The most recommended books about rural poverty

Who picked these books? Meet our 18 experts.

18 authors created a book list connected to rural poverty, and here are their favorite rural poverty books.
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The Death of Sweet Mister

By Daniel Woodrell,

Book cover of The Death of Sweet Mister

David Jackson Ambrose Author Of Unlawful DISorder

From the list on people trying to keep their shit together.

Who am I?

I'm an ‘expert’ when it comes to books because I've been ‘reading’ books since before I could talk – even at two years old, holding the books upside down, but somehow still immersed. I presume all of you are experts, too. Your love of books has brought you to this site. Books became my escape when the world seemed too large and too cruel to cope with. But what makes me even more of an expert, was my dedication to books….that two-year-old loved books so much he would tear out pages and eat them, he would stuff pieces in his nose….Grossed out?  Well, what can I tell ya’, I was dedicated lol.

David's book list on people trying to keep their shit together

Why did David love 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 like a fairytale, spinning evermore intricately by Glenda, his adored mother, the most beautiful girl in Missouri. Shug is willing to believe it. Anyone besides Red.  

Shug is in love with his mother, and he wants a better life for her. Better than a life of stealing from other people,…

By Daniel Woodrell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Shug Akins is a lonely, overweight thirteen-year-old boy. His mother, Glenda, is the one person who loves him -- she calls him Sweet Mister and attempts to boost his confidence and give him hope for his future. Shuggie's purported father, Red, is a brutal man with a short fuse who mocks and despises the boy. Into this small-town Ozarks mix comes Jimmy Vin Pearce, with his shiny green T-bird and his smart city clothes. When he and Glenda begin a torrid affair, a series of violent events is inevitably set in motion. The outcome will break your heart.

"This is…

The Hungry Tide

By Amitav Ghosh,

Book cover of The Hungry Tide

Trevor Shane Author Of List of Fears

From the list on epic novels to read by a cozy fire.

Who am I?

I'm a writer and a reader. I love getting lost in books. It has been the most consistent aspect of my life. I love audacious books whose beauty pushes all the way to the edge of absurdity, without ever slipping over. I love nothing more in life than sitting by a fire and dissolving into a good book. I'm the author of the Children of Paranoia series, the Memory Detective series, and the stand-alone novel List of Fears. My books have been published in seven different languages and have been optioned for both movies and television. I live in Brooklyn with my wife and two children, all of whom can be found reading at any given moment. 

Trevor's book list on epic novels to read by a cozy fire

Why did Trevor love 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 does. I’ve never been to the Sundarbans, but I still periodically dream about them. 

By Amitav Ghosh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A profound and absorbing saga from the Internationally Bestselling and Man Booker Prize shortlisted author

'Amitav Ghosh is such a fascinating and seductive writer... I cannot think of another contemporary writer with whom it would be this thrilling to go so far, so fast' The Times

January 2001: A small ship, led by wealthy Scotsman Daniel Hamilton, arrives in the Sundarbans, a vast archipelago of islands in the mythical river Ganges, a half-drowned land where the waters of the Himalayas merge with the incoming tides of the sea.

In the Sundarbans the tides reach more than 100 miles inland, and…

Salvage the Bones

By Jesmyn Ward,

Book cover of Salvage the Bones

Sharman Apt Russell Author Of Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World

From Sharman's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Explorer Runner Mother

Sharman's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Sharman love this book?

When I read this for the second time- I again fell into the story, completely absorbed in the language and the main character, fourteen-year-old Esch.

I loved how she loved her brothers and how they loved her back in such real and relatable ways. I believed in her pregnancy and in her poverty. I felt the suspense and drama of Hurricane Katrina getting stronger and coming closer, even as the family struggled with their more everyday problems and needs. I loved the lush and vivid descriptions of nature.

I felt I was there, experiencing this with these people. This is what literature can do: cross boundaries of class and race and age and gender, helping us transcend the narrowness of our particular life.

By Jesmyn Ward,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Salvage the Bones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

_______________ 'A brilliantly pacy adventure story ... Ward writes like a dream' - The Times 'Fresh and urgent' - New York Times 'There's something of Faulkner to Ward's grand diction' - Guardian _______________ WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD Hurricane Katrina is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. He's a hard drinker, largely absent, and it isn't often he worries about the family. Esch and her three brothers are stockpiling food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets;…

Book cover of Everybody Loves a Good Drought

Leela Fernandes Author Of Governing Water in India: Inequality, Reform, and the State

From the list on to understand inequality in a world in crisis.

Who am I?

I have spent close to thirty years researching and teaching about questions of inequality and change. Most of my focus has been on the Global South, with a particular focus on India. I've written about intersecting class, gender, and caste inequalities. I've pursued this research agenda through extensive field research on labor politics, democratization, and the politics of economic reform in India. My interest stems from my background. I am originally from India and have lived and travelled extensively in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. I'm an author, public speaker, and consultant and have been a professor for three decades at the University of Michigan, Rutgers University, The University of Washington, and Oberlin College.

