Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves from the American Dream

Regular price $ 18.99

by Alissa Quart

Ecco Press

4/9/2024, paperback

SKU: 9780063028012


An unsparing, incisive, yet ultimately hopeful look at how we can shed the American obsession with self-reliance that has made us less healthy, less secure, and less fulfilled

The promise that you can "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" is central to the story of the American Dream. It's the belief that if you work hard and rely on your own resources, you will eventually succeed. However, time and again we have seen how this foundational myth, with its emphasis on individual determination, brittle self-sufficiency, and personal accomplishment, does not help us. Instead, as income inequality rises around us, we are left with shame and self-blame for our condition.

Acclaimed journalist Alissa Quart argues that at the heart of our suffering is a do-it-yourself ethos, the misplaced belief in our own independence and the conviction that we must rely on ourselves alone. Looking at a range of delusions and half solutions--from "grit" to the false Horatio Alger story to the rise of GoFundMe--Quart reveals how we have been steered away from robust social programs that would address the root causes of our problems. Meanwhile, the responsibility for survival has been shifted onto the backs of ordinary people, burdening generations with debt instead of providing the social safety net we so desperately need.

Insightful, sharply argued, and characterized by Quart's lively writing and deep reporting, and for fans of Evicted and Nickel and Dimed, Bootstrapped is a powerful examination of what ails us at a societal level and a plan for how we can free ourselves from these self-defeating narratives.


"Quart's vision of an America where no one needs to put on "codified theatrical performances via social media" to get the help they need is a breath of fresh air. This eloquent and incisive call to action inspires." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review

"A contrarian rebuttal of the notion that wealthy Americans deserve everything they have and that the "poor are responsible for their own poverty...A provocative, important repudiation of gig-economy capitalism that proposes utopian rather than dystopian solutions." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"In Bootstrapped, Alissa Quart takes you on a wild journey to the ideological heart of the self-made myth. The reporting and storytelling here are incredible; my jaw literally dropped several times. But even as Quart tears down 'the bootstraps' con through compelling portraits of lived realities, she also builds up a demonstration -- at once realistic and utopian -- of the many 'arts of interdependence, ' as she calls them, on which we rely. Ultimately, this book left me with much-needed hope, resolve, and curiosity about all the things we make possible together." -- Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing

"Quart shreds the myth that white wealth comes from individualism. She also breaks down how this lie is used to exploit America's poorest workers, creating unprecedented riches for the few. Clear writing and consequential arguments make Bootstrapped an enlightening and informative page turner." -- Sarah Schulman, author of Let The Record Show

About the Author:

Alissa Quart is the author of four previous books of nonfiction, including Squeezed: Why Our Families Can't Afford America and Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers, and two books of poetry, most recently Thoughts and Prayers. She is the executive director of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and has written for many publications, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Time. Her honors include an Emmy Award, an SPJ Award, and Nieman Fellowship. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.