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I welcome this book. It is a superb summary of the problems that inequality actually creates. Inequality issues are often presented as being about the poor, but this book shows that we are all poorer for living in more unequal societies. Inequality is as bad for the rich as it is for the poor. Society is poorer as inequality becomes greater.

The impacts of inequality show up in poorer health, lower educational attainment, higher crime rates, lower social capital, lower trust, lower co-operation the more unequal the society becomes. Wilkinson and Pickett give us clear evidence for these statements.

For the last twelve years we have endured in the UK a Labour government that preaches equality (then wonders "equality of what?") whilst actually presiding over increasing inequality and reducing social mobility.

Wilkinson and Pickett present their evidence well, in summary and clearly. I have the benefit of having been reading the research work on inequalities over several years so I recognised their evidence. If you need further evidence then you could follow the references, or read some of Wilkinson's The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthierearlier works, or Michael Marmot's useful book, "Status Syndrome." Status Syndrome: How Your Social Standing Directly Affects Your HealthTheir presentation of evidence is strong, and it is difficult after seeing their evidence to argue in favour of greater inequality at all.

Inequality is clearly a bad thing for a society, and its constituent individuals. The question comes about what to do about it, and how best to reduce it. Sadly these questions are usually posed and answered from the political left, usually in terms of state action and redistribution. It is clear after 12 years of a hyperactive state under Gordon brown that state action is a blunt instrument at best, and can often make things worse, and lock inequality in.

Wilkinson and Pickett have written this book well and have made an accurate diagnosis of the problems inequality is causing in unequal societies such as UK and USA. I am less sure about their suggested remedies, but I support their work, and hope that political and economic thinkers both on the left and on the right will come to recognise the problem of inequality, and come up with solutions for it.

Meanwhile as a medical doctor I will continue to try to patch up the casualties of inequality I meet in my consulting room.
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on 5 June 2014
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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on 22 March 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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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 1 February 2010
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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on 27 August 2009
...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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 December 2011
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. And, for the first time in history, the poor are - on average - fatter than the rich."

As statisticians everywhere says, correlation does not mean causation - so the authors go on from their presentation of the case that higher inequality goes with worse outcomes across their measures (and there is a debate over how significant a correlation their evidence shows) to present pieces of evidence that it is inequality which is actually causing those worse outcomes.

In particular, they pick from relatively recent medical advances showing how stress brings about chemical changes in the body that then has very tangible effects. Added to this is evidence that a person's sense of self-worth has an important impact on their ability to carry out tasks - so again more inequality leads to a worse outcome for individuals. Moreover, "the evolutionary importance of shame and humiliation provides a plausible explanation of why more unequal societies suffer more violence".

In a way this is very optimistic book, for if all these ills have a common factor - inequality - then in turn doing something about inequality could bring very widespread benefits. That clarity and simplicity of prognosis as to how to improve society makes the book far more optimistic than previous accounts of the ills of modern society such as JK Galbraith's The Culture of Contentment.

However, this optimistic logic highlights one of the book's weaknesses. Not only does it rely overwhelmingly on comparisons across countries at the same point in time, rather than in tracking ailments varying over the years, the limited amount of such evidence deployed is almost all of the `inequality increased and then things got worse' form. There is no automatic reason why, even if increasing inequality makes things worse, then decreasing it will make things better. The world is not always symmetrical. Moreover, even if the effect works strongly `in reverse', is it the most cost-effective route to take? If inequality causes stress which causes social ills, is targeting stress going to be more successful?

Despite these questions left unanswered, the book is an important contribution in urging politicians to see social problems as having social solutions; the focus needs to be on society and not on just individuals.
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on 11 March 2009
I actually think this book has a rather hopeful message. Whilst the scale of the problems caused by inequality are vast and sobering, it is made clear by the authors (who are known to me) that relatively small moves towards greater equality can yield great benefits - and it doesn't really matter how you achieve that greater equality, just as long as you do. This has profound implications for politics showing that tax and spend is not the only solution, narrowing the gap in incomes before tax can work as well. Therefore, a real chance for a broad political consensus in favour of equality exists here - a hopeful message if ever there was one.

The book also points out that all the levers necessary to move towards more equal societies already exist and can easily be grasped given political will. We don't have to aim for utopia, we don't have to have a full-blown revolution to massively increase well-being and sustainability throughout the world - and not just the developed world. The authors point out that more equal developed countries are more nurturing and collaborative, so they give far more to the developing world in terms of overseas aid and score better on the Global Peace Index and are more likely to abide by international treaties.

This book poses the big questions about what it means to be human and what we now need to do to survive. These are the big ideas that the world's current leaders are failing to seize upon. This is much more than an academic book; it is a call to action.

Bill Kerry.
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on 18 February 2010
While this is not the first publication to draw peoples attention to the impact of inequality, it is by far the most comprehensive and well written. The authors present compelling evidence that more equal societies, those with a narrower gap between rich and poor, are more cohesive, healthier, suffer fewer social problems and are more environmentally sustainable. It may prove uncomfortable reading for many but the book brings to the reader the hard realities of life in unequal societies like the UK and the USA. It promts the reader to challenge the conventional thinking about whether alowing huge inequalities is sustainable and to consider what could and should be done to develop a fairer society. This is a superb book and anybody at all interested in the society that they live in should give it a thorough read.
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on 3 January 2011
Unsurprisingly the hard-back copy of this book sold over 100,000 copies. It addresses something we are all aware of: the shocking levels of inequality in our society and the way that this is connected to many ills, from poor mental health to higher prison populations. I was ahamed to see the UK up there with the US as one of the most unequal societies. Perhaps one of the most surprising discoveries was how affected by inequality people at every level of society are, not just the poorest or those at the bottom. It is literally in all our interests to mkae our societies more equal.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 April 2014
This is for the most part an interesting book which demonstrates almost beyond doubt that inequality is the cause of many ills - poor educational performance, lower life expectency, higher levels of teenage preganancy, higher rates of violence and much else is shown to be closely correlated and causual. The authors make a convincing argument, illustrated by numerous accessible graphics, and some great cartoons, which goes beyond promoting equality of opportunity into indicating that equality, or at least less inequality, of outcomes for people across and within states is desirable for the common good.

The book is much less strong on what do about it - with the conclusions perhaps rather utopian and unrealistic. Cuba is held up as a positive example, and nationalisation is given a favourable nod. The idea of rising properity or that a rising river lifts all boats is not really explored and so the wellbeing of the people of rich countries is little compared with that of poor ones here.

The countries here which come in for most criticism are the United States and the UK - yet both have to closely control the results of the desire of people around the world to move there.

Interesting them - but probably not the whole picture.
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