Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Help wanted: Must-reads on income inequality and the rich-poor gap

By John D. Sutter, CNN
August 19, 2013 -- Updated 1556 GMT (2356 HKT)
New York's Park Avenue was the subject of a recent documentary about income inequality.
New York's Park Avenue was the subject of a recent documentary about income inequality.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Sutter is covering income inequality for the Change the List project
  • Help him compile a list of 99 "must-reads" on income inequality
  • Submit your top picks on Facebook, Google+ or in the comments below
  • Readers voted for Sutter to cover this topic as part of Change the List

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- Journalism sometimes has a bit of a short-term memory problem. If something didn't happen, or wasn't written, this day, this hour, this minute, then it's easy for us Internet writers to pretend it didn't happen. Or to forget about it and move on to the next post.

The problem with this myopia, of course, is that history is a wise teacher, and all good reporting should build on a thoughtful understanding of the past and the present.

That's why I'm asking for your help in creating a list of "must-reads" on the subject of income inequality. That topic, which you voted for me to cover as part of the Change the List project, has been examined thoughtfully by countless writers, philosophers, historians, politicians, journalists, Web designers and documentarians. As I embark on a series about inequality in the United States, it makes sense to survey the smart, exciting works already out there. Why not make the creation of this must-read list a collective, public experiment? Hopefully, we all can benefit from the process, and the list will be public so others can learn from it, too.

Submit your top picks via these Facebook or Google+ posts -- and make the case for why your favorite book, doc or website should be included. You can also leave a comment at the bottom of the page here if you prefer.

My plan is to compile a list of 99 (or so) must-reads from your submissions.* I'm using the term "must-read" loosely. I think the list should include books and articles as well as thoughtful websites, charts, videos or documentaries.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

To get things started, here are 10 of my picks, in no particular order:

1. "Inequality.Is" - This website from the Economic Policy Institute is the best online primer I've found. It explains why inequality is a problem, how it was created and what might fix it.

2. "A Theory of Justice" - The 1971 book by the late John Rawls is often cited as the philosophical basis for opposing income inequality. It's a dense book, but thought-provoking.

3. "Park Avenue" - A documentary by Oscar winner Alex Gibney. It uses the famous New York avenue as a metaphor for American inequality; Park Avenue is home to both extreme wealth, in Manhattan, and extreme poverty, in the Bronx.

4. "The Great Divergence" - Journalist Timothy Noah argues, as his book's description says, that growing inequality "may be the most important change in this country during our lifetimes -- a drastic, elemental change in the character of American society, and not at all for the better."

5. "Wealth Inequality in America" - Chances are you're one of the 6.8 million people who has viewed this YouTube video. It's based on the work of Harvard's Mike Norton.

6. "Inequality and New York's Subway" - A New Yorker interactive, which maps median income levels by subway stops in New York. The power is in its minimalism. Take a look at the 2 train map. It passes through neighborhoods with median incomes of $205,192 and $13,750.

7. "Nickel and Dimed" - A first-person journey by writer Barbara Ehrenreich, who agreed to try to make a living doing jobs that required no higher education or specialized skills.

8. "Born Rich" - Jamie Johnson, from the wealthy Johnson & Johnson family, directed this documentary about his own life and the lives of his super-rich friends and acquaintances. It reveals a fascinating and complicated picture of wealth in modern America.

9. [Untitled letter] - In March 2013, 90 "economists, academics and development experts" sent a letter to a panel tasked by the United Nations with creating a post-2015 development agenda. The experts argue income inequality should be a global priority, in part, because "inequalities threaten our ability to pursue fair and sustainable development as much as they threaten eradication of extreme poverty."

10. "The Spirit Level" - Written by two epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, this book makes a strong, statistics-based argument that ugly social problems -- from obesity to incarceration rates -- are associated with unequal societies. Better health and well-being would follow, they argue, if our societies were made to be more equal.

This quickly thrown-together list has plenty of limitations. It focuses almost entirely on the United States, particularly New York. All these works were published in 1971 or later, which is a huge weakness of my list. Most of them presuppose inequality is a problem, or set out to prove that it is. So, conservatives, skeptics, historians, literary types and international readers: Help me get some diversity going here!

I look forward to your submissions, and thanks in advance for the help with this project.

*Readers of The Atlantic may notice that this concept of a crowdsourced must-read list is based on Alexis Madrigal's "Tech Canon," which he compiled in a similar manner in 2010.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1952 GMT (0352 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT