Matthew Desmond

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Evicted Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Matthew Desmond's Evicted. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Matthew Desmond

Matthew Desmond received his B.S. degree in communications and justice studies from Arizona State University and his PhD in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His first book, published in 2008, was entitled On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters, and he is also the coauthor of two books about the sociology of race with his doctoral advisor, Mustafa Emirbayer. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City was published in 2016 and brought Desmond to international prominence. The book received the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award, the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, and the 2017 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award. Desmond was also awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 2015. Desmond is a professor of sociology at Princeton University, having previously taught in the sociology department at Harvard.
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Historical Context of Evicted

Although it is not always addressed in a direct and explicit way, the main historical event lingering in the background of Evicted is the 2008 recession, and particularly the role that the housing bubble, the subprime mortgage crisis, and the foreclosure crisis had on the rental market. As Desmond explains, during the recession house prices plummeted while rental rates continued to climb. This meant that landlords and property owners could make enormous profits from buying cheap houses and renting them out at exorbitant rates, while tenants—many of whom lost jobs and found their welfare checks stagnant or declining—find themselves spending 80 or 90 percent of their income on rent. Along with the recession, Desmond also references a range of historical events that together have created the disastrous housing situation that exists in America today. He discusses the history of slums and tenement housing, which have existed for many centuries as a way for property owners to make money out of the most impoverished people in a given society. In America, the history of slavery, Jim Crow, other racist government policies, and informal (illegal or extralegal) racism have created extreme forms of segregation, discrimination, and housing injustice. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the 1988 banning of housing discrimination against families with children were major historical events designed to prevent housing injustice, but Desmond suggests that they have had little effect in reality.

Other Books Related to Evicted

Books covering the issue of housing in America include Emily Tumpson Molina’s Housing America, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law—which examines racial segregation as a creation of government policy—and Ben Austen’s High-Risers and the edited collection From Despair to Hope, which both examine the “failed experiment” of American public housing. Books about poverty in America more broadly include Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, Michael Harrington’s The Other America, Stephen Pimpare’s A People’s History of Poverty in America, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, and Sasha Abramsky’s The American Way of Poverty.
Key Facts about Evicted
  • Full Title: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
  • When Written: 2008-2016
  • Where Written: Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Madison, Wisconsin; Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • When Published: 2016
  • Literary Period: Post-Recession American Nonfiction
  • Genre: Non-fiction, Popular Sociology
  • Setting: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Climax: The book follows the stories of over a dozen different tenants, and thus there is no single climax.
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Evicted

Inspiration. In an interview, Matthew Desmond has stated that it was after seeing Arleen’s struggle with housing insecurity that he knew he had to write a book about eviction.

Ongoing Work. In 2017, Matthew Desmond founded the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, an institute dedicated to housing research that aims to promote the expansion of affordable housing in America.