Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream
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Adam Shepard graduated from college in the summer of 2006 feeling disillusioned by the apathy he saw around him and incensed after reading Barbara Ehrenreich's famous works Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch°™books that gave him a feeling of hopelessness over the state of the working class in America. Eager to see if he could make something out of nothing, he set out to prove wrong Ehrenreich's theory that those who start at the bottom stay at the bottom, and to see if the American Dream can still be a reality.
Shepard's plan was simple. Carrying only a sleeping bag, the clothes on his back, and $25 in cash, and restricted from using previous contacts or relying on his college education, he set out for a randomly selected city with one objective: work his way out of homelessness and into a life that would give him the opportunity for success. His goal was to have, after one year, $2,500, a working automobile, and a furnished apartment.
But from the start, things didn't go as smoothly as Shepard had planned. Working his way up from a Charleston, South Carolina homeless shelter proved to be more difficult than he anticipated, with pressure to take low-paying, exploitive jobs from labor companies, and a job market that didn't respond with enthusiasm to homeless applicants. Shepard even began donating plasma to make fast cash. To his surprise, he found himself depending most on fellow shelter residents for inspiration and advice.
Earnest, passionate, and hard to put down, Scratch Beginnings is a story that will not only inspire readers, but will also remind them that success can come to anyone who is willing to work hard°™and that America is still one of the most hopeful and inspiring countries in the world.
Great Life Lesson My daughter and I read this book together along with her 8th grade class. We then had the pleasure of meeting Adam when he came to talk to her school. I was impressed with the book, but even more impressed with the author. He has proven that the American Dream is possible when coupled with traditional values like hard work, persistence, dependability, loyalty, etc.. He is a good man and this is an excellent book. I'd love to see the author of "Nickeled and Dimed" together with him for a debate on the accessibility of the American Dream. I highly recommend "Scratch Beginnings" to everyone....more info
Compelling idea and execution
I agree that this guy, as a smart, healthy, and white male with no criminal record, had some advantages that others would not have. Still, I give him credit for what he accomplished in such a short time.
Some reviewers complained about the depth of detail about his job in the second half of the book. I actually found it to be quite interesting. Of course, maybe I'm just biased because this book had me laughing harder than any book has in a long time and a refreshing change from whiney Barbara....more info
Peer Review Hey Dad,
Thanks for sending me that book. I just finished it last night, and although some parts were very clich®¶, it was quite interesting. I think the kid had some good points about hard work, saving money, and a "five year plan", but it's obvious that he is still a young, privileged, white boy from the south. I guess he got something right since he is my age and already published!
Excellent Message A very good message, should be required reading for all, especially young adults.
An easy read....more info
Lessons here for everyone This book does much more than refute Barbara Ehrenreich's book claiming the American dream deceased. It is a human, sometimes humorous, and quite educational adventure story. Some can dispute whether it is a valid experiment in duplicating the real state of the poor and homeless but it does show that hard work, persistence, and sane choices still work to elevate anyone's socio economic level. In addition, there are lessons here that would help anyone pursue a plan to change their life in minor (or even major) ways. I would recommend this book to all my friends of any age and any status in life....more info
An excellent read for young people all over this country! After first reading Nickel and Dimed, it was a pleasure to read Scratch Beginnings as he set out to disprove the previous book. It was amazing what a contrast these books were and how good it was to show the contrast. If college students are required to read one, they should then read them both. What stands true is that in America if you set out to prove something and have the mindset to do so, YOU WILL! So when Barbara set out to prove you couldn't make it in America today, wow she proved it was just impossible, and yet when Adam set out to prove her wrong, guess what, HE DID! I have these 2 books in my bookshelf in my classroom at the high school I teach and highly recommend you to do the same....more info
Catcher in the . . . Imagine Catcher in the Rye but not written by Salinger and therefore without any vivid characterizations or shocking and dramatic occurrences. And before some of those in love with this book spring loose to pounce on me, yes, I know its non-fiction. My comparison is to forewarn those who might be interested in buying this book. Additionally, this is not an endorsement of Babs Ehrenreich's books. I was ready to see Adam offer his counterpoint to her cynicism.
If Adam's story is in the least bit telling, it would have to be on the topic the value of a modern college education. The observations are not very insightful and the conclusions he draws at the end are like a poorly written mid-term paper for a Sociology 101 class. Interesting that he chooses the word "Didactic" in the subtitle of his Epilogue. I am not sure he realizes the irony of his word choice. Then again, connotation and other literary devices are never really on display here. So it will be a very didactic, as in boring and overly teach-y read.
