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Publisher's Summary

This engrossing piece of undercover reportage has been a fixture on the New York Times best seller list since its publication. With nearly a million copies in print, Nickel and Dimed is a modern classic that deftly portrays the plight of America's working-class poor.

A successful author, Barbara Ehrenreich decides to see if she can scratch out a comfortable living in a blue-collar America obsessed with welfare "reform". Her first job is waitressing, which pulls in a measly $2.43 an hour plus tips. She moves around the country, trying her hand as a maid, a nursing home assistant, and a Wal-Mart salesperson. What she discovers is a culture of desperation, where workers take multiple thankless jobs just to keep a roof overhead.

Often humorous and always illuminating, Nickel and Dimed is a remarkable expose of the ugly flip side of the American dream.

©2001 Barbara Ehrenreich (P)2004 Recorded Books, LLC
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

  • Book Sense Book of the Year Award Finalist, Adult Non-Fiction, 2002
  • Alex Award Winner, 2002

"One of today's most original writers." (The New York Times)
"A close observer and astute analyzer of American life, Ehrenreich turns her attention to what it is like trying to subsist while working in low-paying jobs....Her narrative is candid, often moving, and very revealing." (Library Journal)
"Delivering a fast read that's both sobering and sassy, she [Ehrenreich] gives readers pause about those caught in the economy's undertow, even in good times." (Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about Nickel and Dimed

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Good concept, but poor execution.

The concept of this book is very good. Is it possible to live on a minimum wage salary? This book raises some very interesting social and political issues.

The problem I have with the book is the editorializing, and even more so, the incessant whining of the author. Also, much of the writing has an "elitest" tone to it. If you are going to try your hand making a living as a maid, you should not be surprised about having to clean toilets or carrying a vaccuum. If you are going to work at WallMart, don't be shocked about having to return clothes to the a rack.

Sometimes it seems that the author never held a real job in her life. Employees complaining about managment, drug testing, ineffectual and demoralizing management is as much a "white collar" (and high pay) issue as it is a "blue collar" (minimum wage) issue. Of course, the white collar employees have a home to return to at the end of the day.

Hence, my main complaint about the book is that the author should have spent more time analyzing the housing issues, aide for the poor issues, job market issues, rather than whine about her minimum wage jobs.

In summary, I believe the book is raising some serious issues about "the working poor", it is unfortunate that it is too painful to listen to the authors complaints to get the the heart of the book.

59 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

of COURSE she has an agenda...

The author clearly states in the introduction to the book that she has an agenda, is choosing the locations for that reason, is not actually going to find out what it is really like to be poor, and is privileged. At least she's honest.
That's why the book works. All of the negative reviews are pointing out exactly what the author is trying to get across. And, from what some reviewers wrote, the need for this book still exists.
I find this book to be an interesting look into cultural assumptions and understandings about poverty, privilege, and work that is definitely worth a listen or a read.

35 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Toiling!

This book did try to explore an interesting concept. But the end results was annoying and contrived. The author over-dramatizes the smallest issue, drawing it out into several minutes, making me think "lady, just get over yourself". She obviously had a point she wanted to prove, a cause she wanted to lead, but just tried to hard. In the end, the book had the opposite effect - complete lack of credibility.

30 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

A Candid and Thoughtful Experiment

Barbara Ehrenreich is a master of her surroundings. In this book, she offers candid and daunting insight into the world of low-wage laborers. Her reflections are not limited to the financial woes of the poor but expand into their social culture and daily realities.

The detail in this book is helpful at times while frivolous at others, which is why I think the other reviewers missed the point of Ehrenreich's message. Yes, she does reveal the working class conditions of certain professions in Portland, Key West and Minneapolis to demonstrate that they are consistent (and demeaning) in the many different regions of America. Yes, she does demonstrate that the negative side of capitalism is a reality for poor Americans. But that does not appear to be her underlying message. Instead, I think Ehrenreich's point is that people deserve to be treated with respect and decency regardless of their occupation.

