The best books to understand inequality as one of our most significant challenges

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a political economist committed to building a better world for all. In my academic work, I explore the obstacles to human flourishing and the best policies to promote more equitable development. The growing concentration of wealth among a small elite have become one of our most significant challenges to create better societies. In a growing number of countries, the wealthy control more than a third of all the income generated every year, contributing to social discontent and reducing the opportunities for the majority. I want to convince everyone out there about the urgency of understanding why inequality takes place, why it is costly and how we can fight against it is.

I wrote...

The Costs of Inequality in Latin America: Lessons and Warnings for the Rest of the World

By D. Sánchez-Ancochea,

Book cover of The Costs of Inequality in Latin America: Lessons and Warnings for the Rest of the World

What is my book about?

From the United States to the United Kingdom and from China to India, growing inequality has become the norm, creating growing problems that we need to understand better.  The Costs of Inequality draws on the experience of Latin America, one of the most unequal regions of the world, to illustrate how inequality has hampered economic growth, contributed to a lack of good jobs, weakened democracy, and led to social mistrust.

In turn, low growth, exclusionary politics, violence, and social mistrust have reinforced inequality, generating various vicious circles. Latin America thus provides a disturbing image of what the future may hold in other countries if we do not act quickly. It also provides some informative lessons on how to fight income concentration and build more equitable societies.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger

D. Sánchez-Ancochea Why did I love this book?

This book is a mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand the social problems inequality creates. 

Picket and Wilkinson use descriptive statistics to show how more unequal societies tend to be more violent, less trustful, less educated, and suffer from other social ills. They demonstrate that inequality does not only affect the poor but everyone in society.

Comparing the US or the UK (two of the most unequal countries within the OECD) with Sweden, Japan, or Finland is particularly striking. The book proposes an agenda for change to make our societies more just and more sustainable at the same time. 

By Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Spirit Level as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Groundbreaking analysis showing that greater economic equality-not greater wealth-is the mark of the most successful societies, and offering new ways to achieve it.

"Get your hands on this book."-Bill Moyers

This groundbreaking book, based on thirty years' research, demonstrates that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them-the well-off and the poor. The remarkable data the book lays out and the measures it uses are like a spirit level which we can hold up to compare different societies. The differences revealed, even between rich market democracies, are striking. Almost every modern social and environmental problem-ill health, lack of…

Book cover of The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality

D. Sánchez-Ancochea Why did I love this book?

Reading about income inequality can be fun! 

Branko Milanovic combines critical accounts of the literature on inequality with short illustrative vignettes that cover everything from English literature to Marx´s ideas. 

Over three chapters, he reviews the three key dimensions of inequality: income gaps between people within a single country, income gaps between countries, and (combining both) income gaps between all citizens of the world. 

There are so many interesting examples in this book: you will learn what Pride and Prejudice teach us about wealth concentration, the degree of inequality in the Roman empire, or the links between income distribution and the 2008 financial crisis. 

A must-read if you want to understand economics while learning about interesting facts in an entertaining way.

By Branko Milanovic,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Haves and the Have-Nots as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Who is the richest person in the world, ever? Does where you were born affect how much money you'll earn over a lifetime? How would we know? Why- beyond the idle curiosity- do these questions even matter? In The Haves and the Have-Nots , Branko Milanovic, one of the world's leading experts on wealth, poverty, and the gap that separates them, explains these and other mysteries of how wealth is unevenly spread throughout our world, now and through time. Milanovic uses history, literature and stories straight out of today's newspapers, to discuss one of the major divisions in our social…

Book cover of Americanah

D. Sánchez-Ancochea Why did I love this book?

Great fiction books can teach us how inequality operates in everyday life better than any scientific research. 

Americanah is the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze, whose lives diverge when one moves to the US and the other to the UK to converge fifteen years later back in Nigeria. 

Through their life stories, we understand what intersectionality really means: class, gender, and race interact to make inequality and discrimination particularly problematic. 

Adichie is a fantastic writer who combines humor and kindness to reflect the complexities of contemporary inequality within and across borders.

