• Dignity

  • Seeking Respect in Back Row America
  • By: Chris Arnade
  • Narrated by: Donte Bonner
  • Length: 5 hrs and 30 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (206 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"Candid, empathetic portraits of silenced men, women, and children." (Kirkus)

Widely acclaimed writer and photographer Chris Arnade shines new light on America's poor, drug-addicted, and forgotten - both urban and rural, blue state and red state - and indicts the elitists who've left them behind.

Like Jacob Riis in the 1890s, Walker Evans in the 1930s, or Michael Harrington in the 1960s, Chris Arnade bares the reality of our current class divide in unforgettable true stories. Arnade's raw, deeply reported accounts cut through today's clickbait media headlines and indict the elitists who misunderstood poverty and addiction in America for decades. 

After abandoning his Wall Street career, Arnade decided to document poverty and addiction in the Bronx. He began interviewing, photographing, and becoming close friends with homeless addicts, and spent hours in drug dens and McDonald's. Then he started driving across America to see how the rest of the country compared. He found the same types of stories everywhere, across lines of race, ethnicity, religion, and geography. 

The people he got to know, from Alabama and California to Maine and Nevada, gave Arnade a new respect for the dignity and resilience of what he calls America's Back Row - those who lack the credentials and advantages of the so-called meritocratic upper class. The strivers in the Front Row, with their advanced degrees and upward mobility, see the Back Row's values as worthless. They scorn anyone who stays in a dying town or city as foolish, and mock anyone who clings to religion or tradition as naïve. 

As Takeesha, a woman in the Bronx, told Arnade, she wants to be seen as she sees herself: "a prostitute, a mother of six, and a child of God." This book is his attempt to help the rest of us truly see, hear, and respect millions of people who've been left behind.

©2019 Chris Arnade (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

Dignity is ‘about’ inequality in much the same way that James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men - a seminal study of tenant farmers in Alabama, illustrated with stark photographs by Walker Evans - was ‘about’ the Great Depression. Both works illuminate the reality of political and economic forces that might seem familiar in outline, by showing their effects on ordinary people.” (The Economist

"Like Orwell, Mr. Arnade spent a long time with the people he would write about, and he renders them sharply, with an eye for revelatory detail.” (The Wall Street Journal

“Dignity is not overtly political, but it’s almost certainly going to be the most important political book of the year.” (Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option

What listeners say about Dignity

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Sobering & Eye Opening

Though the subject matter was painful and real this book was eye-opening and helped me see things from the perspective of the others that I have previously ignored. There were parts of this book that made me uncomfortable with myself and the way I think about folks that may not be in the same social situation.

I recommend this book

8 people found this helpful

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The "forgotten"

The man spend years talking to the poorest and "forgotten" people in America - black-white-hispanic-Somali- everybody. FIVE Main Take-aways: (1) All of the crime and poverty of the blacks is due to white racism (2) Factories left towns BECAUSE and whenever a black got elected as mayor (3) Whites fled towns where factories left town because regardless of how poor they were, they could afford to move while blacks could not (4) the few whites that could not move out and are in the same dire straits as blacks are drug-addled, uneducated prostitutes and sex offenders who have been united by Trump's racist rhetoric and (5) "front-row" white people, like the self-accused author, are the cause of all grief in black America must do more than just Affirmative Action for a few. As a minority person, I was deeply offended by this book.

6 people found this helpful

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Preachy Look at Race and Poverty

The author is so personally involved that he loses diving deeper into the looming subject of inequality. He wants to “speak” for the poor but he just gives repetitive glimpses into the sad and dark world of those with few choices. His outrage seemed to be his own justification for leaving his poor past behind. The story did drive home the importance of a McDonalds or a Walmart to give poor neighbourhoods a sense of community.
I did not like this book and will not recommend it to my reader friends. Nickled and Dimed much better.

2 people found this helpful

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loved it.

my rewards to the author, mind opening, enjoyed it very much. almost made me cry at times...

1 person found this helpful

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Every elite should read this

Chris Arnade goes where few dare, lending his voice to those forgotten in the back row. Instead of talking "about" it, he lets those who live it do the talking. Eye and heart opening. Must read.

