Worlds Apart

Poverty and Politics in Rural America

When it was first published in 1999, Worlds Apart gave readers a glimpse of the nature of poverty through the stories of real people in three remote rural areas of the United States: New England, Appalachia, and the Mississippi Delta. In this new edition, Duncan returns to her original research, interviewing some of the same people as well as some new key informants. Duncan provides powerful new insights into the dynamics of poverty, politics, and community change.

328 pages. ©2015.
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Reader Reviews for this Book

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Review posted September 22, 2022


This was a very excellent book. Thank you for sharing.


Review posted September 19, 2022


Very interesting read about different types of poverty in America and the cause.


Review posted June 27, 2022


Very interesting and devastating look at the connection between money and power. While the communities explored in this book have certainly changed since this books printing it continues to reflect our current times in remarkable ways. I would recommend this book for any interested in modern power structures in our communities.


Review posted April 7, 2022


Heartbreaking look at equity gaps in rural areas and adopting of alternative perspectives.

Cinamon Zink

Review posted March 27, 2022


This book is a great read and I highly recommend it for people working with a variety of people from different backgrounds.


Review posted January 7, 2022


This book answered a lot of the questions I had about why poor families continue to work against themselves. It should be read by anyone who works with at risk families

Laura Tolmich

Review posted November 10, 2021


Very informative. Good read.


Review posted October 28, 2021


This book is well written and describes the economic/resource gaps that seem to be widening and becoming more prevalent in America. Being raised in and currently residing in a rural community providing social services to youth and families... this book was both timely and incredibly relevant.


Review posted October 15, 2021


Great book!


Review posted July 29, 2021


To read and learn about how politics play in rural communities, truly is an eye opener. Never realized how families can take over a whole community and manage everything from aid, to jobs, and education. Very impactful and highly recommend to be understand small town politics.


Review posted July 26, 2021


good book


Review posted May 25, 2021


This book deals with the gap between the haves and the have nots, and what roles our communities can play in creating equal opportunities for all Americans.


Review posted April 12, 2021


This book provided the opportunity for the reader to think more deeply about issues related to poverty and politics in rural American. By inviting the readers in to the personal lives and stories of the real people, both impoverished and affluent, living in specific areas of rural America it offers the reader a glimpse at the deeper rooted issues affecting those individuals and providing the reader the opportunity to examine poverty, mobility, and opportunity beyond political party lines. It is a good read that holds the readers interest and provides a real “face” to issues affecting rural areas.


Review posted April 7, 2021


A raw, yet informative and thoughtful, look into poverty in the US. It takes many readers not suffering from poverty or food insecurity into a first hand look at issues issues may not realize are in their own towns and cities.


Review posted February 8, 2021


A well-done book which illuminates the history of the existing chasms between rural and urban experiences of health and dis-ease.


Review posted November 4, 2020


Loved this book, very gritty and real discussion of multi-generational poverty as a way of life in rural areas.


Review posted October 21, 2020


I read this book through to the end, and went back and re-read some sections. It’s frustrating sometimes to think about our progress. We’ve made some, but it so slow going. This is a good read to remind ourselves of the work we have left to do.

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Review posted October 3, 2020


A great informative read.


Review posted October 2, 2020


excellent insight into the diversity of our students in public schools


Review posted September 4, 2020


This is a good book discussing how politics and poverty play a role in all communities. It has a special focus on rural America. Community change is an important part of the discussion.


Review posted August 4, 2020


I enjoyed the book Worlds Apart. This book was informative and gave me a look into a couple rural towns. The book contained interviews of the residents. Some of the main topics that I found in this book was education, economy, and family. I would recommend this book to others.


Review posted July 16, 2020


Great description of the poverty rural America experiences.


Review posted July 1, 2020


Through real people's stories, the author shows why it is so difficult for families to rise out of poverty, and how class and race structures, that we often think we've moved past, still affect who is allowed to work and succeed.


Review posted June 21, 2020


This book highlights the importance roles education and opportunity provide in rural areas by telling colorful and very human personal stories of poverty.


Review posted May 5, 2020


I read the first version in graduate school in a class on Poverty in Rural Communities. It was really interesting to read the second edition, years later and see what if any progress had been made in these communities. Unfortunately, it seems very little change has been achieved and this continues to illustrate how long it can take to alter and improve policies and systems. Changing the health outcomes or economic development trajectory of a community or region take decades of effort and a long standing commitment to equity.