Finally, and back to the idea that this is a sociology experiment of sorts, it never really gets any traction for me in that sense either. He's play acting like some Prince Hal who's slumming it but his true "scratch" beginning as a child raised in a home of two parents who were able to support him up through college make it even more difficult to suspend my disbelief, as it were. Deep down, he was incapable of making the sort of bad decisions that lead so many into the life he explored for a year. He was ultimately prohibited from ever seeing, thinking or feeling the reality in the same way all of the other characters do who are depicted here. I would have been more interested if he had written one of their success stories from their point of view.
The book came highly recommended based on some radio interviews or talk-show reviews. In the end it was a disappointment to spend so much time laboring through this prosaic book....more info
Scratch Beginnings - Adam Sheperd I very much enjoyed Adam Sheperd's "Scratch Beginnings" It shows that with common sense and a keen mind you can survive in the present America.
I am still perplexed as to why our supposed "Of the People for the People" government is letting High-Value jobs and it's resulting Tax Base completely disappear to Foreign countries at the whim of For-Profit Multi-National corporations. Just who is going to pay for all the Debt, Infrastructure, Military & Government Programs after all of the Hi-Value jobs disappear? Not to mention just who do the Multi-Nationals think will be their "Discretionary Income" future customers??...more info
Up from Poverty: America Style "Scratch Beginnings" is an astounding piece on what is possible in this country. He takes on the naysayers that have written books on how to be poor stay poor explaining how they wanted to fail. The American dream lives on.
I relate to Adam W. Shepard because I had a similar experience. I moved out of my parents house when I turned 18 and started from scratch 3,500 miles away from where I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois to where I settled in Fairbanks, Alaska. I lived in a cabin with no running water earning 10 dollars an hour moving up the totem pole and earning more than double that wage in less than a year. I got myself on track and graduated from college. I was always too busy working or studying to call myself a victim.
Read this book if you want to believe in yourself and the greatness of this country. Taking on the phony victims for their stupidity and laziness is fun also. ...more info
A Passionate, Hopeful, Modern Social Experiment. In 2006, a young man named Adam Shepard graduated from college and, tired of the complaining and laziness he perceived in American society, decided to set out and see if the American Dream is still alive. He selected a random city, Charleston, SC, and moved there with only $25, a sleeping bag, and the clothes on his back. His goal was, through hard work and perseverance, to have a $2,500, a working car, and a furnished apartment in a year's time. Boarding up in a homeless shelter, Shepard worked hard every day for the Day Labor company, all the while looking for a steady job. He eventually found work as a furniture mover, mainly getting that job because of the steadfast and dedicated speech he gave the manager. He worked hard every day. At the end of the year, did he have a car, an apartment, and $2,500? Read it and find out.
This book is brimming with true American spirit, something that one sees less and less of these days. Its premise is that an American can work himself up to a higher position. Espousing the rugged individualism that runs in the American soil, it has that in common with great literary classics such as "Huckleberry Finn" and of course the Horatio Alger tales.
The American Dream is still alive. Hard work and a good attitude can improve your circumstances. Yes, there are valid criticisms of this book, such as the fact that Shepard was college-educated and, even though he promised not to use his education to his advantage, he could not change his bolstered knowledge and articulate speech. True, he was able-bodied and young, as well, but these criticisms are beside the point. Shepard could not change who he is; he set out to prove concepts applicable to anyone. The high-school dropout Shepard met, Derrick, was an example of rags-to-riches success as the best furniture mover in the business, so there's a real life example Shepard met of a man with less education also striving to succeed. As for disabled people, true, there are fewer opportunities, but by not complaining and working to the best of your ability, you can improve yourself despite your disability. How about that blind guy who climbed Mount Everest? Anything is possible.
"Scratch Beginnnigs" is a great read; fast-moving, passionate, and inspiring. Read it and then go make something of your own life. Don't just sit around all day...reviewing...on, uh...amazon...um...heh, heh....more info
Kelso meets da hood. This reviewer loves tales of budgetary challenges, so when hearing author Adam Shepard interviewed about Scratch Beginnings, the itch to read his story began. Sadly, by the half-way point, I was scratching my eyebrow, wondering when it would end.
An "A" for effort, but a lowercase "c" for tedious writing. While much has been made of his positive outlook, I closed Scratch Beginnings with the scratch wonderings of whether Shepard is up with people or just a big fan of himself? In any case, a revisit challenge on his part in his 40's might be of interest. - Laurel825
Excellent read - recommended for everyone! I found out about this book when I saw Adam at a "Fox and Friends" TV show. His interview was so interesting that I felt compelled to buy the book almost immediately after I saw him on the show.
