Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review: Scratch Beginnings: Me, $35 and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard

Synopsis: What can you get with $25 and a dream? Adam Shepard graduated from college feeling disillusioned by the apathy around him and was then incensed after reading Barbara Ehrenreich's famous work Nickel and Dimed—a book that gave him a feeling of hopelessness about the working class in America. He set out to disprove Ehrenreich's theory—the notion that those who start at the bottom stay at the bottom—by making something out of nothing to achieve the American Dream.
Shepard's plan was simple. With a sleeping bag, the clothes on his back, and $25 in cash, and restricted from using his contacts or college education, he headed out for Charleston, South Carolina, a randomly selected city with one objective: to work his way out of homelessness and into a life that would give him the opportunity for success. His goal was to have, after one year, $2,500, a working automobile, and a furnished apartment. Scratch Beginnings is the earnest and passionate account of Shepard's struggle to overcome the pressures placed on the homeless. His story will not only inspire readers but will also remind them that success can come to anyone who is willing to work hard—and that America is still one of the most hopeful countries in the world. (from the back of the book)

Review:  I found this when researching Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. Shepard wrote this as a rebuttal to her conclusion that it is impossible to climb out of poverty. Shepard said it was and set out to prove it. I wasn't much impressed with Ehrenreich's writing, feeling that her conclusion was based on half-ass'd attempts and prissy attitude. While Shepard's work was considerable less prissy, it is impossible to compare. For starters, he's a young, white male. The jobs open to him would not be open to a middle-aged woman - meaning Ehrenreich couldn't get the $10 per hour job that Shepard scored. On the other hand, Shepard started with almost nothing - literally. Not even an extra pair of skivvies! And using disciple and smart choices, he ended his year with a furnished house and nearly $5K in the bank!
Honestly, in the end, I don't feel Shepard's conclusion was any better than Ehrenreich's. Both contain true - it's hard to make it, but you can - but it seems that Shepard gave no room for messing up and Ehrenreich felt that no matter what poor choices one makes, things should be easy. I'd like to see Shepard's experiment repeated with a female lead, or someone with kids. I'd also like to see Ehrenreich's experiment repeated with someone less prissy.
Both works are interesting to read, but I feel both are heavily flawed and should be taken with a grain of salt.
Bookmarks: 6.5 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-06-171427-6
Date Finished: 2-2-2014
Pages: 221

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