Review posted April 21, 2020


Great exploration of the unique issues and disparities facing rural communities.

Cindy Perry

Review posted March 31, 2020


This book was one of the best I have ever read about poverty in the United States. The contrast between three rural areas, two of which had corrupt (my words) political leadership was fascinating! The book demonstrates how we keep people in poverty as a community rather than helping to lift people out of poverty. I loved the stories of the people that were brought to life in this book!


Review posted March 2, 2020


Interesting read. Well researched and informative


Review posted February 3, 2020


Really enjoyed this book! Easy to read and lots of great information. Will pass it on to many others!


Review posted January 20, 2020


...and now, just past the 5 year mark of this publication, we have another rising population; homelessness. This population, however, is different as no family or community "holds them" anywhere, unlike the people referenced on page 257. The homeless are modern day nomads in some of the most affluent locations in the country. Many of these homeless people are mentally disturbed or drug addicted individuals whose situation will not be remedied any time soon. So, who should decide which population is priority; families, communities, the government, or is this simply the new norm in these United States.


Review posted January 5, 2020


I very much enjoyed this book. The stories and research are presented in a way that provokes deep thought.


Review posted November 27, 2019


This research is fairly dated, but still a very interesting look into these rural communities.


Review posted September 17, 2019


this was a very well written book about a relevant topic to me. I enjoyed it very much.


Review posted September 12, 2019


This was an interesting read that contrasted 3 different communities. I had not appreciated how those in power on plantations and Appalachia truly controlled their workers and community at large. They had distinct lower and upper class with almost no middle class. The upper class were motivated by greed and an attitude towards the lower class of “they deserve it”. The New England community by contrast had a robust middle class. The wealthy interacted with the middle and lower class. There was a collective desire to see all in the community succeed. It seems that an outside disruptive force is necessary to turn the unhealthy communities around. The author advocates for an economic floor for poor families as well as access to a good education. She also cites the importance of early childhood parenting education. This book helped me better understand the structural, societal and economic contributions to generational poverty.


Review posted August 30, 2019


This book is very captivating and interesting.


Review posted August 6, 2019


Very interesting. Illuminative about cultures I haven't been part of, helps me to understand some of what's going on in our country today.


Review posted July 26, 2019


In "Worlds Apart", Cynthia M. Duncan presents thorough accounts of three communities in the eastern part of the US: Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and northern New England. She presents the poverty, the racism, and the classism in each of the three locals with unflinching candor. The first two-thirds of the book focuses on the stark contrast between the upper and lower classes in Blackwell, a predominantly coal community in Appalachia, and Dahlia an agricultural (cotton) community in the Mississippi Delta. The contrast between the land/business owners and the lower/poverty class of residents is depressing: you palpably feel the hopelessness of residents who have little or no choice but to go along with the status quo deferring to the "boss man" and living in uneducated squalor, or speaking up, losing what little they have, and getting blackballed, making their situation worse. In the last third, she tells about Gray Mountain, ME. Here, there is a thriving middle class with both the lower and upper class occupying smaller pieces of society. In this new edition, she has revisited the communities 20 years later to update us on the current situations. Duncan is struggling with equity and social justice. She offers conclusions about both the way that these societies work, and possible solutions for raising people out of poverty and oppression based on research from as far away as Italy. Once you get past the depressive nature of the class system in the first parts of the book, anyone who is working for equity in America should read this book.


Review posted July 22, 2019


Great book and resource that we should all read. It clearly identifies what is happening in the USA and how we must work to stop this gap.


Review posted July 4, 2019


I found this book quite interesting, as I live in a rural area and see the effects of poverty, and how politics plays into poverty, every day. This is an important read for those who believe people choose poverty and in some way deserve it.

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Review posted July 1, 2019


An incredible study of micro-community politics in the Midwest. As a lifelong resident of the Northwest, I found this book informative and helpful in the context of the current US political landscape.


Review posted June 23, 2019


This book was a difficult read for me. awhile the information was compelling at times it was very dense and i found it hard to feel anything for the people followed


Review posted May 29, 2019


In an idealistic childhood long ago, I dreamed of being a social anthropologist. This is the type of book I wanted to offer the world; to bring these stories to readers. These stories are so valuable.


Review posted May 21, 2019


Well written book. I love that the book draws on real places in rural America and contains interviews fro real people. I enjoyed the focus on civic engagement and would love to see steps of replication or more advice on how to take strides to increase civic engagement towards change in other areas of poverty.


