Surviving America in the Twenty-first Century

Book - 2017
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"From the beet fields of North Dakota to the National Forest campgrounds of California to Amazon's CamperForce program in Texas, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older Americans. Finding that social security comes up short, often underwater on mortgages, these invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in late-model RVs, travel trailers, and vans, forming a growing community of nomads: migrant laborers who call themselves "workampers." In a secondhand vehicle she christens "Van Halen," Jessica Bruder hits the road to get to know her subjects more intimately. Accompanying her irrepressible protagonist, Linda May, and others, from campground toilet cleaning to warehouse product scanning to desert reunions, then moving on to the dangerous work of beet harvesting, Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of the dark underbelly of the American economy--one that foreshadows the precarious future that may await many more of us. At the same time, she celebrates the exceptional resilience and creativity of these quintessential Americans who have given up ordinary rootedness to survive. Like Linda May, who dreams of finding land on which to build her own sustainable "Earthship" home, they have not given up hope."--Jacket flap.
Published: New York :, W. W. Norton & Company,, [2017]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780393249316
Branch Call Number: 331.398 BRU
Characteristics: xiv, 273 pages :,illustrations ;,25 cm
Alternative Title: Nomad land


From Library Staff

Winner of One Read 2019

List - My Read Harder 2019
DBRL_AlyssaW Dec 14, 2019

Task #5 - A book by a journalist or about journalism. This was our library's One Read book, and I really enjoyed it. It is frequently compared to "Evicted," and the two are quite similar. I read "Evicted" earlier this year, and it really impacted me, so I was excited to try th... Read More »

DBRL_KrisA Jun 20, 2019

Enlightening. Inspirational. Depressing. Moving.

This is the book that my community chose this year for its annual OneRead, a program where the entire city is invited to read the same book, and then join up for conversations, educational programs and other activities related to the book.

Althou... Read More »

DBRL_Katie Jun 08, 2019

This is my first year taking part in the One Read program. Very excited to talk about this book with others in my community, whether it's unpacking our consumption habits through Amazon or making predictions about its adaptation into a feature film.

“Being human means yearning for more than subsistence. As much as food or shelter, we require hope.” The inequality in 21st century America is heartbreaking but the resilience is inspiring.

From the critics

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pacl_teens Jun 24, 2021

"In 2014, journalist Jessica Bruder published "The End of Retirement,” a remarkable cover story which examines the issue of retirement-aged Americans who cannot afford to stop working. Three years later, "Nomadland" was born, a nonfiction expansion of this cover story. Bruder follows the stories of dozens of retirees, all of whom lost their homes and/or their saving in the 2008 economic recession. This group of seniors form vandwelling communities and travel across states, constantly in search of seasonal, often unfittingly low-paying and physically demanding jobs.

Amazon, the e-commerce company giant, is highlighted in the book for employing aggressive tactics in recruiting and exploiting these aging workers. Despite their tragic tales in these or similar situations, the book-featured nomads keep their hopes and spirits up. They call themselves "houseless" instead of "homeless" and frequently discuss "wheel estate" over "real estate."

The topic of retirement may sound too remote to interest younger readers like me, but related economic issues such as stagnant wages, rising costs of living and growing inequality are also mentioned in the book, and are already hitting generations younger and harder. As a result, the stories in this book were both heartbreaking and alarming for me to read. I walked away from this book feeling truly informed, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to uncover more about modern American issues that may grow to more prominent concern in the future." -Chole, Grade 10

Jun 02, 2021

Nomadland the movie is a wonderful adaptation of this book. The film excels in showing the spectacular sights and places frequented by the modern silver-haired nomads as they drive from job to job in van/trailer/bus/RV conversions. After meeting a good number of the American trailer-gypsies and traveling 15,000 miles over the course of three years, the book's author has taken a deep dive into the ways of living of the houseless drifters' past/present, joys/challengers and uncertain future. An easy read and full of social insights on the daily lives of those essential workers that keep some of our most profitable businesses humming.

May 13, 2021

Just finished the book. Really scary. I am 78 years old. My small house is paid for. BUT property taxes and insurance climb every year. I live very frugally but I could see this happen to me?
Maybe. The majority of older people I know live on the edge of being houseless.
This book was a wake-up call.

May 03, 2021

I really enjoyed NOMADLAND. it is a disturbing testimony to the breakdown of a society that has little respect for its elders. It is the story of the working poor who can no longer afford the steep rent prices on their inadequate salaries.

Anybody can find themselves homeless. A portion of the population has opted for houseless instead. They live in their cars and vans, trailers and RV's relocating for temp jobs such as campground hosts and seasonal work at Amazon ramping up for Christmas shopping. It seems like a depressing way of life but most of the people who live it do not have a choice.

Kudo's to the author who spent three years immersing herself in the culture. She treated her story and the people she met on the road with empathy and kindness. This is a deep dive into a part of American culture that remains largely hidden from view. The author is right about one thing for sure: when you know about it, you
suddenly can see that these people are EVERYWHERE!

Apr 28, 2021

Great book! A non-fiction account from interviews over a 3 year period of how retirement is becoming a time for some Americans to be forced into a new low-wage career just to survive. This is a symptom of a broken economy. Congress, fund Social Security better so it can do as intended: provide a secure retirement for all Americans so they don't have to work until they die.

