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The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better [Hardcover]

Richard Wilkinson , Kate Pickett
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (204 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Mar 2009
Large inequalities of income in a society have often been regarded as divisive and corrosive, and it is common knowledge that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. This groundbreaking book, based on thirty years' research, demonstrates that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them - the well-off as well as the poor. The remarkable data the book lays out and the measures it uses are like a spirit level which we can hold up to compare the conditions of different societies. The differences revealed, even between rich market democracies, are striking.Almost every modern social and environmental problem - ill-health, lack of community life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness, long working hours, big prison populations - is more likely to occur in a less equal society. The book goes to the heart of the apparent contrast between the material success and social failings of many modern societies. "The Spirit Level" does not simply provide a key to diagnosing our ills. It tells us how to shift the balance from self-interested 'consumerism' to a friendlier and more collaborative society. It shows a way out of the social and environmental problems which beset us and opens up a major new approach to improving the real quality of life, not just for the poor but for everyone. It is, in its conclusion, an optimistic book, which should revitalise politics and provide a new way of thinking about how we organise human communities.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; Reprint edition (5 Mar 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846140390
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846140396
  • Product Dimensions: 2.9 x 14.4 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (204 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 65,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Wilkinson has played a formative role in international research and his work has been published in 10 languages. He studied economic history at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Nottingham Medical School and Honorary Professor at University College London.

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'This is a book with a big idea, big enough to change political thinking' -- John Carey, Sunday Times

'what might be the most important book of the year' -- John Grace, Guardian


'This is a book with a big idea, big enough to change political thinking'

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking 20 Feb 2014
By Sam
The Spirit Level is a non-fiction book that examines the prevalence of what we might think of as social problems in different countries (drug use, violence, obesity, poor educational performance, crime etc.). Wilkinson and Pickett argue that what matters is not how affluent a country is on average, but rather the level of inequality in the country. All Western nations have reached a point where economic development has led to a comfortable standard of living, but the richest countries are not the happiest, or the ones with fewest social ills. In fact, health and social problems are instead highly related to the difference in income between the top twenty and lowest twenty percent in that country, with richer countries like the USA and UK doing poorly compared to countries such as Japan and the Scandinavian nations.

This may all sound like common sense, but what Wilkinson and Pickett do in The Spirit Level is provide overwhelming evidence that inequality is damaging for all members of society, not just those at the bottom. Each chapter examines a different societal problem and time and time again, we see that inequality is strongly related to it. Even things like the amount of trust you have in your community, your chances of developing a mental illness, the prevalence of chronic diseases and the rate of teenage pregnancies are highly correlated. And as Wilkinson and Pickett explained how the link between inequality and each 'problem' might work, the more I found myself nodding my head along with the book. It just makes sense that the healthier societies are the ones where all members of society feel valued and like they have something to contribute. Crucially, the authors show that inequality is damaging for the rich as well as the poor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
To review this book requires some caution. The subtitle, Why Equality is Better for Everyone, is quite provocative and almost any reader will come to this with a pre-formed opinion as to whether this is a true or a false assertion, depending on your political viewpoint. This seems to be borne out by many of the review posted already. So, with that word of caution made, what did I make of the book?

The first thing that strikes you about The Spirit Level is the abundance of scatter graphs. If you don't like these, then this book will annoy you. The authors have drawn together multiple studies (all of which are referenced) to demonstrate a number of different factors that are affected by inequality in society.

But how might one measure `inequality'? Though an intuitive concept, it seems like a hard one to make empirical - a bit like `justice' or `faithfulness'. This is done by looking at the difference between the top 20% of incomes and the lowest 20% (presumably including those with no income, though this is not stated explicitly). The opening thesis is that in economically developed countries, economic growth has reached the limits of what can improve living standards. So by looking at 1st world countries (excluding tax havens) they look at how different epidemiological measures change with differing levels of income inequality within that given society. As well as looking at a list of roughly 23 countries (not all had data available for all measures), they also looked at the 50 states that make up the USA.

The text is basically a commentary and expansion on the scatter graphs, each of which has a line of best fit. What I noticed is how tentative some of them were.
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67 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Equality is better than wealth 22 Mar 2009
This is a great book. The fact that many poor outcomes are linked with poverty is well known. What the authors point out is that there is strong evidence showing that the level of poverty is much less important than the level of inequality in a society. Inequality causes health and social problems to people at the bottom but also at the top of the spectrum. So inequality is a lose lose situation.
I've read many science books recently. This is the best book I've read in many respects. It is very well written, very well documented, it deals with possibly the most serious political issue of our time, it is never patronising to the reader, and finally I was impressed by its scope: evidence comes from epidemiology, psychology, economics, sociology and more.
We should really send a copy of this book to each and every politician in the country. In recent times politicians have become obsessed with wealth creation. But wealth is a means not an end, and they are missing the forest for the trees.
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177 of 204 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inequality is the root of all evil. 1 Feb 2010
By Jazzrook TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have written a remarkable, meticulously researched book which argues convincingly that inequality is the root cause of many of society's ills. A mass of evidence is marshalled to demonstrate that levels of violent crime, mental illness, drug addiction, illiteracy, obesity etc. are almost always higher in more unequal societies and that even the affluent are adversely affected by inequality.
The UK is near the top of the income gap league with twice as much inequality as Scandinavia & Japan and consequently experiences more social problems. Chosen as a 'Top 10 Book' of the decade by New Statesman magazine, 'The Spirit Level' is an important, thought-provoking book and should be compulsory reading for ministers in the Con-Dem coalition government who profess concern about 'Broken Britain'. The recent riots in England(August 2011) make this an even more essential read.

P.S. The updated paperback edition(November,2010) includes a new chapter giving the authors' well-argued response to strident political attacks on the book from the free-market right.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written arguments
Excellent a welcome change from the usual whining from the greedy & selfish.
Published 5 days ago by laurie w
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A well argued and must have book - transformed my thinking
Published 13 days ago by Jo Cursley
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fine book.
Published 14 days ago by Hugh Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally brilliant.
If you read one book this year - this book should be it. Clearly, concisely argued case for equality.
Published 19 days ago by Biffo
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Thought provoking and packed with facts.
Published 29 days ago by Pauline Buckland
5.0 out of 5 stars the costs of inequality
Well researched analysis of the effects of inequality on wide range of public policy; health, happiness, crime etc. Vital reading for all interested in public policy
Published 1 month ago by Gerald Weston
4.0 out of 5 stars Birthday present
Another part of a birthday present which was chosen by my husband. Again, having read the reviews he decided it was a good book to have and although he hasn't read it yet, i am... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Vindra Kalloo-Migue
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it, soak it up, and then go and argue with a Tory!
Made me realise that there is hope for the world, but first politics has to change.
Published 1 month ago by Robert Charman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
As described - quick delivery
Published 1 month ago by Steven M Wallis
5.0 out of 5 stars 👍
I think this book is amazing and it's really helpful with university work, it's really intresting if you just want to have a read
Published 1 month ago by Ayesha Sultana
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