K. Prahalad

The book’s premise: The world’s most exciting, fastest-growing new market is where you least expect it, at the bottom of the pyramid. Collectively, the world’s billions of poor people have immense untapped buying power. They represent an enormous opportunity for companies who learn how to serve them. Not only can it be done, it is being done–very profitably. What’s more, companies aren’t just making money: by serving these markets, they’re helping millions of the world’s poorest people escape poverty.

C.K. Prahalad’s book shows why you can’t afford to ignore Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) markets. The author offers a blueprint for driving the radical innovation needed to profit in emerging markets–and using those innovations to become more competitive “everywhere.” The anecdotes in the book are backed by more detailed case studies and 10 hours of digital videos on whartonsp.com.

37. “The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It,” by Timothy Noah

This book explains how economic inequality continues to grow in the United States. For the past three decades, America has steadily become a nation of haves and have-nots. Our incomes are increasingly drastically unequal: the top 1% of Americans collect almost 20% of the nation’s income-more than double their share in 1973. We have less equality of income than Venezuela, Kenya, or Yemen.

What N.Y. Times columnist Paul Krugman terms “the Great Divergence” has until now been treated as little more than a talking point, a club to be wielded in ideological battles. But it may be the most important change in this country during our lifetimes-a sharp, fundamental shift in the character of American society, and not at all for the better. In The Great Divergence, Noah delivers this needed inquiry, ignoring political rhetoric and drawing on the best work of contemporary researchers to peer beyond conventional wisdom. Noah explains not only how the Great Divergence has come about, but why it also threatens American democracy-and most important, how we can begin to reverse it.

36. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, by Paul Collier

An extraordinary read. Collier writes that 50 failed states–home to the poorest one billion people on Earth–pose the central challenge of the developing world in the twenty-first century. The book shines a much-needed light on this group of small nations, largely unnoticed by the industrialized West, that are dropping further and further behind the majority of the world’s people, often falling into an absolute decline in living standards. A struggle rages within each of these nations between reformers and corrupt leaders–and the corrupt are winning

Standard solutions do not work, Collier writes; aid is often ineffective, and globalization can actually make matters worse, driving development to more stable nations. What the bottom billion need, Collier argues, is a bold new plan supported by industrialized nations.

35. Poor Economics A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, by Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo

Using the framework of randomized control trials, which allow for large-scale data collection to evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention, these two economists assess the impact of a wide range of development programs in alleviating poverty.

They have found that most programs have not been designed with a rigorous understanding of the behaviors and needs of the poor or how aid effects them, they advocate that for programs to be successful they must be designed with evidence gathered from direct interaction with those who they are meant to benefit.

34. Without a Net: Middle Class and Homeless (with Kids) in America, by Michelle Kennedy

Michelle Kennedy had a typical middle class American childhood in Vermont. She attended college, interned in the U.S. Senate, married her high school sweetheart and settled in the D.C. suburbs. But the comfortable life she was building quickly fell apart. At age 24 Michelle was suddenly single, homeless, and living out of a car with her three small children. She worked night shifts as a waitress while her kids slept out in the diner’s parking lot. She saved her tips in the glove compartment, and set aside a few quarters every week for truck stop showers for her and the kids.

 With heart-piercing humor and honesty, she describes the frustration of never having enough money for a security deposit on an apartment -— yet having too much to qualify for public assistance. So for those having trouble earning money, they can try wining some on games such as 오즈포탈.

33. The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City, by Jennifer Toth

A hidden truth: Thousands of people live in the subway, railroad, and sewage tunnels that form the bowels of New York City. If you come from the city (as the writer of this blog does)… this is no secret. But how they manage to live is. This book is all about them, the so-called “mole people” living alone and in communities, in the waiting rooms of long-forgotten subway tunnels and in pick-axed compartments below bus platforms. It is about how and why people move underground, who they are, and what they have to say about their lives and the treacherous “topside” world they’ve left behind.

Though they maintain an existence hidden from the world above-ground, tunnel dwellers form a large and growing sector of the homeless population. They are a diverse group, and they choose to live underground for many reasons some rejecting society and its values, others reaffirming those values in what they view as purer terms, and still others seeking shelter from the harsh conditions on the streets. Their enemies include government agencies and homeless organizations as well as wandering crack addicts and marauding gangs

32. Growing Up Empty, by Loretta Schwartz-Nobel

Years after Ronald Reagan declared that hunger was no longer an American problem, guess what? It still is. Schwartz-Nobel shows that hunger has reached epic proportions, running rampant through urban, rural, and suburban communities, affecting blacks, whites, Asians, Christians and Jews, and nonbelievers alike.