It's a terrific book, well written and a page turner. It was like being there throughout his journey and packed with life lessons along the way. Adam wrote it in an unpretentious yet powerful way. I really, really enjoyed it.
After I finished reading it, I went to his website and watched his YouTube video where he gave a brief talk about the book. I was surprised at the level of articulation - even I was able to read his lips. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets more and more requests for speaking engagements because of his articulation. Not only that but he has a riveting story to tell.
I was so impressed that I invited him to be interviewed at my blog, Adversity University. His book ended with a tagline that parallels my own philosophy that adversity does not discriminate-- it affects everyone from all walks of life and it's not what happens to you that matters but what what you do about it. He describes very well what it's like to live in poverty-like conditions and regardless of what his critics might object to, he really lived to tell the tale and proved that the American Dream indeed exists for those who are willing to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and make the best of their lives.
Life Lessons This book provides awesome life lessons on how you can never take anything for granted. Shep does a good job to relaying how important little things are in life. Its a great book and I recommend it to anyone. Those that struggle financially, those that are just getting out of debt and those that have too much, NEED to read this book. Its a great read and good teachings of how one must maintain faith and courage. This book does that!...more info
You Can Always Get What You Want This book proved that you can get anything you want if you work for it. Adam Shepard started with nothing and ended with something.
Aside from the language that might not be fit for young ones, this is a must read for anyone who is questioning their existence and complaining about their normal routines.
My only displeasure is how the author spends the last 30 or so pages telling the government how to end poverty. I would have loved to hear more stories about his time in the homeless shelter or other tales about his "New Genesis."...more info
All Americans should read this book... Important book. All Americans should read this book as it not only provides insight into the homeless and unemployed, it gives hope for the American dream. The author demonstrates that with the proper attitude and work ethic, a successful life can be built. However, he also addresses those who have been brought up with no hope and without a good example to follow. This is written from the limited life experiences of a young college grad, but his observations are mostly solid. I highly recommend this book. ...more info
Well done Well written book that was clearly researched well. I would certainly purchase another book from this author....more info
inherently flawed study, but makes for interesting reading Shepherd's study is inherently flawed. He has too many advantages to really test whether or not one can come up from the bottom social rung to make it in America.
Still, the book makes for interesting reading. Shepherd takes us to places we might not have been, and introduces to characters, the lifestyles of which we might not otherwise know much about.
"The Pursuit of Happyness" (also now an excellent movie on DVD) is an account that better addresses the question Shepherd poses, compared to his own study, although the Happiness story occurred earlier in time.
In "The Pursuit of Happyness", the real life protagonist of the story really began in a down-and-out fashion, not in the artificially down-and-out fashion which Shepherd begins.
While Shepherd has his difficulties, they don't remotely compare to those of Gardner (author of "The Pursuit of Happiness"). Gardner had to be exceptional in every way to pull himself out of poverty, whereas Shepherd merely had to work hard, influence others to like him, and exhibit common sense.
I'm giving the book four stars instead of three because it is an enjoyable read, and unique in its own right. I do not, however, think it effectively debunks the claims of Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Nickel and Dimed".
Excellent Should be required reading in high school.
Adam is a remarkable young man, he should do very well in his life....more info
Scratch Beginnings I found the basic premise to this book to be very interesting, and a good social experiment. I would have loved to try this experiment for myself. I found the first few chapters of this book to be extremely interesting. I didn't expect his lifestyle to change so quickly and once he made it out of the shelter, I found that the day-to-day aspect of his moving company job to be kind of boring. The ending was not good, but I still think that if someone is interested in reading about this idea, it's a quick easy read. It also can lead to some "what if's" with your friends if you both read it. Overall not too good, not too bad.....more info
road adventure Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream
Purchased used, like new. Prompt arrival and personalized service from seller....more info
Reads like a blog Although I enjoyed some parts of this book, it read too much like a blog on MySpace, to really hold my interest. The premise of the book is compelling, that an average joe, through hard work and careful scrimping, could rise from homelessness to have an apartment, a car, and a few thousand in the bank, in 6 months' time.
But the premise is somewhat flawed. That a young, white, male, healthy, middle class, college educated boy from a healthy and stable family could do this, should surprise no one. Throw in race, a tumultuous background, being female, a kid, a physical or mental disability, bad luck, or any number of other hurdles, and it would make a much more interesting story. (For a more compelling example, see Clarence Thomas' autobiography).
