Barbara Ehrenreich

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Barbara Ehrenreich was a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine from 1999 to 2012.

Her bestselling book, Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America (2001), originated as a piece of undercover reportage published in the January 1999 issue of the magazine, for which she received the Sidney Hillman Award in 2000. In her introduction to the book, Ehrenreich recalls how, during a lunch with Harper’s editor Lewis H. Lapham, conversation turned to how one lives on low wages. She suggested that someone ought to “do the old-fashioned kind of journalism—you know, go out there and try it for themselves,” after which “Lapham got this crazy-looking half smile on his face and ended life as I knew it, for long stretches at least, with the single word, ‘You.’”

Ehrenreich is the author or co-author of, among other works, Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War (1998); Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream (2005); Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy (2007); and Complaints & Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness (2011), co-written with former Mother Jones editor Deirdre English.

Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Time, The Progressive, and Mother Jones, among others.

Readings — From the March 2014 issue

The Trees Step Out of the Forest

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Readings — From the June 2012 issue

The animal cure

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Notebook — From the February 2007 issue

Pathologies of hope

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Article — From the November 2001 issue

Welcome to cancerland

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A mammogram leads to a cult of pink kitsch

Article — From the April 2000 issue

Maid to order

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The politics of other women’s work

Article — From the January 1999 issue

Nickel-and-dimed

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On (not) getting by in America

Article — From the December 1997 issue

Giving women the business

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On winning, losing, and leaving the corporate game

Article — From the August 1997 issue

Spinning the poor into gold

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How corporations seek to profit from welfare reform

Readings — From the December 1989 issue

Working-class heroes no more

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Editor's Note

Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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50,000 Life Coaches Can’t Be Wrong·

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“I was warned that there would likely be a lot of emotions coming out in the room.”
Illustration by Katherine Streeter
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Dan Halpern’s “Citizen Walmart” (2012)·

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“He’s taking on a heap of debt to scale up for Walmart, a heap of debt.”
Photograph by Thomas Allen
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The Quinoa Quarrel·

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“Bolivia’s gene banks contain far more quinoa varieties than any other country’s, yet the Bolivians are dead set against sharing them.”
Photograph by Lisa M. Hamilton
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You Had to Be There·

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“He explained how sober Doug structured the bits and worked out the material’s logic; drunk Doug found the funny.”
Illustration by Andrew Zbihlyj

Ratio of husbands who say they fell in love with their spouse at first sight to wives who say this:

2:1

Mathematicians announced the discovery of the perfect method of cutting a cake.

Indian prime-ministerial contender Narendra Modi, who advertises his bachelorhood as a mark of his incorruptibility, confessed to having a wife.

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