100 books like Falling Behind

By Robert Frank,

Here are 100 books that Falling Behind fans have personally recommended if you like Falling Behind. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Americanah

Nell Freudenberger Author Of The Limits

From my list on what it’s really like to be a teenage girl.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s. I was a shy teenager, an obsessive reader, and a secret writer.  I went to an all-girls high school where we wore uniforms, did a lot of homework, and mostly had no idea how to meet boys. The teen girls I encountered in movies, TV shows, and even literature were sexualized to the point of being unrecognizable to me. Now that I work with teenagers (and am a mom to one), I’m fascinated by the variability of girls this age, their wide-ranging intelligence, passions, and ways of being in the world. I love novels that reflect that complexity.

Nell's book list on what it’s really like to be a teenage girl

Nell Freudenberger Why did Nell love this book?

This book is the best love story I’ve read, full stop. There’s nothing like the first time you fall in love, and Ifemelu and Obinze’s relationship reminded me of that feeling—its paralyzing awkwardness and overwhelming joy.

Before I read this book, I’d never thought about what it must be like for immigrants from Africa to encounter (and enter) the long and tortured story of race in America for the first time, and the novel gave me a lot to think about on that score. I also love a novel that takes me somewhere I’ve never been, and the scenes of contemporary Lagos, where Ifemelu and Obinze are reunited, come alive in Adichie’s precise and brilliant description. 

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 Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger

Sam Pizzigati Author Of The Case for a Maximum Wage

From my list on why we need a world without billionaires.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in the 1950s next door to Long Island’s iconic Levittown. All my aunts and uncles lived in similar modest suburbs, and I assumed everyone else did, too. Maybe that explains why America’s sharp economic U-turn in the 1970s so rubbed me the wrong way. We had become, in the mid-20th century, the first major nation where most people—after paying their monthly bills—had money left over. Today we rate as the world’s most unequal major nation. Our richest 0.1 percent hold as much wealth as our bottom 90 percent. I’ve been working with the Institute for Public Studies, as co-editor of Inequality.org, to change all that.

Sam's book list on why we need a world without billionaires

Sam Pizzigati Why did Sam love this book?

The British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have an American doctor friend who has a fascinating exercise for his first-year medical school students.

This doctor asks his students to write a speech detailing why the USA has the world’s best health. The students eagerly set about collecting all the relevant data and quickly find themselves absolutely shocked. Among major developed nations, the USA turns out to have the worst health.

Americans also turn out to be up to ten times more likely than people in other developed nations to get murdered or become drug addicts. What’s going on here? Inequality!

The more wealth concentrates at a society’s summit, Wilkinson and Pickett vividly show in this 2009 classic, the worse that society performs on the yardsticks that define basic health and decency. 

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

Guido Alfani Author Of As Gods Among Men: A History of the Rich in the West

From my list on the rich, the super-rich, and wealth inequality in general.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I was a student, I have been fascinated with social and economic inequality–the more so because back then, my professors seemed to disregard this subject of study. So, I made it one of my own main areas of research: I simply needed to understand more about the nature and the causes of inequality in human societies. In recent years, I have been busy researching economic inequality in different historical settings, also looking at specific socioeconomic strata. I began with the poor, and more recently, I focused on the rich. In my list of recommendations, I included books that, I believe, are particularly insightful concerning wealth and the wealthy.

Guido's book list on the rich, the super-rich, and wealth inequality in general

Guido Alfani Why did Guido love this book?

I have always loved Branko Milanović’s way of addressing complex topics in a very accessible and usually highly original way.

In this book, Milanović pays much attention to the rich and the super-rich and devises a way of comparing their wealth across the ages by asking this simple question: how much labour could they command in their own historical period and socio-economic context?

So, for example, Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest Roman of Caesar’s times, could, with the yearly income from his vast possessions, command the work of 32,000 people. But, as Milanović argues, today’s super-rich are richer than past ones–circa 2010, the richest person in the world was the telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, who could command the work of 440,000 Mexicans.

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 The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students

D. Sánchez-Ancochea Author Of The Costs of Inequality in Latin America: Lessons and Warnings for the Rest of the World

From my list on inequality as one of our 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.

D.'s book list on inequality as one of our significant challenges

D. Sánchez-Ancochea Why did D. 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 China Made: Consumer Culture and the Creation of the Nation

Erika Rappaport Author Of A Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World

From my list on understanding tea and other Chinese things.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Los Angeles, the mecca of global consumer culture. I became a historian to escape from what I saw as this shallow, surface culture but through my work, I have returned to the mall. My work uses history to show how consumer desires are not natural. Instead, I ask why people consume particular things in particular places, and I show how they attribute meaning to the things they buy. I am not a specialist on China but while researching and writing on tea's global political economy and consumer culture I became fascinated by how China contributed to the making of global tastes, desires, and material culture. These books illuminate the history and cultural life of tea, opium, porcelain, and other things within and beyond China.