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Americanah as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Introducing the Collins Modern Classics, a series featuring some of the most significant books of recent times, books that shed light on the human experience - classics which will endure for generations to come.

How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria. Self-assured Ifemelu heads for America. But quiet, thoughtful Obinze finds post-9/11 America closed to him, and plunges into a dangerous undocumented life in London.

Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria,…

Book cover of The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students

D. Sánchez-Ancochea Why did I love this book?

US elite universities are both an engine of inequality and an environment where inequality is particularly evident. 

In this book Harvard professor Abraham Jack explores how low-income students fare when accepted to a prestigious and expensive college.

The book distinguishes between the “privileged poor” who attended private high schools before arriving to campus and the “double disadvantaged” which come from underfunded, state schools. 

Through many interviews and everyday examples, Abraham Jack shows how inequality is both about income and social capital and demonstrates the complexity of creating a more just society in a country like the United States. 

Although the book is less relevant to understand other countries, this is social science at its best.

By Anthony Abraham Jack,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Privileged Poor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An NPR Favorite Book of the Year

"Breaks new ground on social and educational questions of great import."
-Washington Post

"An essential work, humane and candid, that challenges and expands our understanding of the lives of contemporary college students."
-Paul Tough, author of Helping Children Succeed

"Eye-opening...Brings home the pain and reality of on-campus poverty and puts the blame squarely on elite institutions."
-Washington Post

"Jack's investigation redirects attention from the matter of access to the matter of inclusion...His book challenges universities to support the diversity they indulge in advertising."
-New Yorker

The Ivy League looks different than it used…

Book cover of Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class

D. Sánchez-Ancochea Why did I love this book?

Frank is, in my view, one of the most engaging writers on inequality. 

He has developed interesting insights like the “winner takes-all society”: the idea that we live in a world in which a small group of people reaps most of the benefits in all markets from sports to music or academia. 

In Falling Behind, Frank shows how inequality does not only harm the poor but the middle class as well.

I like how he combines economic data with many examples to show how consumption patterns among the wealthy lead to an “expenditure cascades” that force the middle class to borrow too much money and consume more than it should. 

The book is a reminder that inequality must be explored from many dimensions and its solution will require a lot of creativity.

By Robert Frank,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Falling Behind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Although middle-income families don't earn much more than they did several decades ago, they are buying bigger cars, houses, and appliances. To pay for them, they spend more than they earn and carry record levels of debt. In a book that explores the very meaning of happiness and prosperity in America today, Robert Frank explains how increased concentrations of income and wealth at the top of the economic pyramid have set off "expenditure cascades" that raise the cost of achieving many basic goals for the middle class. Writing in lively prose for a general audience, Frank employs up-to-date economic data…

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A Sparrow Falls

By Vicki Olsen,

Book cover of A Sparrow Falls

Vicki Olsen Author Of A Sparrow Falls

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Air Force brat World War 2 junkie Gallivanter Beret-wearing Francophile Book hoarder

Vicki's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In this book set against the backdrop of a changing America, Sarah must find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and come to terms with her future. Sarah, a young woman from the rural town of Tolerance, Arkansas, has endured an impoverished and painful childhood.

But now, as the innocence of the 1950s transforms into the turbulent 1960s, Sarah must find the strength to overcome her traumas, forgive those who have wronged her, and discover her true self. With its moving and often disturbing narrative, A Sparrow Falls is an evocative account of a young woman's journey…

A Sparrow Falls

By Vicki Olsen,

What is this book about?

A moving, sometimes disturbing, beautifully written book...Amazon Customer Review
Set in Arkansas as the innocence of the 1950s morphs into the turbulent ‘60s, A Sparrow Falls is an evocative account of a young woman emerging from an impoverished and traumatic childhood as she finds the inner strength to overcome her past. Te ghosts of the past and come to terms with her future is in the strength to forgive those who have wronged her?
Content Advisory: This book is intended for mature audiences and contains child sexual abuse and disturbing imagery.

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