What the critics said

Monday, February 7th, 2011 

Reviews of the original book included the following:

“Once or twice in a generation, the American people are jolted by a book that helps bring about major change. America: What Went Wrong ... is a monumental achievement ... a book that is likely to make a difference. Every American voter ought to give it a careful reading.”

—Chicago Sun-Times

“This important and profoundly disturbing book should be required reading for voters in the upcoming elections.”

—Los Angeles Times

“Everyone should read this book because everyone is living it.”

—Daily Hampshire Gazette, North Hampton, Mass.

“Barlett and Steele tell exactly why economic life has changed from the prosperous 1950s to now, and they propose what can be done to help reinvigorate America and restore the nation’s spirit.”

—Chicago Tribune

“In remarkably concise and punchy writing, the authors lay out the results of two years’ meticulous research. They tell not only what went wrong, but why, and how it affects millions of ordinary Americans ... It’s a sobering, informative and genuinely frightening book. Just in time for a political year in which a lot of people have good reason to be frightened, but don’t understand what’s happening to them.”

—Birmingham (Ala.) Post-Herald

“Barlett and Steele have incisively and vividly defined the problem facing the nation, and proved again that there is an audience for a message that cannot be captured by a sound bite, a photo opportunity or even a bumper sticker.”

—The New York Times

“There is a revolution sweeping across America. Anger is building as knowledge spreads that the nation’s leaders, government, business and financial, have arranged for the destruction of our economy because it has been wildly profitable for them to do so ... the theft, conspiracy and deception is detailed in a new book ‘America: What Went Wrong?’ ... The book needs to be read by everyone.

”—Billings (Mont.) Gazette

“The book chronicles a litany of economic disasters: Closed factories, layoffs, crippled pension funds, increased wealth of the wealthy and ever ballooning paychecks of executives. All the while, government not only turned away from what was happening but championed the excesses.”

—Orange County Register, Santa Ana, Calif.

“Donald Barlett and James Steele demonstrate once again that it is in journalism and not academia or think tanks that we find people who will tell us what is actually happening to us. And what has been happening is not a pretty story.”

—Rhode Island Senior Times

“No matter which side of the political spectrum you are on, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this book.”

—Paradise (Calif.) Post

“It is easy to see why ‘America: What Went Wrong?’ is quite simply some of the best American news reporting in years. Barlett and Steele have dissected all the major elements of America’s economic and political decline over the past two decades ... The authors have done a great service to the public by accumulating all this vital information in such a clear and simple manner.”

—The Boston Phoenix

“Whether you agree with its conclusions or not, much of the coming debate about national policy will be framed by the arguments this book advances. We suggest you read it.”

—Durango (Colo.) Herald

“What we have is a 200-plus page book that should be a must-read title in this year of campaign rhetoric and voter confusion ... This is no exit poll, no random sampling according to ZIP code. The two reporters struck so many chords that instead of a one-note theme, we have a stunning symphony of discontent.”

—Wisconsin State Journal (Madison)

"America: What Went Wrong?  is a convincing, compelling work that ought to contribute to the debate of the current presidential campaign ... ”

—The Kansas City Star

“There is some reading which should be required of all Americans. America: What Went Wrong? … methodically and exhaustively documents the rise of an economic and political system that has gone far to destroy everything productive in the American economy to benefit special interests and make a few money men richer.”

—Southampton (N.Y.) Press

“For those who want to understand why this country is in the economic mess it’s in, [a new] book will provide some straight answers. America: What Went Wrong? ... is a must read for anyone concerned about the sorry state of our country.”

—Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record

“What sets this book apart is the sheer volume of documentation the authors amassed to make their case stick.”

—Atlanta Journal/Constitution

“There’s a book that you and every other American should read: America: What Went Wrong? It is the culmination of months of personal interviews and studies on the present economics of America and how it impacts upon regular people ... ”

—Cuba (Mo.) Free Press

“Whatever you think of the book’s analysis and conclusions, it would be a big mistake to ignore the significance of this overwhelming public response. The lesson is that people, lots of people, are hungry for serious economic analysis and desperate for economic education. It’s about time they began to get it.”

—The Editor, Inc., magazine, Boston

“You’ll find the book to be an eloquent and carefully researched picture of what many people have come to see as the dismantling of the American middle class. The authors interviewed people from all walks of life and sifted through thousands of documents to show how the lives of all of us have been touched by public acts — or inaction— and private greed.”

—Amarillo (Texas) News-Globe

America: What Went Wrong? is the most powerful description of the nation’s domestic problems I have read since Michael Harrington published The Other America in 1962.”

—Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail

“It’s the morning after in America. It’s wake-up time ... Barlett and Steele’s work lays the foundation for a decade of American self-rediscovery.”

—The Miami Herald‘

"America: What Went Wrong? probably is the most complete and revealing piece of reporting since turn-of-the-century muckrakers shocked the nation with descriptions of inhuman working conditions and big city machines. These two reporters from Philadelphia can stand with Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair, crusaders of that earlier era.”

—Maine Sunday Telegram

"America: What Went Wrong?’ ... is Old News at its very best — meticulously researched, masterfully reported, and brimming with statistics and facts. But I would add that the newspaper series, and [Bill] Moyers’ excellent two-part PBS program about it, also represent the best of the New News. It’s not just dry data from official sources, presented without passion or point of view. It’s a mural of American life that allows everyday people to tell stories about their jobs, their neighborhoods, and their families.”

—Utne Reader

“The authors are craftsmen of perspective ... the portrait they paint of our economy [is] the picture of Dorian Gray, kept youthful looking by Tax-Code driven frenzies that mask a withering productive soul.

“ ... their central theme becomes unassailable. As folks at the top acquire income tax breaks that the middle class hasn’t the means to enjoy, the middle class shoulder more than their share of the national debt and thereby transfer their wealth to the top. So much for the trickle-down theory.”

—Legal Times

America: What Went Wrong is a good read for those who are suffering a vague uneasiness about the economy, but cannot decipher the jargon of PhD experts.”

—La Porte (Ind.) Herald-Argus

“This book is a must-read for those who know personally that the middle class was being systematically pillaged from above. It is also required reading for those whose personal fortunes improved and who believe the recession, suburban angst and hard times at the bottom of the social ladder are only a figment of the media’s imagination.”

—Bar Harbor (Maine) Times

“The authors make a strong argument that the rules of the economic game have changed in America—and that those few who know the rules seem always to win.”

—The Sunday Review, Hayward, Calif.

“One of the great strengths of this book is that it is not afraid to name names: not only the high and the mighty but their lowly victims as well. It is time, the authors write cogently, to rewrite the rule book.”

—Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record

“We hardly notice the dreams are gone until books like America: What Went Wrong? come along. It mercilessly indicts the economic system we dreamed was an infinitely widening highway carrying us to ever-increasing prosperity.”

—Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram

“In one of the most important pieces of investigative reporting of the past quarter century, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele of the Philadelphia Inquirer have laid it all out in precise, surgical detail — without anesthesia ... “Recitations of statistics can be mind-numbing, but the ones Barlett and Steele have compiled are as riveting as a train wreck.”

—Daily Times Chronicle, Reading, Mass.

“The analysis is easy to follow and the book is must reading for all those who want intelligence and integrity in lawmaking.”

—The Arizona Republic

“This book should be required reading for Congress, all other government officials in Washington, anyone who aspires to public office, either elective or appointive, as well as anyone who likes to consider himself an informed voter.”

—Heritage Villager, Southbury, Conn.


What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele are revisiting America: What Went Wrong, their landmark 1991 newspaper series, in a new project with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Over the next year, the project team will examine how four decades of public policy has shaped America's ongoing economic crisis.


Back Story

The authors talk about What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele talk about the project, and why they decided to revisit a book they wrote two decades ago, in a series of video clips produced by the Workshop.

Nation's Story

Who pays the taxes?

Who pays the taxes?

We feature charts, maps, photos and other visualizations that reflect the state of the economy as part of our What Went Wrong project. This column chart shows the growing disparity between what individuals and corporations pay in taxes. In the 1950s, the difference was 22 percent. Recent figures show the difference is 62 percent.

Rags to rags: Economic mobility hard to come by

New Pew Center on States report confirms that moving up the American economic ladder is difficult, even though most people have more income than their parents.

Homelessness takes it toll on Florida's youngest

Florida, as a center of the housing boom, still struggles to recover from the Great Recession. Financial stresses and widespread foreclosures have placed families in precarious situations, resulting in a spike in child homelessness. Susannah Nesmith reports in the Broward Bulldog.

Older workers face challenges in Silicon Valley

An advanced degree and experience in the tech sector should be a ticket to a job in today's economy. But older workers in the heart of the new economy, Silicon Valley, are finding their resume is not the issue. Aaron Glantz reports in The Bay Citizen.

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Read an Excerpt

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

Check out the first chapter of Barlett and Steele's 2012 book here.