Michael Harrington, The Other America (Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962)
Reissued by Scribner in paperback in 1997.
When The Other America was first published in 1962, it shocked readers and inspired a new way of thinking about the poor. The book, by socialist writer Michael Harrington, caused a ripple effect across the country and ultimately reached John F. Kennedy's White House.
Through years of first-hand observations of poverty in cities and rural areas, Harrington observed that the poor did not become poor through laziness or a lack of desire to participate in society's progress. Rather, the poor, in his view, were victims – of technological progress and racism, of a society that deems senior citizens worthless, of urban renewal, of a diseased environment that denies the mentally disturbed the ability to get treatment, and of being born in the wrong place to the wrong families. He details his personal experience with the poor in New York City, where alcoholics lined skid row, and in East St. Louis, where he was shocked to discover the acceptance of violence as an inevitable part of life.
To Harrington, social activism was not enough to effect real change, and with each subsequent edition throughout the years following the book's original publication, he offered new insights into the characteristics of the poor and the kinds of changes the government needed to enact. In subsequent editions, Harrington traced the progress of the fight against poverty through the 1980s. In the early 1990s, Irving Howe contributed an introduction to the book, calling Harrington's work a "moral appeal" to the United States to wake up and see "the invisible poor," and more than that, to persuade the government – in Harrington's view, the only force that can truly effect change in this arena – to make the kind of social investments that could steadily decrease the number of Americans living in a "culture of poverty."
Although many of the facts and statistics detailed in the book are now outdated, The Other America continues to be an invaluable resource for any writer or researcher looking for a solid foundation of study into poverty in the United States.
The Life of Michael Harrington, Assessed
The Michael Harrington Center for Democratic Values and Social Change, Queens College