Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

In preparation for writing Nomadland, journalist Jessica Bruder immersed herself in a new American subculture: the houseless. These "vandwellers" are individuals and families who for myriad reasons have ended up on wheels. Far from carefree RVers, these are folks for whom the American dream has been a con, and they make ends meet by doing itinerant work across the country.

The practice of giving up real estate for "wheel estate" has increased exponentially in recent years, following stock market crashes, the housing crisis and increasing economic risks faced by American families. Having to choose between food or electricity, health care or warm clothes, these nomads live in converted vans, campers, even Priuses. Many thrive while surviving day-to-day, but being a "workamper" is no easy ride.

Skewing older (many are in their 60s or 70s and have lost their retirement funds) and subject to "harsh migrant labor treatment," they are nevertheless sought-after workers due to their experience and reliability. Amazon has unsurprisingly taken advantage of this shadow economy, setting up company towns and recruiting its own "Camperforce," for whom long, difficult hours and low pay are the reward.

Joining them in Halen--a converted van (the subculture is strong with vehicle puns)--Bruder became intimately knowledgeable about this often heartwarming mobile community that blurs class lines. She writes with a steady and thoughtful hand about the frightening consequences when long-held social contracts are breached and upheaval becomes the new American normal, and exposes their underbelly with grace and heart. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

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