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Matt Taibbi
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
Spiegel & Grau / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-385-53082-8
Publication Date: 04-18-2014
448 Pages; $27.00
Date Reviewed: 05-07-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  Non-Fiction  

In order for one to succeed, many must fail. The wealth gap and its consequences are, if not well understood, at least well publicized. The figures are out there and repeated to the point of meaninglessness.

Obviously, numbers can tell us a lot, but numbers rarely make us feel. Numbers don't tell stories in an engaging manner. In 'The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap,' Matt Taibbi does tell stories, bring the numbers to life, in fact, to our lives. Taibbi explores a new America where there are two sets of written rules and laws, to ensure unequal justice.

Taibbi does start his book with some simple statistics; "Poverty goes up; Crime goes down; Prison population doubles." It's counter-intuitive, he argues, convincingly. What could drive the numbers in these disparate directions? Taibbi then starts the storytelling, and from that moment on, be prepared for a Dickensian, dystopian journey into two visions of America most readers of this book will find fascinating and horrific.

On one side, we have we have the executives of HSBC, convicted of aiding and abetting terrorists and drug cartels by money laundering; while the firm pays a relatively small fine, the men pay nothing and receive no punishment. On the other side, we have a man convicted of having a joint in New York who spends 46 days in Riker's Island. It's hard time, practically a training camp for future felons. And so it goes.

Matt Taibbi's brilliant, often raunchy prose makes this book a lot of fun. 'The Divide' is a hoot to read, and often laugh-out-loud funny, even when the tales that Taibbi is spinning so well might make you want to cry. But Taibbi manages to do a lot of work as well, writing about schemes so complicated they were difficult for US attorneys to adjudicate. Taibbi manages to write about them in an engaging manner that the lay reader can easily and enjoyably understand. His writing is full of verve and humor at the service of a serious and fierce intelligence.

But in order to make this book work as well as it does, Taibbi has to do more than spin fun and informational sentences. He tells a series of interlocking stories ringing back and forth from the very rich to the very poor. Each story in itself is a compelling work of portraiture, an intricate detail in a full-scale vision of the Victorian, dystopian hell that has enveloped most of America. 'The Divide' often reads like a 21st century Dickens novel, with real-life mustache-twiddling bad guys chucking as they steal millions or even billions from investors, and the powerless poor, trapped in absurd, Kafkaesque nightmare of fines, jail, more fines and more jail. Taibbi weaves together stories that are outrageous with stories that are moving, involving us with characters who are both.

'The Divide' is a pretty big book, but it does not feel like one. It's a quick read. Molly Crabapple provides some outstanding art to set off Taibbi's incendiary prose. The illustrations here feel integral to the work, conveying and reinforcing the surreal nature of what you read. What will become all-too-evident, alas, is that what at first blush seems surreal at second glance proves to be very real — in fact, your real life. We no longer need to concern ourselves with dystopian visions of the future. Instead, read this book about the present. Then, just look around.

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