Review posted May 17, 2019


It seems a bit on the personal opinion side and the final characters selected carefully; however, it does open ones eyes for areas of the world that seems stuck in racial division, (i.e., Mississippi) and an area where casts seem to continue. You would think in the world today, this would change, especially in America but it seems to continue if not become worse. It's well written and engaging. I'd like to see her do studies on other areas about poverty within areas that are touted as thriving and the "best place to live". There are hidden families within these places and these "friendly" towns rarely let it be known. In all, I do recommend her book.


Review posted May 16, 2019


This book explains in details the innerworkings of a poverty ridden area. Very eye opening to see the way all the cogs move to make such unhealthy codependency between the different "groups". The book was not as captivating as I had hoped.


Review posted May 15, 2019


Essential Reading. Essential. The author is an honest and thoughtful storyteller, who is able to step into the shoes of nearly anyone, and consider not only their past & motivations, but their hopes & solutions. Excellent read.


Review posted May 3, 2019


This book was very interesting and provided insight I hadn't really thought of before


Review posted April 29, 2019


A wonderful picture of what poverty looks like in rural communities. I really liked the embedded quotes from those within the communities. This really made it feel like you were reading about others. Highly recommend.


Review posted April 12, 2019


Amazing account of the forgotten people of America. We are used to read about accounts in the inner cities, but this goes to the rural areas and, by expansion, it explains a lot about our current political reality. Highly recommended.


Review posted March 10, 2019


I don't even know where to begin with this book. It is so enlightening and is a punch in the face for how lucky I have been in my life. Things could always get worse. I recommend this book to anybody and everybody. This book should be read in schools when you begin to mature. I will have my daughter read this when she is older, that is for sure.


Review posted February 21, 2019


This book is timely as I continue to watch the politics of today, it is a great look into rural America, even as someone who grew up in rural Oregon, to see the disparities of the "haves" and "have-nots". Most definitely worth the read to gain a better understanding of our country as it stands today and hopefully as it changes to better support those left behind.


Review posted February 15, 2019


This book was very helpful as I work with people in similar economic situations.


Review posted February 11, 2019


This was a very insightful book


Review posted January 11, 2019


love this book. Such insight and understanding


Review posted January 4, 2019


Excellent read, when I ordered this book it was more for curiosity. Now I live in a more rural area and have found it more ensightful to the challenges ( politics) of rural America. Resources are not readily accessible.


Review posted December 19, 2018


This book was very interesting but quite dense. The comparison between poverty and culture in the three areas (Appalachia, deep south and New England mill town) kept me interested as I moved through the book. I also appreciated the two timelines: 1990's and a check-back 20 years later with updates.


Review posted November 18, 2018


All of the areas I've lived in throughout the western US, seemed to have a more fair system of gaining educational and work opportunities than those the author visited in the southern rural areas. But, I can see some of the same things happening in work environments where you have to know someone to get hired. They call it networking. I enjoyed reading this book and learning about different cultures.


Review posted November 16, 2018


This was a very good book! I can not believe how young students impoverished live just 2 miles away from the "rich" kids and are so unethical.


Review posted October 31, 2018


This book provides an in depth look at poverty in rural communities, creating a conversation about generational cycles


Review posted October 18, 2018


This was a great eye opener to the socioeconomic status differences that youth can experience within a same geographical area. Gave me great new insight into the schools I'm working in


Review posted October 5, 2018


This book takes the devestating and allows room for transformation thriugh democracy.


Review posted October 4, 2018


This is a very good book that is written with very interesting interviews throughout. Although it is not a new concept to me, this book reinforced the idea that politics have a great influence on culture, poverty, and ultimately, health outcomes. Although the ideas presented in the book are timeless, the recent update made it even more relevant.


Review posted September 26, 2018


Rural poverty has a distinct desperation that isn't often reflected in media, so the imagery in the book was riveting. Interviews and first person accounts strengthened the empathetic response and deepens the desire to seek change in areas deeply entrenched in divisive politics.


Review posted September 7, 2018


Insightful - Makes you so much more aware of the need in your own back yard!


Review posted August 30, 2018


Sorry. I thought I had reviewed this book. It was very informative. The students have used it for a project. Thank you.

Dione Jordan

Review posted August 22, 2018




Review posted August 9, 2018


this book has a powerful outlook/impact on poverty in America, and in rural areas.