A word about the narration: This is definitely a book in which the voice of the narrator must fit the tone and context of the author's message. Ehrenreich would have done this audio book justice had she served as the narrator. For the most part Christine McMurdo-Wallis was able to grasp the feeling and tone of each moment of Ehrenreich's experiment, but at times I found it distracting and difficult to listen to her because her voice is quite refined and sophisticated. (It is rather difficult to tap into an author's point of view as an impostor in tough working conditions when the narrator's voice resembles that of Lauren Bacall.) This may explain why other reviewers perceived the author as whiny, condescending and elitist.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Socialist author

This is a book by a whining socialist about inequality in the American economy. Instead of offering any viable solutions to poverty the author just suggests that we throw money at it. She was raised with a poor work ethic, but well off economically so she was able to get through college and a good job in journalism. For the purposes of writing this book, she goes into the low wage laborforce after making a self-fulfilling prophecy that says it is not possible to live on $7 per hour. It is no surprise that she would see no way out because she was raised well off and has never had to experience (or overcome) real hard work before. She sees herself as "just like them" meaning the poor and this proves to her that the poor are poor because of society's injustice and not because of personal faults in any way. She has obviously never seen the hard work it takes to overcome poverty. It is possible to work out of poverty with especially good work ethic which is something she does not have.

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Very limited point of view here

This book about America's working poor is interesting but is only a small window into the lives of these people. The author, naturally, has many advantages over her co-workers and this shows through loud and clear during her experiment. She also has a somewhat elitist attitude towards those she works with and constantly reminds us of her Phd and how "over-qualified" she is for many of these jobs.

No doubt, it will surely be an eye opening book for those who've never had the experience of growing up in this sort of situation (or never getting the opportunity to get out of it). For me it was an all too painful a reminder of my teen years and the horrible job at a fast food joint where I worked double shifts, was often called a peon by management and went home smelling and feeling like I'd been dipped in the fry-o-later all for a measly pittance. Finishing school and taking a few college courses changed the course of my life but many don't have this option (or realize it too late). It's difficult to advance past an entry level job when one needs such luxuries as food and shelter and then if you throw children into the mix things are pretty glum. This book mainly made me sad but there were a few moments of light and genuine human kindness.

However, in the end this book turns out to be just one woman's very limited experiences. I completely agree with her that it is very difficult (near impossible) to get out of the entry level job once you're knee deep in debt or have children and are no longer collecting (or never have) welfare. But I do have issues with her Welfare Reform rants and it is painfully obvious that she is looking at this from an outsiders point of view. She rants at length about the evils of Welfare Reform (and I agree with some points ~ some people just can't make it on their own) but she doesn't once state that some positives can and DO come out of it.

Overall, I didn't think this was a very balanced look at the "working poor".

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Important to listen to the message

A very important book for those who have been very successful in life, and need to realize how fortunate they are. I found the book quite interesting, and despite editorializing that others heard as a negative, I sensed the natrual frustration that probably is right on the mark from someone in the world described. I recommend this book highly for someone open-minded, and humble.

16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Nickel and Dimed (Unabridged)

Don't even think about it! The author takes the extremely important issue of whether or not people can live on minimum wage and makes it into an 8 hour rant on how her back aches. She sets down the ground rules in the beginning of the book: She will NOT go homeless, she WILL use her ATM card incase of emergency, she WILL always have a car to drive around in, she WILL take the highest paying low income job available. There are more rules, but they are pretty weak considering that the working poor do not have these rules or options.

I would have preferred she took the opportunity to really understand what is going on inside the heads of people who have to scrape out a living on a minimum wage salary. She could find out what has enabled people to make it and what has condemed those who have continued to live in absolute poverty. Instead, she gives an upper middle class view point on how rough it is to be poor. No one wants to pay for an audio book that only goes on and on about how it sucks to be poor! I can't believe this book has sold so many copies. The author must really be well connected.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Depressing Buyer beware!

It will confirm what you already know. The lower to middle class worker has it very difficult. No kidding? We couldn?t tell. Like ?Bait and Switch, this book will offer you nothing but depression. There is nothing in this book to suggest or offer some hope and comfort for the middle class worker. If you read this book or listen to the audioCD, know what you are getting into.

13 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Great Book! Very Insightful.

Don't believe the radical right negative reviews. Do your own thinking about this book.

11 people found this helpful