Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh


A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke
in the Richest Country on Earth

Smarsh was born a fifth-generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side, the child of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. In HEARTLAND, she introduces readers to a compelling cast of characters from her own family—grandmothers who act as second mothers, farmers who work themselves to the bone, builders who can’t afford their own homes, children who move from school to school.

Smarsh maps their lives against the destruction of the working class wrought by public policy: the demise of the family farm, the dismantling of public health care, the defunding of public schools, wages so stagnant that full-time laborers could no longer pay the bills. Readers will learn what Smarsh did: Working hard in this country probably won’t get you ahead after all.

The complex, often brilliant people of Smarsh’s story defy stereotypes amid a culture that embraces the term “white trash,” suggesting that some lives are of lesser value and even dispensable. Part memoir, part social analysis, part cultural commentary, HEARTLAND is an uncompromising look at class, identity and the perils of economic hardship in a wealthy nation.

Read an excerpt from Heartland in The Nation magazine.

Instant New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award, Kirkus Prize, Indie Choice Award and J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize

Audie Award finalist for best audio book (memoir)

Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Literary Prize and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award

Named a Best Book of 2018 by the Boston Globe, NPR, Elle Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Bustle, Fresh Air, the New York Post, Buzzfeed, the San Francisco Chronicle, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Mother Jones

Recommended by President Barack Obama and Melinda Gates

Selected by Sarah Jessica Parker for American Library Association’s Book Club Central

“Sarah Smarsh has written a brilliant and compassionate memoir, deeply affectionate yet clear-eyed, a portrait of proud, hardscrabble Midwestern farm families. You will fall in love with the people of Heartland.”
—Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle

“Smart, nuanced and atmospheric … Heartland deepens our understanding of the crushing ways in which class shapes possibility in this country.”
—NPR Books

“Smarsh chronicles the human toll of inequality, her own childhood a case study … what this book offers is a tour through the messy and changed reality of the American dream, and a love letter to the unruly but still beautiful place she called home.”
Boston Globe

“Smarsh’s Heartland is a book we need: an observant, affectionate portrait of working-class America that possesses the power to resonate with readers of all classes.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Combining heartfelt memoir with eye-opening social commentary, Smarsh braids together the stories of four generations.”
People Magazine

“A deeply humane memoir that crackles with clarifying insight.”
New York Times Book Review

“The takeaway (from Heartland)? The working poor don’t need our pity; they need to be heard above the din of cliché and without so-called expert interpretation. Smarsh’s family are expert enough to correct any misunderstandings about their lives.”

Heartland is [Smarsh’s] map of home, drawn with loving hands and tender words … A welcome interruption in the national silence that hangs over the lives of the poor and a repudiation of the culture of shame that swamps people who deserve better.”
The Washington Post

“In a memoir written with loving candor, the daughter of generations of serially impoverished Kansas wheat farmers and working-poor single mothers chronicles a family’s unshakeable belief in the American dream and explains why it couldn’t help but fail them.”
Ms. Magazine

“Something about Sarah Smarsh’s writing makes you light up inside … That is how I felt reading Smarsh’s book: as if the world could wait until I got to the end.”
The American Conservative

“An unsentimental tribute to the working-class people Smarsh knows — the farmers, office clerks, trash collectors, waitresses — whose labor is often invisible or disdained.”
Fresh Air

“Candid and courageous … Smarsh’s raw and intimate narrative exposes a country of economic inequality that has ‘failed its children.'”
Publishers Weekly

“There is rich soil in America’s flyover states, and if we follow Smarsh’s path, we will find families like mine and the author’s, full of sensible, resilient women who may be disenfranchised, but who are also uniquely poised and equipped to aid in the revolution, and in our collective liberation.”
Los Angeles Times

Heartland is an important book for this moment … Smarsh emerges as a writer, most potently, in her vivid encounters with the ironies of working-class life — her reflections on what it means to live poor can turn startlingly poetic.”

“Part memories, part economic analysis, part sociological treatise, Heartland ties together various threads of American society of the last 40 years.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Startlingly vivid … an absorbing, important work in a country that needs to know more about itself.”
Christian Science Monitor

“This book is so much more than even the best sociology. It is poetry—of the wind and snow, the two-lane roads running through the wheat, the summer nights when work-drained families drink and dance under the prairie sky.”
—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed

“Sarah Smarsh is one of America’s foremost writers on class … Heartland offers a fresh and riveting perspective on the middle of the nation all too often told through the prism of men.”
—Dale Maharidge, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning And Their Children After Them

“I haven’t been able to put down this memoir. Sarah Smarsh uses her personal history to challenge us to examine the effects of intergenerational poverty”
—Melinda Gates