Review posted August 2, 2018


What a book!!!!! I absolutely enjoyed this book, this book was so beneficial to my work and such a great eye opener. I highly recommend this book .


Review posted July 30, 2018


This was a great read to enhance/challenge my perceptions.


Review posted July 24, 2018


Very helpful in gaining insight into youth living in poverty and their behaviors.


Review posted July 9, 2018


I found the book to be in depth and intellectually written. She touched on points, such as the fact that in rural communities it is a small amount of individuals that financially dictate the town and the economy for others. She notes that there are connections to drug activity in rural areas where money is a challenge but that much of the perception of poverty is wrapped or wound tightly in ideology, neither side finding common ground for the economic or population problems facing rural communities. She compares timing as well, what a rural community looked like and then years later what was flourishing and what was not.


Review posted July 6, 2018


Liked it


Review posted July 3, 2018


Great perspective and has insight that many of us don't consider!


Review posted April 16, 2018


An argument for more equitable distribution of wealth and resources across class lines and greater federal aid as a primary intervention strategy in combination w greater civic engagement. Use of case study communities is persuasive, more so when the reader has first hand experience of growing up in a small rural community or working w those in poverty.


Review posted March 28, 2018


Cynthia Duncan did great research on reasons for rural poverty. I appreciated the follow up twenty years later. An interesting read


Review posted March 10, 2018


This book is an excellent introduction to the issues affecting rural America and causes and outcomes of persistent poverty. It is a book easy to read, and while a bit dated the author did update the original edition of the book (from nearly 20 years ago), discussing the changes in each community.. The book is effectively narrative in nature, looking at three communities: 1) an Appalachian area with an elite set of families not interested in reform or sharing: 2) a racially divided region in the Mississippi Delta; 3) a mill town in Maine that had a long tradition of seeking equitable solutions. Each community has its own characteristic (s): the first two were dysfunctional at the time of her initial investigation. 
In the updating of the communities the author found the Appalachian area remained politically stalled and in economic decline and an aging population with fewer and fewer opportunities: However, the Mississippi region had been transformed by the rise of a gambling industry. With the loss of some of its customary businesses, the Maine town was facing a fundamental challenge to its way of doing things. 
Duncan, the author, summarizes opposing (or different views between conservative and liberals.) views Conservatives believe it is up to individuals to “pull themselves up from their boot straps”, where liberals orient to thinking what is needed is assistance and the removal of obstacles, political, economic, or sociological. Duncan argues a third way: to make investments in education and supporting institutions, with a view to improving options available to the poor. The book, a good insightful read is nonetheless only a start for anyone substantively interested in poverty.

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Review posted January 26, 2018


My copy of Worlds Apart has tabs, underlines, comments and bookmarks all through it for future reference. I think Cynthia Duncan did excellent research on the varied impacts and reasons for rural poverty. It was especially enlightening to read her followup research in each community 20 years later. My only critique is I wish she had offered more analysis about why the Maine lumber town had such different experiences than the other two "company" towns so those lessons learned might be applied in other communities - some here in Oregon - who have been experiencing poverty, especially with the decline of timber and other natural resource industries.


Review posted January 16, 2018


Informative and a good read.


Review posted January 9, 2018


I think this is one of those books that EVERYONE should read. It sheds light on the dark and hidden corners of our country that the higher ups don't want us to see. And even for those who are aware of the poverty that exists, this book is very valuable. This book lays out quite clearly that the idea that the people in extreme poverty don't want to get out of it is false. Instead, it shows over and over that it isn't a lack of ambition, but a lack of education/resources/cultural exposure/community support combined frequently with active attempts to keep them in poverty that inhibits people's ability to get out of poverty. And that is what I think is one of the most important parts of this book. The chapter at the end that talks about the WHY our country has such a disparity in class, and the HOW to start to fix it. And the biggest conclusion is that we need to bolster our social service aid programs. Not just monetarily, but culturally. The successes of the poor who were given more personal counseling by welfare social workers is proof of this. People who do not know where or how to start to move towards financial stability will never be able to achieve it. But when the people in this study were given the tools, they succeeded. You can't just throw money (or for that matter take it away) at the problem and not give any framework or additional help on HOW to use that money best. Poverty, as this book shows us, is much much more than a lack of money. But the changes needed to turn around the downward spiral need to start from the top, as the study concludes. And as recent years have shown us, there are government officials who would gleefully eliminate the very programs that can help people, rather than spend the effort and money to bolster those programs and improve their effectiveness.

