If you went to grad school in sociology in the 1990s you probably talked about inequality (what we called stratification) all the time. I think I would have sounded more intelligent during these conversations if Branko Milanovic's excellent 'The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality' had been available.
Even if you are not a sociology grad student, I highly recommend this (concise) book. Milanovic teaches us the basics of how economists think about and measure inequality, covering the academic research while also providing fascinating short vignettes and stories. We learn about how inequality plays out over generations and across cultures through the economic circumstances of successive generations of the Obama family. Today's income distribution is compared to both Rome and the gilded age, as we find out who is the richest person to ever walk the planet.
The Haves and the Have-Nots is less a book about causes, why the world is so unequal, and more about descriptions. How does the U.S. compare to China and India in terms of wealth? Is U.S. society more or less equal than European? How does economic inequality relate to immigration? Why does the history of inequality explain why Karl Marx got it wrong?
You will like this short book if you think economic history is about the coolest subject to read about (like me), and if you wonder why some people and some nations seem so poor while others seem to get all the goods.
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