Spring Staff Picks: Class Unknown

Just one look at our Spring 2012 catalog and you’re likely to discover why we, as staff of NYU Press, are very eager and excited to send this beautiful crop of books out into the world. We! Are! Pumped! Seriously. (And not just for the vernal equinox.) To prove it, we asked colleagues from every department to choose one book that they’re most looking forward to publishing this spring, and describe why. Every week, we’ll debut a new staff pick (or two)!

We invite you to share your thoughts in comments — your own enthusiasm for our books, withering critiques of our choices, whatever you like. And… if you have a favorite book from our spring list to add, then let us know by leaving a comment describing why it’s your pick. You could win a free copy of the book of your choice, and a feature on the blog!

Kicking off our series is a pick from the lovely “MBJ,” who just might be the most outwardly enthusiastic about our books in general, so was the first (not surprisingly) to submit her choice.

Name and role at the Press: Mary Beth Jarrad, Sales and Marketing Director

Book selection, and why: Class Unknown: Undercover Investigations of American Work and Poverty from the Progressive Era to the Present

Although Jacob Riis is probably the most famous reporter of poverty, during the Progressive Era, in particular, there were many people who decided to go undercover, as it were, posing and living as poor people, to better understand and expose the horrors of poverty. Class Unknown chronicles the efforts of several generations of these middle class reformers, how they went about cloaking themselves, the types of things they found, and the experiences they brought back to their lives of privilege.

I love this book for several reasons: I love the earnestness of the reformers themselves; I love how resistant they find poverty to an easy solution; I love the horror they express at working class conditions. One reformer had to work so hard to make a living, working two jobs, long into the night, that she didn’t have any time to write up her findings and had to quit from exhaustion. Working-class living is difficult! The book makes a larger, serious point about poverty, about how all the good intentions in the world cannot fix such an intractable problem overnight, but Mark Pittenger includes stories and experiences of the reformers in a way that allows him to make a fairly depressing argument entertaining.

During this election season, with all the talk about helping working-class families, Class Unknown is a useful reminder that the issue of poverty is more complicated and long standing than it might seem.

Comments are closed.