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Review posted November 8, 2017


As we seek to better understand the different elements within the culture of poverty, this read will bring you insight and information that will broaden your understanding and awareness of many american households.


Review posted October 23, 2017


Such important information to get out there regarding poverty in the united states. This book provided great insight into the lives of poor, middle class and upper class in rural areas. It gave personal stories from real people who experience poverty or who are advantaged. It shows how views about the poor are shaped through historical context that has persisted in rural communities. I recommend.

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Review posted August 3, 2017


Informative and eye-opening!


Review posted May 19, 2017


I loved this book. I read it in 2 days. I am volunteering at a homeless shelter and being able to see the real world applications that the author writes about it fantastic. I definately recommend. Especially for HDFS students or anyone working with a diverse population.


Review posted May 15, 2017


The beginning is a tad hard to get into too, but trust me it gets better! Will recommend!


Review posted May 11, 2017


Cynthia Duncan did a great job of a balanced exploration between the experiences of the successful or wealthy in rural America and the second class or poor in the same community. The balance of personal stories and the overview was well done. I recommend this book as worth the read. I appreciate how clearly it lays out the experiences and effects of birth, family and power and how difficult it is to outlive that. It also shows that across the communities there are differences but similarities and the end result of class split is the same or similar.


Review posted April 29, 2017


Heart wrenching and real.


Review posted April 18, 2017


The book was well-structured, giving in-depth accounts and personal profiles from each of the three rural communities. I enjoyed the updates and comparisons between the first edition from the 90s, and this second edition from 2014. The book gives you a strong sense of each community and outlines the factors and history that have led to personal success and failure for different citizens. Duncan's argument for change at the end of the book is a compelling one: To uplift poor populations, federal support and intervention in early childhood development and public education must be coupled with local leadership and commitment.


Review posted April 13, 2017


I picked this book because I wanted to understand why so many working class and low income people tend to vote for candidates who oppose social safety net programs and bust unions. I didn't think that racism or ignorance alone could explain this phenomenon. I'm not sure I'm 100% convinced that those two things don't play a huge role in voting activity, but after reading this book I can say with confidence that it isn't that simple. Many of the people in the first two communities profiled seemed to be caught between what benefits them on a macro level and what benefits them on a micro, or local, level. A lot of these communities are like feudal states - with big frogs in small ponds who control access to services, jobs, and opportunities. It made me sad to think of generations of people living in abject poverty and knowing that if they vote a certain way, they're going to be in trouble with "the people who run things." I thought it was heartening to see that Dahlia was able to change, although the amount of time it took was appalling. I was intrigued to learn that it changed in part due to community members migrating to other places with opportunities, then returning to benefit their communities. As someone who left a place with limited opportunity, I have a hard time relating to people who insist on staying put to their own detriment. I know that sometimes people don't have a choice - but sometimes you do. It's inspiring to see that someone who doesn't want to leave forever can leave in the short term, be successful, and bring their new skills and confidence back to be a change agent.


Review posted February 14, 2017


Awesome. This was a great book. This book made me think very deeply about the lives of poor, middle class and upper class in rural areas. It gave personal stories from real people who experience poverty or who are advantaged. It shows how views about the poor are shaped through historical context that has persisted in rural communities. Beautifully written, flows effortlessly and the people come alive.