The most disappointing part of the book, however, is that the second half tends to drone on about the "zen" of being a furniture mover. I realize that the author is trying to illustrate that rewards can be found in even the most mundane occupations, but half a book was a bit much.
Finally, the fractured preachiness at the end of the book seemed amateurish, and in need of an editor. It rambled on from platitude to platitude, and you were never quite sure what the point was.
The premise is great; the ideas were promising but somewhat naive; the execution seems amateurish and unpolished....more info
A powerful rebuttal to "Nickel and Dimed" The author presents his own (successful) experiment in escaping poverty, and draws some conclusions on how to do so....more info
The power of determination In this "social science" story, Adam Shepard has decided to take matters into his own hands. With $25 dollars in his pocket, a sleeping bag, and the clothes on his back, he sets out after college for a year-long project to discover if it is possible for a young homeless man to find the American Dream.
Riding a train to a city he literally pulled out of a hat, Adam finds himself experiencing the hazards of street life immediately when he is repeatedly approached for money and then threatened by a gang. Fortunately he is able to make his way across town to Crisis Ministries, a homeless shelter that provides him with a place to sleep, a hot meal, and a case manager who helps him to get on his feet.
Adam finds out firsthand what it is like to start with nothing and work his way to the top. With determination and a desire to succeed, he makes friends in the shelter and lands a blue collar job working for one of the top moving companies in the country. Saving everything he earns and only spending money when absolutely necessary, Adam is able to earn his way out of the shelter and rent a duplex with his co-worker's cousin as a roommate.
Throughout the story, Adam hides his real identity from the people he meets. Using a fabricated story about an alcoholic father and drug-addicted mother, Adam fits in with the other men at the shelter and learns about their troubled pasts. Some of the people he meets, like Omar, are also struggling to find a better life, while others are happy just to exist from day to day.
In less than a year Adam is able to reach his goals and not only have a place to live but also purchase a used vehicle and have a little money in the bank. His project is cut short when he needs to return home to help his mother through an illness, but nevertheless his project is a success.
Armchair Interviews says: Scratch Beginnings is a great read for anyone interested in the Social Science genre-and reading how someone handled their life's challenges....more info
Whiners This comment is directed at all current and future one and two star whiners. It is inarguable that frugality, hard work, sobriety, perseverance, self-discipline, and a determination to get ahead will tend to elevate one's station in life. The whiners don't believe that upward mobility is possible in this society, because they don't want to believe that there is a way out of the bottom tier. They want to persist in believing in victimhood and that no one can succeed without massive assistance (from the government or otherwise). That is the real reason that most able-bodied people don't improve their lot. And they are helped to remain as they are by enablers who should know better. Adam Shepard proves a point for anyone who has the eyes to see and the ears to hear. For those who don't, there is no help...just the hope that there will be more assistance from the nanny state. It may hurt to grow up, but it hurts worse not to.
Inspirational Book! Adam proves the thesis that the American dream is alive and well. Adam moves to a city with nothing to prove he can make it. Although this is not a revolutionary concept - immigrants achieve similar success all the time - he documents his success in a very enjoyable text. Old and young can both learn from this book! ...more info
Slumming and complaining is not a nobel pursuit I was inspired by the author's premise, but rapidly realized that he didn't set out to prove that ANYONE could make something out of nothing. Instead of relying on his own ingenuity and hard work this strong, capable young man went slumming. For months he took free food, clothes, shelter and other aid from taxpayers and well-meaning volunteers while whining about his prospects. (Pay attention to the minor issues that made up his "crisis" week.)
Yes, he tossed in a little admiration for those who are homeless. Yet he never experienced any personal growth. His attitudes remained rigid. Nor did he manage to understand mental illness, substance dependency, or pervasive class issues that keep people at the bottom of society. He pointed out the value of his eventual job as if everyone could pull themselves up by those proverbial bootstraps.
His book doesn't for a moment disprove Nickel and Dimed. Ehrenreich worked minimum wage jobs herself, demonstrating the impossibility of living below the poverty level. Somehow Shepard believed that he leveled the playing field by "pretending" that he wasn't a middle class college boy but he couldn't pretend away his good vocabulary, direct approach to those in authority, expectations of success, stable family background or strong self-esteem. His experience certainly didn't prove that a single parent, older adult or chronically ill person could "make it."
He didn't see the irony of his "good boy" ending. He returned home to care for his unwell mother. Yet it's exactly people like his mother who, if she had to rely on a minimum wage job with no health care and no extended family, would fall quickly to the bottom that Shepard was unable to recognize.