Among the people we come to know in this amazing book are the new homeless. Born of the “Welfare to Work” program, these working poor have jobs but do not make enough to support their families, such as the formerly middle-class housewife reduced to stealing in order to feed her children, or the soldier fighting on our front lines while his young wife stands in bread lines and is denied benefits and baby formula at a military health clinic.

31. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass, by Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton

Disturbing. This book clearly links persistent poverty among blacks in the United States to the unparalleled degree of deliberate segregation they experience in American cities. American Apartheid shows how the black ghetto was created by whites during the first half of the twentieth century in order to isolate growing urban black populations. It goes on to show that, despite the Fair Housing Act of 1968, segregation is perpetuated today through an interlocking set of individual actions, institutional practices, and governmental policies.

In some urban areas the degree of black segregation is so intense and occurs in so many dimensions simultaneously that it amounts to “hypersegregation.” The authors demonstrate that this systematic segregation of African Americans leads to the creation of underclass communities during periods of economic downturn.

30. The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, by Francisco Jimenez

These independent but intertwined stories follow a migrant family through their circuit, from picking cotton and strawberries to topping carrots – and back again – over a number of years.

As it moves from one labor camp to the next, the little family of four grows into ten. Impermanence and poverty define their lives. But with faith, hope, and back-breaking work, the family endures.

29. Making Ends Meet: How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low-Wage Work, by Laura Lein

Examines the realities of welfare dependency and the true cost of subsistence living. Welfare mothers are popularly viewed as passively dependent on their checks and averse to work. Reformers across the political spectrum advocate moving these women off the welfare rolls and into the labor force as the solution to their problems.

Making Ends Meet offers evidence toward a different conclusion: In the present labor market, unskilled single mothers who hold jobs are frequently worse off than those on welfare, and neither welfare nor low-wage employment alone will support a family at subsistence levels.

28. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo

What an incredible, amazing book. From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities.

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter-Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”-will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal.

27. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

Unleashing and equipping people to effectively help the poor requires repentance and the realization of our own brokenness. When Helping Hurts articulates a biblically based framework concerning the root causes of poverty and its alleviation.

A path forward is found, not through providing resources to the poor, but by walking with them in humble relationships. Whether you’re involved in short-term missions or the long-term empowerment of the poor, this book helps teach you three key areas: Who are the poor? Should we do relief, rehabilitation, or development, and how can we help people effectively here and abroad.

26. The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros

While the world has made strides in the fight against global poverty, there is a hidden crisis silently undermining our best efforts to help the poor. It is a plague of everyday violence. Beneath the surface of the world’s poorest communities, common violence — like rape, forced labor, illegal detention, land theft, police abuse and other brutality — has become routine and relentless. And like a horde of locusts devouring everything in their path, the unchecked plague of violence ruins lives, blocks the road out of poverty, and undercuts development.

How has this plague of violence grown so ferocious? The answer is terrifying, and startlingly simple: There’s nothing shielding the poor from violent people. In one of the most remarkable — and unremarked upon — social disasters of the last half century, basic public justice systems in the developing world have descended into a state of utter collapse.

25. Bridges Out of Poverty, by Philip DeVol and Ruby K. Payne

This book is a powerful tool designed specifically for social, health, and legal services professionals. Based in part on Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Bridges reaches out to the millions of service providers and businesses whose daily work connects them with the lives of people in poverty.

In a highly readable format you’ll find case studies, detailed analysis, helpful charts and exercises, and specific solutions you and your organization can implement right now to: Redesign programs to better serve people you work with, build skill sets for management to help guide employees, upgrade training for front-line staff like receptionists, case workers, and managers.

24. The Tyranny of Experts, by William Easterly

Over the last century, global poverty has largely been viewed as a technical problem that merely requires the right “expert” solutions. Yet all too often, experts recommend solutions that fix immediate problems without addressing the systemic political factors that created them in the first place. Further, they produce an accidental collusion with “benevolent autocrats,” leaving dictators with yet more power to violate the rights of the poor.

