Review of Tightrope, by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn
Nick Kristoff, who as a columnist for the New York Times, reminds us often of what we should be doing, has, together with his wife Sheryl WuDunn, a former business editor and foreign correspondent for the Times who now works in finance and consulting, written a book entitled Tightrope that inspires us to go do it. These two authors even offer a number of ways how, both by providing examples of those actively involved in projects large and small throughout the book and listing practical possibilities for individual action in the appendix.
Kristoff is from Yamhill County, Oregon. He grew up with the people he writes about with understanding and compassion and he still keeps in touch. These were once the kids who rode the bus to school with him and, like their mothers and fathers, they lacked the tools to forge a new path of their own. The doors that stood open to many had been closed in their faces. The book’s photos tell their stories. Bright eyed, smiling children and young adults, eager for the joys of life but whose parents, having lost the good factory jobs with union pay that had lifted their grandparents into a precarious middle class, had met with nothing but frustration for their hopes. Disappointment drowned in alcohol destroyed families. The children, victims of these dashed hopes, tragically lacked the tools and lost the possibility of forging new paths. Through Kristoff’s and WuDunn’s sympathetic view, these childhood friends come to life as good and kind people, helpful and loyal, who lost their future. The reader witnesses their tragedy, understands that this is wrong and that it is up to all of us both collectively and individually to help.
Kristoff and WuDunn then move the reader from Yamhill County to generalize what they have shown so effectively: the erosion of the old labor market and the supportive communities it created, at the same time as “proliferating” drug use, disintegrating families” and a pullback of federal social services.
By juxtaposing these lives against his own, parents who had succeeded in making a living (a cherry orchard on land they owned, a home filled with books that provided a sense of the world’s possibilities) Kristoff and WuDunn make clear that many of the children who rode that bus to school with him never really had a chance. They remind us that the next generation is here and that it is up to us to provide that opportunity.
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