1 person found this helpful

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No easy answers

This survey of stories about real life people sheds a bit of light and offers some enlightening points of view, but ultimately admits that there are no easy solutions to the perceived problems of poverty, discrimination, and vice. The author reveals some of his own ideological biases, which tint his hermeneutics. Underlying the whole narrative is an exposé of the human condition, and our need for a savior that no program, policy, or non-profit can ever provide. I finished this book thinking that we need to give people the room to figure things out for themselves instead of trying to fix their lives.

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Must read for a compassionate America

This book humanizes so many people that are viewed as being left behind. We need to use the covid WFH experience to help rebuild communities that were once viewed as too far removed from urban centers.

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Get to the point...

This entire book is summed up in the last ten minutes. You really only need the first chapter and the last few pages the rest is stories of individuals who are to use the authors term "Members of the Back Row". I read this book to read another book after I read an article about the second book (Alienated America) and listened to a pod cast the author referenced this book and I decided I should read it before I read his. I am not sure either book is worth the read at this point.

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Author's objective

The author's objective of exposing America's "back row" was monumental and courageous. I agree that United States of America has been de-industrialized and replaced with drug infestation by unsavory Globalist (within our own country and) by foreign stakeholders. The author is an apologist for socialism and this book feeds the extreme left's revolution of the US Government. The author's suggestions to fix our "broken meritocracy" originates from Marxist ideology and are extremely dangerous. Left-wing "Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship," O'Brien tells the hapless Winston Smith in the novel 1984. "The object of the left's power is power." The nightmares of the French Revolution, the Soviet Union, Communist China and Pol Pot’s Cambodia weren’t accidental misfires: they’re the essential truth of what the Left is - Terror. Terror is in the political DNA of every radical movement. The arc of the Left is always radical. Government solutions are not the answer. I believe the answer lies in scholarships to charter schools, prayer and Judeo-Christian doctrine of reward for hard work and charity from the private sector. Utopia will never exist by government mandate; it must come from the heart and soul of mankind.

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Written for the elites by an elite

I listened to the entire book. it wasn't until the end that I realized this is just another expression of the same stuff...different day. feel bad about who you are and your privilege....but don't give it up....just feel bad about it.
You want a solution...here is mine. just help one person at a time...one action at a time. If you are a minority or poor...jump through a few hoops...we all have to do it. if you addicted...go through withdrawal and deal with it....the same way others do. if you are privileged...share your information with one other person who isn't. dont try to save the world.... this has been happening across time and the world. America is no different. if I was this guys family I'd be all like "I hope it was worth 5 years of our life together". kind of feel bad for them.

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  • RG
  • 07-01-19

Needs accompanying photographs in a PDF

The print version includes the images constantly referenced in the narrative - the author references himself as a photographer constantly and talks about photographing the people discussed. They should have included the images that appear in the print version in a PDF download to accompany the audiobook.

2 people found this helpful

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  • David Lawrence
  • 03-13-21

No one will listen

This moving book, detailing one man's realization that he did not understand the country in which he lived, is part of an increasing body of work detailing the growing dysfunction of American (and other Western) societies. But few will pay anything more than lip service to the insights revealed, for the simple reason that the credentialled elite have no interest in undermining their privileged position. That they will pay heavily for this in the end, as this and other studies imply, is small comfort.

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  • BB21
  • 06-17-20

Honest exploration

I enjoyed this book even without the pictures. It’s an honest exploration of the painful, complex situation of left behind places and finds in them community. Globalization, drug dealers and racism have been huge drains on the dignity of the “non-credentialed” and the closing lines of wanting to know poverty by looking at the statistics and of “you have your prejudices and I have mine” hit very close to home.

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  • Bo
  • 11-23-20

if you lean left, lean in

a must read for everyone on the left. a book that provokes understanding, insight and empathy. and a true reflection on why people fail in a system that doesn't value true inclusion.

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  • Tudor
  • 11-16-20

A profound and deeply moving

An insight into the lives of the underprivileged and their plight in an remorseless world of privileged judgement.