Leela's book list on to understand inequality in a world in crisis

Why did Leela love 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.

By P. Sainath,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Everybody Loves a Good Drought as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed across the world, prescribed in over 100 universities and colleges, and included in part in The Century's Greatest Reportage (Ordfront, 2000), alongside the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Studs Terkel and John Reed, Everybody Loves a Good Drought is the established classic on rural poverty in India. Twenty years after publication, it remains unsurpassed in the scope and depth of reportage, providing an intimate view of the daily struggles of the poor and the efforts, often ludicrous, made to uplift them.

An illuminating introduction accompanying this twentieth-anniversary edition reveals, alarmingly, how a large section of India continues to suffer…

Men We Reaped

By Jesmyn Ward,

Book cover of Men We Reaped: A Memoir

Sarah L. Sanderson Author Of The Place We Make: Breaking the Legacy of Legalized Hate

From the list on memoirs to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Who am I?

I chose to study creative nonfiction during my MFA program so I could learn what makes great memoirs work, but I first fell in love with the genre as a teenager, when I picked up Angela’s Ashes off my mom’s bedside table. I’m grateful for the way memoir gives me a window into the lives of people of other races, religions, abilities, experiences, and even other centuries. While my book The Place We Make isn’t only a memoir—it’s a blend of memoir and historical biography—it was my desire to both understand the view through my research subject’s eyes, and analyze how I was seeing the world myself, that drove me to write it.

Sarah's book list on memoirs to see the world through someone else’s eyes

Why did Sarah love this book?

Men We Reaped blew me away.

Not only does Ward provide an incredibly personal and achingly beautiful glimpse of a culture I was unfamiliar with—a rural, impoverished Black community in the Deep South—but she does so with an innovative structure that simply dazzled me.

One strand of the book opens at the beginning of Ward’s life, while the other strand picks up at the end of her tale, with the most recent of five harrowing deaths due to gun violence that she and her community have endured. Each part of the story then alternately proceeds toward the same point, forwards along her childhood and backwards through each death, until both strands wind up in the middle of the story. It’s brilliantly executed. 

By Jesmyn Ward,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Men We Reaped as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

_______________ 'A brutal, moving memoir ... Anyone who emerges from America's black working-class youth with words as fine as Ward's deserves a hearing' - Guardian 'Raw, beautiful and dangerous' - New York Times Book Review 'Lavishly endowed with literary craft and hard-earned wisdom' - Time _______________ The beautiful, haunting memoir from Jesmyn Ward, the first woman to win the National Book Award twice 'And then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped' - Harriet Tubman Jesmyn Ward's acclaimed memoir shines…


By Shirley Abbott,

Book cover of Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South

Lindsay Allason-Jones Author Of Roman Woman: Everyday Life in Hadrian's Britain

From the list on how people in different periods or cultures lived their lives.

Who am I?

I am an archaeologist, mostly working in the Roman period. Until I retired in 2011, I was the Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies and Reader in Roman Material Culture at Newcastle University, having previously been the Director of Archaeological Museums for the University. My working life started by specialising in identifying those small items which come out of every excavation, but more and more I became interested in what those artefacts told us about the people who lived on the site. Reading books about peoples’ lives in other cultures and periods provides insight into those people of the past for whom we have little documentary evidence.

Lindsay's book list on how people in different periods or cultures lived their lives

Why did Lindsay love 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.

By Shirley Abbott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Reflects on the experience of growing up female in the South, explaining the meaning of the southern heritage, the southern notion of the feminine ideal, and the reasons why southern women leave their roots.

Invisible China

By Scott Rozelle, Natalie Hell,

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

Nate G. Hilger Author Of The Parent Trap: How to Stop Overloading Parents and Fix Our Inequality Crisis

From the list on how self-help isn't a magic parenting solution.

Who am I?

I’m an economist fascinated by the ways that early opportunities shape lifelong success. My interests go way back to the big public schools I attended in Southern California, where I watched some kids benefit from tutoring, counseling, coaching, and other private resources that most kids couldn’t access. I went on to get a PhD in economics, then taught at Brown University and advised Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign on child development policy. After years of research and teaching – and becoming a dad myself – I wrote The Parent Trap to expose the monumental challenges facing so many parents and the solutions most likely to make a difference.

Nate's book list on how self-help isn't a magic parenting solution

Why did Nate love 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 confirmed much of what I argue in my own book through a different lens. 

By Scott Rozelle, Natalie Hell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Invisible China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As the glittering skyline in Shanghai seemingly attests, China has quickly transformed itself from a place of stark poverty into a modern, urban, technologically savvy economic powerhouse. But as Scott Rozelle and Natalie Hell show in Invisible China, the truth is much more complicated and might be a serious cause for concern.

China's growth has relied heavily on unskilled labor. Most of the workers who have fueled the country's rise come from rural villages and have never been to high school. While this national growth strategy has been effective for three decades, the unskilled wage rate is finally rising, inducing…