Heartland — Book Summary and Review

Heartland — A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

I would rate Heartland by Sarah Smarsh at 8/10★. I love a good memoir. It kind of reminds me of a Ted Talk by Alain de Botton on “A kinder, gentler philosophy of success.”

The idea that “You got what you worked for, we believed. There was some truth to that. But it was not the whole truth.” It awful idea since we would label those who lacked success as a loser, although the ‘loser’ really did put in a tremendous amount of effort. That’s the reason in Islam, Allah SWAT rewards us for our efforts more than for the results, since results are in most cases not in our control. So, the much more accurate words to describe the lack of success is ‘unfortunate’ rather than a ‘loser’. Since ‘unfortunate’ would imply, the person is not blessed with fortune.

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A Little Bit About the Book

Sarah Smarsh grew up in a family of working poor people in Wichita and rural Kansas in a country known for affluence and opportunity. Her mother and grandmother were both teenage moms, her father was a small-time carpenter and her grandfather was a farmer.

She explores the cultural forces driving America’s socioeconomic, drawing from her experiences and those of her extended family. She discusses the ‘unfortunate’ events of ill-health, addiction, depression, social stigmatization and lack of opportunity that America’s working poor suffer. She writes with warmth, clarity, soul and remarkably little self-pity, though her contempt for cultural forces that punish poor people comes through with force. Hers is a candid look at the myth of the American Dream, the hard facts of economic inequality and society’s disdain for the poor.

The American Dream ignores class inequality and perpetuates the belief that people can succeed through hard work. Transience, driven by poverty, was a way of life for Sarah’s mother and grandmother, exacerbated by her great-grandmother’s poorly treated mental illness.  

Society places less value on those who live by physical labour, particularly minorities and women. Many of the adults in Sarah’s life used pills, cigarettes and alcohol to cope with stress. People of all socioeconomic groups have such addictions, but the economic and health consequences are most severe for poor people. Some might even suggest that poor people make a poor decision because they’re poor, not lack of ability to think. But rather an outcome of desperation and limited choices. It could even be a choice of the lesser evil, rather than the greater good.

Sarah’s childhood coincided with the farm crisis of the 1980s. Farm debt, high-interest rates and public policy favouring “Big Ag” over small family farms contributed to the 1980’s farm crisis. Industrialized agriculture put thousands of small Midwestern farmers out of business. Among all types of American households, single mothers with child dependents are the poorest. America’s welfare programs reflect national contempt for anyone struggling or in need.

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Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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