Erika's book list on understanding tea and other Chinese things

Erika Rappaport Why did Erika love this book?

Gerth's sweeping research, eye for detail, and beautiful prose help us understand how the rejection of foreign commodities was critical to the creation of Chinese nationalism and state-building in the early twentieth century. Rather than reject consumer culture per se, the Government and businesses pushed the Chinese to consume only "Chinese" goods. This nationalistic consumer culture was built though with the same tools we find in the West--advertising, exhibitions, and fashion. Chinese consumer culture can be seen then as both global and local.

By Karl Gerth,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Chinese people should consume Chinese products!" This slogan was the catchphrase of a movement in early twentieth-century China that sought to link consumption and nationalism by instilling a concept of China as a modern "nation" with its own "national products." From fashions in clothing to food additives, from museums to department stores, from product fairs to advertising, this movement influenced all aspects of China's burgeoning consumer culture. Anti-imperialist boycotts, commemorations of national humiliations, exhibitions of Chinese products, the vilification of treasonous consumers, and the promotion of Chinese captains of industry helped enforce nationalistic consumption and spread the message-patriotic Chinese bought…

Book cover of The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them

Francis J. Teal Author Of The Poor and the Plutocrats

From my list on inequality and the disagreements over the cause.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have worked on the problems of poverty, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, for much of my professional life. I worked at the Centre for the Study of African Economies, which is part of the Department of Economics at Oxford University, from 1991 until my retirement in 2012. I continue to work both with the Centre and the Department as a Managing Editor of Oxford Economic Papers and Chief Editor of the Journal of African Economies. My recent book The Poor and the Plutocrats grew out of this background where I wanted to understand the links between very poor countries and those of much richer ones.

Francis' book list on inequality and the disagreements over the cause

Francis J. Teal Why did Francis love this book?

The papers in this book follow on from an article in Vanity Fair, "Of the 1%, for the 1%, by the 1%". Mimicking Abraham Lincoln’s famous definition in his Gettysburg Address.

A central argument that runs throughout the book is that the growing inequality in the US is chosen, not by its peoples, but by its government. The implication is that the rising inequality and its causes are a threat to US democracy. The book sees a great divide opening between the mass of its citizens and a plutocratic class whose income, and relative position, continues to improve. The book documents how governments have pursued policies that only benefit the 1%.

By Joseph E. Stiglitz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In The Great Divide, Joseph E. Stiglitz expands on the diagnosis he offered in his best-selling book The Price of Inequality and suggests ways to counter America's growing problem. With his signature blend of clarity and passion, Stiglitz argues that inequality is a choice-the cumulative result of unjust policies and misguided priorities.

Gathering his writings for popular outlets including Vanity Fair and the New York Times, Stiglitz exposes in full America's inequality: its dimensions, its causes, and its consequences for the nation and for the world. From Reagan-era to the Great Recession and its long aftermath, Stiglitz delves into the…

Book cover of What's Luck Got to Do with It? How Smarter Government Can Rescue the American Dream

Kimberly Clausing Author Of Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration, and Global Capital

From my list on big economic policy debates.

Why am I passionate about this?

I became an economist because I realized that economics was a powerful tool that would help society solve vexing problems. While economics has limits, it has so much to offer in terms of better policy design for tackling everything from climate change to economic inequality. My life’s work has been devoted to both economic research and helping others understand the insights of economics. I spent many years in academia teaching economics and writing papers, and I authored Open in an attempt to make the complexities of international economics more transparent. I’ve also had the chance to work firsthand on some of these issues in the early part of the Biden Administration at the US Treasury.

Kimberly's book list on big economic policy debates

Kimberly Clausing Why did Kimberly love this book?

Ed Kleinbard was a treasured colleague, a brilliant commentator, and a giant in the field of tax policy. In his final year of life, perhaps fittingly, Kleinbard devoted himself to a book on the role of luck in economic outcomes, which opens with a quote from Stendhal. “Waiting for God to reveal himself, I believe that his prime minister, Chance, governs this sad world just as well.” The book argues that luck, and particularly existential luck (to whom and in what circumstances you are born), are paramount in determining economic outcomes. Within that context, Kleinbard makes a strong case for the role of public insurance in areas like health care, education, and childcare; he also emphasizes the importance of a progressive income tax system. 

By Edward D. Kleinbard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What's Luck Got to Do with It? How Smarter Government Can Rescue the American Dream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The American dream of equal opportunity is in peril. America's economic inequality is shocking, poverty threatens to become a heritable condition, and our healthcare system is crumbling despite ever increasing costs.