Review posted January 23, 2017


Prof. Cynthia Duncan has published an excellent book for those that want to understand the impacts of poverty on politics in rural communities. As a sociologist, her methods of research for the book were based on hundreds of interviews with people in three locations: 1) an Appalachian area with an entrenched elite that prevents any type of reform; 2) a region in the Mississippi Delta which is divided by racism; and 3) a mill town in Maine that works to find solution for all. The author choose to relay her findings by sharing the story of a few individuals out of many that she interviews. Using the conversations, moral thinking, and political views of these real life people intertwined with the foundational academic research makes this book easy to read, fascinating, and compelling. In her newest edition of the book, Duncan returns to these three communities after her initial visit 20 years ago, talking with some of the same individuals first interviewed for the book. The follow-up visits are both interesting and surprising. The most fascinating thread that runs through the communities in both Appalachia and Mississippi is complete control over jobs, education, and politics that a few "elite" families have. Their power in these communities determines which families are labeled "good" and "bad". The division and distrust within the community is fierce. As a result of this labeling, pathways to success are either reachable or unattainable. In Mississippi the situation is complicated even more by race, leading to many poverty stricken families need to move to cities in the north just to survive. In both localities the idea of assisting those families that were struggling would only turn the political control of the elite upside down, so the system is stalled. In the Maine mill town, the community was highly functional even with a number of "elite" families owning lumber and paper mills. This community worked to try to provide jobs, opportunities, and education for all families. The community has worked hard to provide social supports and opportunities for all; as well as having an opening for individuals within the community to have a voice in setting public policy. So how do these communities change after 20 years? Each has changed in various ways and some in very surprising ways. Duncan's conclusion about solutions is broken down into how conservative and liberals believe rural America's poor should be assisted. However, she has a different approach that is practical, ethical, and lasting. That is to make investments in education and other institutions with a focus on creating tools available to the impoverished, so that they can take advantage of opportunities which are made available to them. Overall I would recommend this book. It is an excellent introduction to understanding the dynamics of poverty and politics in rural America. After reading, Prof. Cynthia Duncan's book I have a clear understanding of how individuals become trapped in poverty and the need to find solutions to allow these individual rise above poverty and become part of equitable communities where all people receive quality education, employment, a political voice, and other important opportunities.


Review posted December 19, 2016


Duncan's use of personal story, statistics and research provides a clear picture of the relationships between poverty and policy in three counties in the Midwest and East of the United States. Each county is evaluated and detailed for their own unique social issues and policies, and then brought together at the end of the book to come up with suggestions for future policies and change that will benefit those who are living in poverty. This book is great for helping professionals, teachers and policy makers who wish to better understand the struggles and experiences of those they are serving that live in poverty. It also encourages personal research and reflection on how this country's systems and policies can be oppressive to the vulnerable. As this is the second edition of "Worlds Apart," it has been nicely updated since it's first publishing in 1999 ad balances older information with new.


Review posted October 21, 2016


As a previous AmeriCorps VISTA in a low-income urban area, this book has been helpful for me as I transition into my new position as a College Access Corps member in a more rural area of the country. I also grew up in a fairly urban and upper-middle class location, so I had no familiarity with the types of backgrounds and experiences many of the kids I work with now--children of migrant farmworkers, for example. Worlds Apart not only provides information and perspectives that help me in my work, but it does so in a relatable and engaging way. It has opened my eyes to specific ways to help my community, and it has also inspired me to continue my commitment to empowering people to tell their stories and share the power of storytelling in my community.


Review posted October 6, 2016


Very good


Review posted October 6, 2016


A compelling investigation into the persistent issue of poverty in rural America. This book was an easy read but, not light. Great eye opener for anyone who is interested in analyzing how structures, circles, and norms that are so prevalent in our society impact wealth and health of a community.


Review posted August 23, 2016


An interesting read, though the causes and consequences of poverty--rural or urban--are much more complex than what this book attempts to convey. However, it succeeds exposing the shameful reality of insidious poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth.


Review posted June 7, 2016


Well- researched and written, but in need of updating. The author can be repetitive at times. It will definitely open your eyes if the are not already.

Christi A Clark

Review posted May 8, 2016


This is book presents a solid bank of research on the topic of Generational Poverty in 3 regions. The results were disheartening. I hope our country can move on more of a solution.

Suz Ybarra

Review posted April 23, 2016


Someone has said, "Want peace? Work for justice." After reading this book, I add: Want justice? Then (1) develop horizontal relationships and communication lines; (2) provide equality early childhood development opportunities; and (3) provide quality education for all. Some things can be done on grass roots level. Others may take federal funds and mandates. Grass roots, developing horizontal relationships can be accomplished through community activities such as mentoring programs, the establishment of community activities such as sports, choirs, potluck picnics and neighborhood watch programs. This book makes the point: if we only focus on ourselves, we are all impoverished. When we reach out to others, we are all elevated. Great book!


Review posted March 26, 2016


this book reveals the difference in education.


Review posted March 21, 2016


Very sad what our children have to endure


Review posted February 15, 2016


Duncan provides an in-depth look at poverty in three rural communities and how local economy, politics, as well as community involvement play a role in keeping the "haves" and the "have nots" worlds apart. The book was informative but lengthy and cumbersome to read ( the book discussed many individuals in each of the respective towns). I found the last chapter to be the best in concisely driving home the main points related to strategies to improve education and opportunities for children to have the potential for upward mobility.


