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

Richard Wilkinson , Kate Pickett
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (199 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: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (199 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 246,990 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
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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By Jezza
...which should be required reading for every politician and policy-maker. Equality works - the evidence is overwhelming. Inequality doesn't work - it doesn't deliver a cohesive society or a sustainable economy or even economic performance as any sensible person would measure it.

At first the book is a bit tiring as it grinds through the evidence for this, but it does make the slightly more analytical section later on seem more grounded.

Fascinating to see that Cuba is literally the only country in the world to deliver high levels of human wellbeing at low levels of environmental impact; whatever we think of its shortcomings, and there are many, the place needs to be nurtured and treasured like a rare plant which contains a precious medicine -- not blockaded and bullied into adopting 'free market' solutions. Interesting to see too how well Japan does on so many indices - why do our politicians spend so much time learning from the US and so little from anywhere else?

Weak on actual remedies and policies that will help us to move in the right direction but still a brilliant read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent - a shocking read 5 Jun 2014
By Orrery
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book has re-aligned my views completely. In case the title is misleading, the 'equality' is income equality (or inequality) and correlates to so many factors in our society - health outcomes, childhood literacy, obesity, teenage pregnancy etc.

It shows how very unequal societies have much worse problems, even for the very rich. You just end up with the rich having to live in gated communities for security.

Certainly, this is one of the most influential books I've ever read.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By Mark Pack TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Although first published under a Labour government in 2009, this book is still highly relevant now we have a Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition. In fact, it is even more relevant because the current political and economic circumstances are forcing politicians to think carefully about how much we are worried about inequality of outcome. Wilkinson and Pickett argue that widespread inequality helps increase a huge range of social ills, with the result that everyone suffers - even the most well off. Inequality in their view isn't just bad for the poor, it's also bad for the rich.

Analysing data primarily from 21 developed countries and also the different American states, they present evidence of a correlation between the level of inequality in each country (or state) and a range of outcomes: levels of trust, mental illness, life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, children's educational performance, number of teenage births, murders, imprisonment rates and social mobility. More inequality goes with lower trust, more mental illness, higher murder rates and so on.

Within a particular society being richer may go with the problem being smaller for yourself, but across the society as a whole it is the level of inequality that, they say, determines the overall levels of the problem.

The authors therefore argue that rather than securing further economic growth, inequality is now the big challenge facing developed societies: "When the wolf was never far from the door, good times were times of plenty. But for the vast majority of people in affluent countries the difficulties of life are no longer about filling our stomachs, having clear water and keeping warm. Most of us now wish we could eat less rather than more.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 3 hours 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 2 days 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 2 days ago by Robert Charman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
As described - quick delivery
Published 17 days 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 25 days ago by Ayesha Sultana
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
If you persevere with this book suddenly the world in which we live in makes sense. An interesting and thoughtful book
Published 1 month ago by Fingers
4.0 out of 5 stars Required reading.
The information facts and arguements contained in this publication should be compulsory reading for every politician. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Brenda Callaghan
5.0 out of 5 stars What an important book! Take that, you Reaganomics morons!
As the middle class in the USA watches its relative income stall and now retrogress in real terms can their be a better book for the modern era? Read more
Published 2 months ago by Sid Griffin
4.0 out of 5 stars Purchased as present
I bought the book as a gift. The recipient has very much enjoyed it and has been quoting from it regularly.
Published 2 months ago by Simon Woodward
4.0 out of 5 stars GREAT
Good book for facts and figure especially useful for student nurses. Iv used mine often and have found it to be an asset to my collection
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. C. Burns
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