I saw the movie first, which just won Best Picture, then I read this book. The movie is as good as the book in many ways, but the movie's main character played by Best Actress winner Frances McDormand is a fictional combination of characters from the book. In some ways it makes the movie more personal, as you see Nomadland through the eyes of this lonesome retiree.

Apr 12, 2021

Well written. Shine the light on people who are "houseless" and down on their luck.
They didn't choose this life.

Apr 10, 2021

An economic downturn affects some people more than others. The recession and housing crash of the early 21st century caused many Americans to make difficult choices. Many owed more on their house than it was worth. They were forced to surrender their home to the bank and walk away. Others lost their job and could no longer afford to pay their rent. Stock market losses reduced or eliminated pensions. Older Americans were particularly hard hit. A significant minority of these people decided to abandon the idea of living in a traditional house and opt for a life on the road - living in a van or a mobile home.

Jessica Bruder's "Nomadland" is the story of those people.

These American nomads are not homeless - they are houseless; they have chosen a life on the road.

There are some advantages to this lifestyle, which is not dissimilar to being on a permanent camping trip. Many people have formed a support community, sometimes referring to themselves as a "Tribe" and folks in that community support one another. Facebook groups and in-person events exist to help them learn and connect with one another. This lifestyle allows individuals for more freedom to explore the country.

But there are many disadvantages. Most of these migrants work low-paying jobs without health insurance or retirement benefits. The workers put in long hours and find it difficult to accumulate savings. The work is often physically demanding - especially for older people. Additionally, society makes life difficult for transients. For example, local ordinances often restrict where one can park a camper and often forbid sleeping in a vehicle; most camp sites limit lengths of stay; and a permanent address is a requirement for a driver's license and for many other basic tasks. Many of these "workampers" work temporary seasonal jobs such as maintaining a campground, picking beets, or scanning package at an Amazon warehouses. As a result, they must travel frequently, moving to where they can find work.

Given these challenges, it is surprising how much optimism, hope, and positivity projected by those interviewed by Ms. Bruder. Time and again, the people to whom she introduces the reader show an impressive resiliency that helps them to survive.

Bruder focuses most of her attention on Linda - a divorced 60-something woman traveling the country in a mobile home. Linda has a dream of buying land and building an "Earthship" - a solar-powered home made of recycled materials. As Linda ages, her options to sustain herself lessen; but she perseveres, keeping her positive attitude intact.

Bruder even travels in a van of her own to get a firsthand taste of life on the road.

This is not the story of wealthy retirees touring the country for pleasure; it is the story of older Americans, who feel they have fewer choices to survive and have opted for this lifestyle. As Bruder puts it:

Bruder quotes Bob Wells, who writes about the houseless culture on his site

"At one time there was a social contract that if you played by the rules (went to school, got a job, and worked hard) everything would be fine. That’s no longer true today. You can do everything right, just the way society wants you to do it, and still end up broke, alone, and homeless."

"Nomadland" is the story of those who ended up that way and found a way to survive.

Apr 10, 2021

A very good introduction to the life of "vandwellers." When returning it to the library I did other errands and saw a circa 1990s van in the far reaches of the grocery store parking lot. With curtains on all the windows, the passenger seat missing, and a general state of "not my daily driver," I instantly recognized what may have been a home on wheels in stealth mode. Not all vans and RVs are driven by vacationers, some people live that way. I was expecting a novel because I only picked up on the title when the movie came out, and reserved it without paying attention. I'm looking forward to how they treat the narrative on the big screen. The book is occasionally boring; it doesn't go in to enough depth or provide complete descriptions. It does provide a close-up look at the way the population living on the road supports itself and lives without the usual electric/water/sewer hook-ups. Kudos to the author who immersed herself in the way of life, survived, and wrote about it; it's a very good documentary.

Apr 06, 2021

Well written, thought provoking, and timely. A whole new worldview and vocabulary. There is the physical side to this book, the actual RV, Vans and Cars that people, mostly white seniors, live & travel in and there is the 'quest' that is the spiritual side of this book. From Amazon's Camperforce, to Rubber Tramp Rendevous and the sugar beet fields; the Vandwellers travel the USA looking for work, companionship, and a version of the North American Dream. Are they homeless or Free? Maybe they are just like Bobby McGee, and freedom is just another word for nothing left to loose?

Mar 26, 2021

This book opens up our life to the world of Van/RV dwellers. Bruder gets her own Van and befriends many people but the one we get to know best is Linda May a kind, intelligent, forward thinking lady. Bruder is accepted w/ seeming ease into this new life style. At first it seems inviting but bit by bit you learn of the many hardships and worries this lifestyle can bring. Most people did not choose to live this way but were forced to due to economic circumstances. This is a group of fun loving, resourceful, caring, very hard working people. Many are older yet have to rely on temporary jobs to make ends meet. You'll learn the life of Amazon and National Park service temporary jobs. These people become low paid workers in the most difficult of jobs w/o benefits. People definitely being taken advantage of and the layers people below them around the world are saddening. Our country and the whole world have such income disparity that is growing. Seems shameful. A must read!

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