In this thought-provoking book, Edward D. Kleinbard demonstrates how the failure to acknowledge the force of brute luck in our material lives exacerbates these crises - leading to warped policy choices that impede genuine equality of opportunity for many Americans. What's Luck Got to Do with It? combines insights from economics, philosophy, and social psychology to argue for government's proper role in addressing the inequity of brute luck. Kleinbard…

Book cover of The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

Karen Sherman Author Of Brick by Brick: Building Hope and Opportunity for Women Survivors Everywhere

From my list on women driving change around the world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been driven to help advance women and girls around the world for years, shining a light on their stories of resilience and strength, even in the most dire of circumstances. My thirty-plus-year career in global development has introduced me to hundreds of inspirational women who are changing their own lives, investing in their families, and building their communities. I am a woman for women because of them. The recommended authors are inspirational women in their own right who have used their writing to amplify the voices of other women. I hope you enjoy these books and can identify with the personal stories found in their pages. 

Karen's book list on women driving change around the world

Karen Sherman Why did Karen love this book?

“When you lift up women, you lift up humanity." These words from Melinda Gates’ book resonate deeply with my own story and experiences. Melinda gives several examples of women driving change on different levels in their families, communities, and societies. Similar to the pages in my book, Melinda shares heart-rending conversations she’s had with women all over the world and offers practical solutions for how we can get involved to make the world a better place.

By Melinda Gates,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Moment of Lift as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


How can we summon a moment of lift for human beings―and especially for women? Because when you lift up women, you lift up humanity.

For the last twenty years, Melinda Gates has been on a mission to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live. Throughout this journey, one thing has become increasingly clear to her: If you want to lift society up, you need to stop keeping women down.

In this moving and compelling book, Melinda shares lessons she’s learned from the inspiring people she’s met during her work and travels…

Book cover of Happiness for All? Unequal Hopes and Lives in Pursuit of the American Dream

Maurizio Pugno Author Of Well-being and Growth in Advanced Economies: The Need to Prioritise Human Development

From my list on human development in advanced economies.

Why am I passionate about this?

'Human development' indicates an advancement that I would like to find in any kind of progress. Different disciplines define 'human development' in different ways, but my research is to identify the common core in order to link both the individual- with the social dimension, and natural evolution with changes due to personal choices and policies. Through such research, I have been able to take a new perspective on my academic subjects: economic growth and happiness. My belief is that it is possible to make human development, economic growth, and happiness go together. But unfortunately, this is not what is occurring, and understanding why is key.

Maurizio's book list on human development in advanced economies

Maurizio Pugno Why did Maurizio love this book?

I like this book because it does not simply show how income inequality affects happiness inequality, thus suggesting that unhappiness is just a sign of material disadvantage.

The book also links income and happiness to hope, which is a feeling that motivates people to plan and invest for the future. 

To convince the sceptical reader about measuring hope and happiness, Carol Graham provides an abundance of empirical evidence.

But being an economist, in addition to telling emblematic stories, she reports evidence based on large samples and international data.

It is a challenging book, but rewarding, because it helps to understand both how the exhaustion of the American Dream will affect the future, and where to look for new hope.

By Carol Graham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Happiness for All? Unequal Hopes and Lives in Pursuit of the American Dream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How the optimism gap between rich and poor is creating an increasingly divided society The Declaration of Independence states that all people are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and that among these is the pursuit of happiness. But is happiness available equally to everyone in America today? How about elsewhere in the world? Carol Graham draws on cutting-edge research linking income inequality with well-being to show how the widening prosperity gap has led to rising inequality in people's beliefs, hopes, and aspirations. For the United States and other developed countries, the high costs of being poor are most evident not…

Book cover of Black Wealth / White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality

Beverly Moran Author Of Race and Wealth Disparities: A Multidisciplinary Discourse

From my list on understanding critical race theory.

Why am I passionate about this?

Every author writing about race and tax in the United States uses my article with William Whitford, “A Black Critique of the Internal Revenue Code.” Using census data, Bill and I showed that blacks and whites who earn the same income, live in the same geographic areas, have the same education and marital status, pay different amounts of federal income tax because of the race and wealth disparities outlined in Race and Wealth Disparities: A Multidisciplinary Discourse edited by Beverly Moran. 

Beverly's book list on understanding critical race theory

Beverly Moran Why did Beverly love this book?

This is the book that showed us that income inequality is just the tip of the iceberg of race inequality in the United States. True, blacks earn less than whites, but they also own less than whites. Much less. The difference is staggering and the cause of many other ills, especially the difficulty that many black families have in the face of any economic disaster.

By Melvin Oliver, Thomas M. Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Wealth / White Wealth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The award-winning Black Wealth / White Wealth offers a powerful portrait of racial inequality based on an analysis of private wealth. Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro's groundbreaking research analyzes wealth - total assets and debts rather than income alone - to uncover deep and persistent racial inequality in America, and they show how public policies have failed to redress the problem.

First published in 1995, Black Wealth / White Wealth is considered a classic exploration of race and inequality. It provided, for the first time, systematic empirical evidence that explained the racial inequality gap between blacks and whites. The Tenth…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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