The Other America: Poverty in the United States

This 1960s classic work on poverty by Michael Harrington was referenced in Barbara Ehrenreich’s Fear of Falling, so I sniffed around the primary source itself. Coming off the glory of Ehrenreich’s book, this fell a bit flat, not really living up to the blurb on the cover from the NYT calling it “a scream of rage, a call to conscience…”

His introduction in the 1969 edition ends with a clarion call:

The poor are the most sorely tried and dramatic victims of the economic and social tendencies which threaten the entire nation. They suffer most grievously from unplanned, chaotic urbanization, but millions of the affluent are affected too. They are the first to experience technological progress as a curse which destroys the old muscle-power jobs that previous generations used as a means to fight their way out of poverty. Yet, as the current student radicalism makes clear, the nature of work is also becoming problematic for the most advantaged in the society. If, in other words, the cities sprawl and technology revolutionizes the land in a casual, thoughtless way, polluting the very fundamentals of human existence, like air and water, it is the poor who will be most cruelly used but the entire nation will experience a kind of decadence.

The other great tidbit was the discovery of the Yeats poem, Sailing to Byzantium, that is quoted in parts throughout. A tattered coat upon a stick, indeed.

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.