Review posted February 3, 2016


I loved this book. The author used a lot of stories to prove her points and that made it easy for me to draw in my 12 yr old son and effortlessly teach him about children and poverty nationwide. Her powerful interviews took the words and turned them into real life tangible personal experiences. And we were constantly amazed at how much politics plays in poverty. A great book. Well written. Highly recommended.


Review posted January 28, 2016


The book provided significant detail of the sources of poverty in the regions highlighted as well as residents' accounts of their experience with poverty. While informative, the content was repetitive at times and I wonder if the book could have been condensed. It read like a research project or thesis that was made into a book but without any additional content. I found the follow up years later an interesting approach. I wondered where exactly these communities are and whether the locations were vague on purpose in order to afford those individuals interviewed some privacy. Overall, it was a quick read with some interesting material about poverty in three rural American communities.


Review posted January 22, 2016


Excellent read and very informational. My personal views were shifted and the author certainly gave me lots to think about. I recommend this for anyone who works or lives in a community with a higher poverty rate.


Review posted December 28, 2015


Great read.opened my eyes to the plight of rural America


Review posted December 9, 2015


Very difficult book to follow. It does represent truths in many respects, yet a difficult read.


Review posted November 3, 2015


Well written and readable, Duncan presents compelling images and information about rural poverty. I found myself creating scenarios aligning with hers but peopled with the rural poor of Eastern Oregon, and considering the local political contexts impacting our communities. Thought-provoking and challenging.


Review posted November 2, 2015


This book was somewhat dry for my tastes, however, it is impressive that the author was able to revisit three communities and conduct interviews with some of the folks she spoke with two decades ago. The cover is gripping as it puts a face on a problem that some argue is the result of systemic issues, whereas others state that it is the result of poor decisions or even lack of effort. Unlike urban poverty, rural poverty is about social isolation, which contributes to chronic poverty and exacerbates issues such as mental health and substance abuse. With limited education, upward mobility is also limited. The coal mines were an integral part of the industrial revolution, which meant jobs. Those jobs are long gone and generally replaced by jobs in prison or jobs that attempt to attract tourists to increase the revenue in their community. In addition to the political struggles these communities experience, there is also a struggle to provide and to access much-needed services. Although this book provides perspective from individuals living in areas such as Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, there are lessons that could be applied in rural communities in Oregon.


Review posted October 21, 2015


In this highly readable study, Duncan explores the cycle of poverty and inequality in three rural communities, relying on in-depth investigation and interviews to provide the reader insight into the dynamics of poverty, politics, and culture. She concludes that differences in civic culture explains why some rural families are able to break the cycle of poverty--and why some remain economically depressed generation after generation. In communities where segregation of class or race persist, inequality erodes the social fabric. Communities that maintain a rich civic culture with inclusive institutions support social change. Recommendations to ending rural poverty include strong investment in public works and federal oversight of education.


Review posted October 9, 2015


Deeply informative and eye-opening.


Review posted September 29, 2015


This book was somewhat depressing and bleak. However, it gave powerful insight to the issues of poverty in rural America. I wish there had been a little more focus on poverty in rural America as it relates to immigrants...more research for someone.


Review posted September 14, 2015


While the book was not as intriguing a character study as I had hoped, it was still informative and enjoyable.


Review posted September 1, 2015


I read the entire book, even though I found the information to be dated and familiar. Overall, it was a somewhat depressing reminder that in the absence of public policy and investment, economic class and personal connections/family history/assets increasingly limit the opportunities and outcomes for many individuals, their families and communities in the US. It was interesting (and also sad) to recognize that the same limitations of opportunities (jobs, scholarships, education, extracurricular activities, housing rentals, etc) happen in my own rural county based on the types of 'relationship brokering' and having the 'wrong last name' that are described in the book. It was also kind of sad to see that the communities that showed 'progress' between the first and second editions, had to rely on the gambling industry and prisons for economic development. As the author herself said in an interview: "it's powerful political and economic people and institutions that do the depriving". The author recommends providing "mental health and substance abuse help and family-supporting wages" to break the cycles poverty and ever-increasing disparity of wealth. However as she points out, it is exactly this type of political power that suffering communities and families lack. I find this discouraging.

Jackie LaBonte

Review posted August 21, 2015


This book really brought together the reader how the haves and the haves not are somewhat co-dependent. The author profiles many folks who are living in specific areas of poverty . This book offers insights into how there is the possibility of community change. It's a hard look into inequality.


