The best books about rural poverty

2 authors have picked their favorite books about rural poverty and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter this list by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Book cover of Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South

Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South

By Shirley Abbott,

Why this book?

A wittily written, powerful evocation of women’s lives in Arkansas from the 1930s to the 1980s, the history of how they got there and what made them such strong women. This is a revelation of family myth and tradition told fondly, yet with piercing pragmatism, in a way that provides insights into how we can understand women’s lives at all periods and in all places.

From the list:

The best books that show how people in different periods or cultures lived their lives

Book cover of The Death of Sweet Mister

The Death of Sweet Mister

By Daniel Woodrell,

Why this book?

The people in Sweet Mister are broken and derelict, strong and resilient, funny and terrifying. The book opens with overweight thirteen-year-old Shuggie (Sweet Mister) being forced to climb up a drain pipe to break into a building to steal drugs for Red, his mother’s treacherous, drug-addicted boyfriend. We follow through the eyes of Sweet Mister, who doesn’t know who his father is. It’s rumored to be the town’s wealthiest citizen. That rumor, more like fabrication, is told to him in the aftermath of Red’s rage, after he’s torn through the house like a tornado destroying everything in his wake, almost…

From the list:

The best books about people trying to keep their shit together

Book cover of Everybody Loves a Good Drought

Everybody Loves a Good Drought

By P. Sainath,

Why this book?

It is often hard to get our minds around poverty and the scarcity of resources that affect people’s lives. This is especially true of rural life in the Global South. This is a highly accessible book written by an eminent journalist in India and is considered to be a classic text on rural poverty. It also illuminates the failures of governance including the programs and policies that seek to help poor and marginalized communities in countries like India.

From the list:

The best books to understand inequality in a world in crisis

Book cover of The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide

By Amitav Ghosh,

Why this book?

When I read The Hungry Tide for the first time, it read to me like a fantasy novel set in a faraway world. Except it isn’t. The setting for The Hungry Tide is a real place, but it is as dangerous and as fantastic as something created by Tolkien. It takes place in the Sundarbans of India, a world where tigers hunt people and tidal floods come without warning and wipe out villages. Sometimes I read a book to get lost in a world that doesn’t exist. Other times I read a book to get lost in a world that…

From the list:

The best epic novels to read by a cozy fire

Book cover of Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones

By Jesmyn Ward,

Why this book?

When I am asked whether my next book will also be true crime, I say that my wheelhouse isn’t actually true crime but stories about pregnant teenage girls. This extends to my reading material. Salvage the Bones is a heart-stopping novel about a 15-year-old girl being raised by her widowed father in small-town Mississippi. In the calm before Hurricane Katrina, Esch and her three brothers—who alternately play basketball, raise pit bulls to dogfight and get in the way—are only just getting by. But Esch has a secret, which threatens to tip her life into chaos—there’s a baby growing inside of…

From the list:

The best books on the complexity of American girlhood

Book cover of Men We Reaped: A Memoir

Men We Reaped: A Memoir

By Jesmyn Ward,

Why this book?

Ward’s memoir examines the untimely losses of five young men in her life in the span of four years. The book is a stunning, sobering meditation on the impact of trans-generational mourning on the present moment, and the ways in which the cumulative grief of a community relates to decades-worth of institutional bigotry in the U.S. In one of the book’s many wrenching scenes, Ward, as a young woman, observes her mother cleaning the mansion of a rich white family. The wife—her mother’s employer—asks Ward about what she’s learning in school, as “the family’s parrot… kept in a four-foot-high cage…

From the list:

The best nonfiction books that feature amazing flying things

Book cover of Invisible China: How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China's Rise

Invisible China: How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China's Rise

By Scott Rozelle, Natalie Hell,

Why this book?

This book spoke to me because it shows that parents in China are just like parents in America. Of course we all love our children, but we struggle to master the complex information, logistics, and expenditures involved in modern child development. One of the authors has shown that a shockingly high share of children in rural China is cognitively stunted due to infectious worms, untreated vision problems, and under-stimulation. Interviews with Chinese families show how challenging it is for parents to diagnose and address these issues without public support. This book shatters American stereotypes about China, and for me, it…

From the list:

The best parenting books that don’t pretend self-help is a magic solution to all problems

New book lists related to rural poverty

All book lists related to rural poverty

Bookshelves related to rural poverty