In The Tyranny of Experts, economist William Easterly, bestselling author of The White Man’s Burden, traces the history of the fight against global poverty, showing not only how these tactics have trampled the individual freedom of the world’s poor, but also how in doing so it has suppressed a vital debate about an alternative approach to solving poverty: freedom. Easterly argues that only a new model of development—one predicated on respect for the individual rights of people in developing countries, that understands that unchecked state power is the problem and not the solution —will be capable of ending global poverty once and for all.

23. Life at the Bottom, by Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist who treats the poor in a slum hospital and a prison in England, has seemingly seen it all. Yet in listening to and observing his patients, he is astonished by the latest twist of depravity that exceeds even his own considerable experience.

The key insight in Life at the Bottom is that long-term poverty is caused not by economics but by a dysfunctional set of values, one that is continually reinforced by an elite culture searching for victims. This culture persuades those at the bottom that they have no responsibility for their actions and are not the molders of their own lives. Dalrymple’s book draws upon scores of eye-opening, true-life vignettes that are by turns hilariously funny, chillingly horrifying, and all too revealing-sometimes all at once.

22. The Rich…and the Rest of Us, by Tavis Smiley

Record unemployment and rampant corporate avarice, empty houses but homeless families, dwindling opportunities in an increasingly paralyzed nation—these are the realities of 21st-century America, land of the free and home of the new middle class poor. Award-winning broadcaster Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, one of the nation’s leading democratic intellectuals, co-hosts of Public Radio’s Smiley & West take on the “P” word—poverty.

The Rich and the Rest of Us is the next step in the journey that began with The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience. With 150 million Americans persistently poor or near poor, the highest numbers in over five decades, Smiley and West argue that now is the time to confront the underlying conditions of systemic poverty in America before it’s too late. As the middle class disappears and the safety net is shredded, Smiley and West, building on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., ask us to confront our fear and complacency with 12 poverty changing ideas.

21. Enough. Why the World’s Poorest Starve, by Roger Thurow

For more than 30 years, humankind has known how to grow enough food to end chronic hunger worldwide. Yet while the Green Revolution succeeded in South America and Asia, it never got to Africa. More than 9 million people every year die of hunger, malnutrition, and related diseases every year—most of them in Africa and most of them children. More die of hunger in Africa than from AIDS and malaria combined. Now, an impending global food crisis threatens to make things worse.
In the west we think of famine as a natural disaster, brought about by drought; or as the legacy of brutal dictators. But in this powerful investigative narrative, Thurow shows exactly how, in the past few decades, American, British, and European policies conspired to keep Africa hungry and unable to feed itself. As a new generation of activists work to keep famine from spreading, Enough is essential reading on a humanitarian issue of utmost urgency.

20. Hunger, by Knut Hamsun (George Egerton, translator)

This was published in 1890, but damned if it isn’t still a strong read that touches the heart. One of the most important and controversial writers of the 20th century, Knut Hamsun made literary history with the publication in 1890 of this powerful, autobiographical novel recounting the abject poverty, hunger and despair of a young writer struggling to achieve self-discovery and its ultimate artistic expression.

The book brilliantly probes the psychodynamics of alienation and obsession, painting an unforgettable portrait of a man driven by forces beyond his control to the edge of self-destruction. Hamsun influenced many of the major 20th-century writers who followed him, including Kafka, Joyce and Henry Miller. Required reading in world literature courses.

19. There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, by Alex Kotlowitz

This 1991 book about two young men growing up in the Chicago projects is a modern classic of the genre. It took the author three years of reporting to tell their story. It’s the moving and powerful account of two remarkable boys struggling to survive in Chicago’s Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex disfigured by crime and neglect.

In a 1987 series for The Wall Street Journal, Kotlowitz established that the tender underside of our embattled inner cities is the children, urban America’s greatest casualty and its only hope. With this important work, he continues the stories of 12-year-old Lafayette Rivers and his younger brother Pharoah as they confront tragedy on a daily basis.

18. “Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.: How the Working Poor Became Big Business,” by Gary Rivlin

Here’s an excellent expose of the growing big business of poverty. For most people, the Great Crash of 2008 has meant troubling times. Not so for those in the flourishing poverty industry. These mercenary entrepreneurs have taken advantage of an era of deregulation to devise high-priced products to sell to the credit-hungry working poor, including the instant tax refund and the payday loan. In the process they’ve created an industry larger than the casino business and have proved that pawnbrokers and check cashers, if they dream big enough, can grow very rich off those with thin wallets.

