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Let's enlighten ourselves before we engage in class warfare.

Looking out onto the landscape of 2020, we see the makings of a historic year–but not in the best ways. Natural disasters like bushfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes are becoming more common and worsening in intensity, and the divide between the rich and the poor keeps growing. In fact, over 38 million Americans live in poverty. But before we can discuss how to rectify the problem (let alone who's to blame for the institutional failures), we as a culture have a weak understanding of what poverty entails. Some critics mock millennials for not being able to afford iced coffee and avocado toast, while in actuality they're the poorest generation since World War II, having felt the financial strains of a recession and inflation. Meanwhile, elderly boomers are facing dire circumstances as they're looking to retire amidst an economy that can't sustain them.

The problem, of course, is that unless you've been young and coming-of-age under the weight of the economy's institutional failures and also entered the twilight of your life to find your savings unsustainable for modern living, you don't know what those experiences are like.

So before we engage in our next argument about the state of the world, let's enlighten ourselves with these books that illuminate the truth about poverty.

Upton Sinclair, "The Jungle" (1906)

The turn of the twentieth century brought the perils of industrialization and unprecedented abuses of labor. Sinclair's classic novel is unsparing in its depiction of immigrant workers' suffering in the meat packing industry; it's a required read for all Americans who compulsively order from Amazon and other companies that continue to industrialize society at great human costs.

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