Review posted August 2, 2015


I appreciate that the author completed a review and look back 10 years following the book and modified her position on what was and was not effective. It was a thoughtful look at the impact of politics and relationships on community resilience


Review posted July 13, 2015


Worlds Apart: Poverty and Politics in Rural America, Second Edition Cynthia M. Duncan New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999,2014 304pp. After conducting interviews in three disparate communities in America two different times – 1999 and again in 2012-2013 Duncan simply says, “We can do better.” Her interviews of people in these communities struggling with poverty are enlightening and revealing. People living in poverty express longings and desires for change but seem frustrated by inefficient and broken systems. People who are not in poverty express frustrations at trying to change systems that are needlessly oppressive and regressive. What emerges from Duncan’s studies, conducted fifteen years apart, are several important observations. First, fighting poverty can only occur locally. The federal government has a role to play but the changes necessary must be community based and community driven. There are no one size fits all strategies. The three communities highlighted in her interviews and observations are radically different in culture but united by the same types of desires and dreams. Second, the differences between Blackwell, Dahlia and Gray Mountain illustrate how far social capital and a culture of trust can create structurally different environments. Gray Mountain presented a different kind of community than its nearest neighbor in the study, Blackwell. The difference was not in the dreams and desires of poor and those not so poor but in the history of groups willing to work together to create a genuine sense of community. Third, a critical issue in creating a more even starting place for our children – whether in poverty or not – is early intervention. Oregon is taking huge steps to coordinating early learning initiatives to created a more even starting place. Results will take years to evaluate, but a start is being made. The book offers a fascinating overhearing of a variety of people with widely divergent backgrounds illuminating the struggles and challenges of making a living and creating a culture of livability. Rural Oregon communities like mine, Winston, would do well to carefully read and re-read the interviews and the conclusions as people seek to do better!


Review posted June 19, 2015


I thought this was a great book, a good read for the population I work with.


Review posted June 4, 2015


The revised edition certainly lives up to the reputation of the original. I was concerned that the book would be dated after 20 years, but it seems just as poignantly revealing of the income and class disparities in this county as it ever was. Perhaps more so.


Review posted May 27, 2015


The book, Worlds Apart: Poverty and Politics in Rural America, is an insightful book. I am a family advocate in a rural school that has a high free and reduced lunch population. I found the case studies presented in this book relevant to my line of work and concisely presented. I would recommend this book to any educator who is working to gain insight into the lives of their students who live in poverty.


Review posted May 25, 2015


A chilling glimpse at how politics keep to the status quo while chasing away those who would seek to create a better environment. Although the title suggests this is a rural accounting it leaves the reader to imagine that it is the same everywhere.


Review posted May 21, 2015


A powerful book on inequality and poverty especially in rural communities. Eye opening.

Mr. Bizjak

Review posted May 19, 2015


This book was helpful for the current doctoral class I am currently taking. What I especially enjoyed about the book was that it provided great insight into the plight of the other side of America. The stories were applicable to my classroom. My seniors are focusing on how to make the world a more accepting, loving place for all people. The excerpts that I lifted from this book cottoned well with class discussions. They even motivated students to think outside the metaphorical box. The dialogues that we shared with "Worlds Apart" at the crux definitely undergirded our understanding of the haves and have-nots in our classroom, families, community, and world. I would recommend this book to people interested in learning more about and wanting to understand the poverty of politics.


Review posted May 19, 2015


I appreciate that both sides are shown; the haves and the have nots as are the positives and the negatives to be found on both sides. As a read, it can be a long text to wade thru.


Review posted April 30, 2015


As an educator in a high-poverty area, this book is an eye-opening read. I love the interplay between education and politics. This book left me energized for change.


Review posted April 22, 2015


I thought I knew a lot about poverty in America. I was dead wrong. This book is quite an eye opener. When the poor are considered to be bad people and carry that label around with them all the time, when the line between the haves and have nots is so obvious, and when that's getting more and more so with more and more people, we'll continue to have this division. I wish the ideas in the book would work, but until the politics of this country change, they won't. Until the wealthy of this country stop buying elections and until we go back to being a country of the people and by the people, we'll never change this. And shame on us if we don't. Thank you for making this book available. It should be mandatory reading for every citizen in this country. maybe things would change then.

Susan S. Dubnow

Review posted April 14, 2015


By contrasting the life situations of the extremely poor to those of the middle class, the author has emphasized the need for poverty areas to be free from the financial oversight of the big boss in order to let people earn a stable income and become middle class.