Broke, USA is Rivlin’s report from the economic fringes. Timely, shocking, and powerful, it offers a much-needed look at why our country is in a financial mess and gives a voice to the millions of ordinary Americans left devastated in the wake of the economic collapse.

17. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith

The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident.

This is the story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

16. Banker to the Poor, by Muhammad Yunus

Yunus is that rare thing: a bona fide visionary. His dream is the total eradication of poverty from the world. In 1983, against the advice of banking and government officials, Yunus established Grameen, a bank devoted to providing the poorest of Bangladesh with minuscule loans.

Grameen Bank, based on the belief that credit is a basic human right, not the privilege of a fortunate few, now provides over 2.5 billion dollars of micro-loans to more than two million families in rural Bangladesh. Ninety-four percent of Yunus’s clients are women, and repayment rates are near 100 percent. This book is his story and it is inspiring.

15. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo

It’s fiction, yes. But considering its impact it deserves to be this high on the list. Hugo introduces one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean – the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. In Les Misérables Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses us in a battle between good and evil, and carries us onto the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose. 

Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait which resulted is larger than life, epic in scope – an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses.

14. Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail, by Paul Polak

Polak, a psychiatrist, has applied a behavioral and anthropological approach to alleviating poverty, developed by studying people in their natural surroundings.
He argues that there are three mythic solutions to poverty eradication: donations, national economic growth, and big businesses. Instead, he advocates helping the poor earn money through their own efforts of developing low-cost tools that are effective and profitable.

13. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, by David S. Landes

This highly acclaimed, best-selling book takes a look at one of the most contentious and hotly debated questions of our time: Why do some nations achieve economic success while others remain mired in poverty? The answer, as Landes definitively illustrates, is a complex interplay of cultural mores and historical circumstance.

Note: if you search out the paperback edition, Landes has written a new epilogue, in which he takes account of Asian financial crises and the international tension between overconfidence and reality.

12. The Nature of Mass Poverty, by John Kenneth Galbraith

He’s never easy to read, but worth the time and trouble. The Galbraith incisiveness, clarity, and wit are here brought to bear on the central aspects of the most important economic and social problems of our time.

The Nature of Mass Poverty proceeds from Galbraith’s conviction that most explanations of conditions in poor countries do not explain. They reflect, instead, the experience of the rich countries. Or they create cause out of cure. Capital and technical expertise being available from the rich countries, shortage of these becomes the cause of poverty in the poor.

11. The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives,” by Sasha Abramsky

Here’s a fascinating look at poverty in America and an expose — and indictment, perhaps — of the American system. Fifty years after Michael Harrington published his groundbreaking book The Other America, in which he chronicled the lives of people excluded from the Age of Affluence, poverty in America is back with a vengeance. It is made up of both the long-term chronically poor and new working poor—the tens of millions of victims of a broken economy and an ever more dysfunctional political system. In many ways, for the majority of Americans, financial insecurity has become the new norm.

The American Way of Poverty shines a light on this travesty. Sasha Abramsky brings the effects of economic inequality out of the shadows and, ultimately, suggests ways for moving toward a fairer and more equitable social contract.

10. Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America, by Jonathan Kozol

Truth: Almost all of Kozol’s books could have been included on this list. But this is the story that jolted the conscience of the nation when it first appeared in The New Yorker.

Jonathan Kozol is one of America’s most forceful and eloquent observers of the intersection of race, poverty, and education. His books, from the National Book Award–winning Death at an Early Age to his most recent, the critically acclaimed Shame of the Nation, are touchstones of the national conscience. First published in 1988 and based on the months the author spent among America’s homeless, Rachel and Her Children is an unforgettable record of the desperate voices of men, women, and especially children caught up in the spiral of poverty.

9. “End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time,” by Jeffrey Sachs

Sachs, an economist, proposes a solution to end extreme poverty in the world and explores why wealthy countries, and people, should take on this mission. Marrying vivid eyewitness storytelling to his analysis, Sachs draws a vivid map of the world economy and the different categories into which countries fall. Then, he explains why, over the past 200 years, wealth has diverged across the planet in the manner that it has and why the poorest nations have been so markedly unable to escape the cruel vortex of poverty.

The groundwork laid, he explains his methods for arriving at a holistic diagnosis of a country’s situation and the options it faces. Rather than deliver a worldview to readers from on high, Sachs leads them along the learning path he himself followed, telling the remarkable stories of his own work in Bolivia, Poland, Russia, India, China, and Africa as a way to bring readers to a broad-based understanding of the array of issues countries can face and the way the issues interrelate.

8. A Framework for Understanding Poverty, by Ruby Payne

How does poverty impact learning, work habits and decision-making? People in poverty face challenges virtually unknown to those in middle class or wealth—challenges from both obvious and hidden sources. The reality of being poor brings out a survival mentality, and turns attention away from opportunities taken for granted by everyone else.

This is a landmark book, but scholarly. Important to the understanding of poverty and its causes.

7. Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, by Linda Turado

In this gripping memoir, Tirado, author of the online essay Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, Poverty Thoughts, stands before us, her bad habits (swearing, smoking) and bad decisions fully on display, to say that even with the best-laid plans, poverty can happen to anyone. When red tape and a summer storm left her and her husband without a home and with nearly nothing to their names, the couple slid into the demoralizing treadmill that is poverty in America.

With critical insight and fury, Tirado tears down common assumptions and superior attitudes about the working poor, from entitlement issues to finance management, and rounds it out with some hard truths about the lack of opportunities for mobility, from the inability to survive an unpaid internship to the full-body impact of commuting an hour or more every day on foot. Articulate, insightful, and saturated with life experience, Tirado’s story is not unlike millions of others in America, but her strong voice has the opportunity to bring that story to new ears.

6. Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives and Faces of the World’s Poor, by Thomas A. Nazario

With a foreword by the Dalai Lama, this is a passionate call to action, presenting 348 pages filled with over 200 color photographs, profiles, explanatory charts and graphics that deliver an unprecedented and thought-provoking examination of global poverty, and how it impacts the poor and the rest of the world community.
Most striking, the book offers innovative ways to transform lives through individual action large or small. Grassroots organizations are profiled as potential models and at the end of each chapter A Way to Help lists nonprofit organizations that focus on problems such as child labor and lack of access to healthcare, among other issues. We are shown how change is possible.

5. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans

This famous book about Depression-era America was an early work of immersive reportage, too, not that it’s typically spoken about that way. Agee and Evans spent months among the tenant-farmer families profiled in the book.

In the summer of 1936, Agee and Evans set out on assignment for Fortune magazine to explore the daily lives of sharecroppers in the South. Their journey would prove an extraordinary collaboration and a watershed literary event. Today it stands as a poetic tract of its time, recognized by the New York Public Library as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century. This 60th anniversary edition features an elegant new design as well as a sixty-four-page photographic prologue of Evans’s classic images, reproduced from archival negatives.

4. How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis

Jacob Riis’ language is a bit hard on our contemporary ears, but this book is really the one that started it all. And his descriptions of life in the tenement slums, well; again, there’s something all these stories have in common no matter when and where they operate.

How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York (1890) was a pioneering work of photojournalism by Jacob Riis, documenting the squalid living conditions in New York City slums in the 1880s. It served as a basis for future muckraking journalism by exposing the slums to New York City’s upper and middle class.

3. The Other America: Poverty in the United States, by Michael Harrington

This is the classic from just over 50 years ago that first truly explored poverty in the United States and its causes.

When this book was first published, it was hailed as an explosive work and became a galvanizing force for the War on Poverty. Harrington shed light on the lives of the poor- from farm to city- and the social forces that relegated them to poverty. He was determined to make poverty in the United States visible, and his observations and analyses have had a profound effect on our country- from how we view the poor to the policies implemented to fight poverty. In the fifty years since it was published, this book has been established as a seminal work of sociology. This book is still relevant for today’s America.

2. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

A timeless classic. An eye opener then….and now. Also a classic movie. First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into haves and have-nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.

This is a portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes the very nature of equality and justice in America.

1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

This is the Dickens novel so many readers return to most often. Great Expectations has been described as “Dickens’s harshest indictment of society”. And we agree. After all, it’s about money. About not having enough money; about the fever of the getting of money; about having too much money; about the taint of money.

Dickens can be a hard read today. His prose is not always easy to read. Even so, and for all his faults, Dickens is the greatest of English novelists and will repay careful readers with a cornucopia of insights into the human condition. Especially poverty.