A much better book on this topic is Breakfast at Sally's: One Homeless Man's Inspirational Journey by Richard LeMieux. ...more info
Modern day Horatio Alger tale ... Author Adam Shepard undertakes his own one-man sociology experiment by getting on a bus to Charleston, S.C. with minimal possessions and only $25. Landing in a homeless shelter, he sets about rebuilding his life by dint of hard work and perseverance. At the end of his one-year experiment, he is richer not only financially but in maturity and insights.
Shepard's tale reinforces notions of hard work, ambition and delayed gratification which may be lost on the slack-jawed couch-surfers who endlessly play GTA3 on the Play Station. His tale raises the unspoken question, "If Shepard can do it, why can't others/"
An uplifting book that underscores old fashioned virtues in a non-preachy way!
Relevant Now, More Than Ever The economy has taken a nosedive in the short time since Adam Shepard conducted his experiment and wrote his book. These times make his book even more relevant, as we all face the uncertainty that is a daily companion for the bottom rung of American life.
Shepard proves for all of us that our obstacles are usually self-imposed. He demonstrates that setting goals, finding mentors, appreciating what we have, and maintaining a positive mindset will pay off in the end. He also demonstrates that the negative, un-ambitious mindset will lead to the expect conclusion. It is all about attitude and tenacity....more info
Would you have been able to do it? As many point out, Adam had some advantages in his pursuit to go from homeless with no money to having his own apartment, savings and transportaion within a year. Not the least of which is that he is a young, energetic kid fresh out of school, who hasn't yet been beaten down by any of life's battles.
But, while he admits to his advantages - his pursuit is still eye-opening and inspirational. It's interesting to see how easily his goal could have been derailed if a seemingly, innocent choice had gone the other way or if he'd landed with a few less caring people around him.
BOTTOM LINE: Though Adam isn't a seasoned writer, this is a good read. There are a couple of times where his youthful optimism turns to preaching on social responsibility - which can be a bit annoying (a note he writes to a bus driver and the final chapter pop to mind). But, all in all it's still worth reading to share and learn from his adventure. And, it makes you wonder how well you would succeed in the same endeavor....more info
Intriguing read This is an excellent book. The author's writing style was easy to read and sucked me in. I read the entire book over 2 days - couldn't put it down. It was realistic while being very uplifting and inspirational... a testament that hard work and perseverance can still get a driven individual somewhere in this country. An important message during challenging times. I admire the author for having the courage to embark on his journey and the strength to stick with it....more info
Food for thought What an eye opening book this is! Some have criticized this book and its story because the author is educated, white and determined (as if educated white people never find themselves homeless). That misses the whole point. During the course of this book, Shepard injures himself working as a mover. He endures a roommate who freely barrows his vehicle. He gets sick. Etc. It's not easy for him to move out of the shelter and build up a savings account. He never says it is.
There's many parallels we can draw to our own lives even if we've never been homeless and only know people who've been homeless only from volunteering at a shelter or wherever. After all, statistically, most of us are only a few months from the street if we run into a streak of bad luck and lose our jobs. Shepard doesn't waste time sitting around feeling sorry for himself. He chooses to avoid the trap of day labor and handouts.
This book gets you thinking about what is and isn't important and also how best to help your fellow man. ...more info
Getting Schooled on the Streets instead of the Classroom I'm proud to say that being frugal, being driven and being disciplined all paid off. My husband is retired and I'm a stay-at-home mom. Some people may say that we got lucky. Others may say that we came from roots or education that gave us an upper hand. I'm not going to debate how we got to where we are but rather point to the book, Scratch Beginnings, that shows that passion, hard work and determination open doors for people in all walks of life.
While he could have pursued a higher degree through traditional schooling, Adam Shepard opted to hit the streets and see where it took him. Using his real name, but a fabricated background, he ventured to Charleston, South Carolina with nothing but the clothes on his back, a journal, a sleeping bag and $25. His goal was to see if it would be possible to get $2500 in the bank, a car and a furnished living space within one year.
The book chronicles his time in a homeless shelter - and we're talking months not nights - along with his attempt to find suitable work. Never did he divulge that he was a college graduate, so he took whatever work he could find. While his work ethic and his attitude were what kept him employed, the book provides examples of how different approaches to the same environment and work land people in different places.
I found this book to be very honest and interesting, reading it whenever I had the opportunity. Adam lived the life of a homeless person and showed that getting out from underneath is possible. The story revitalized my conservative opinions about whether or not the government should be responsible for the welfare of the less motivated. (Note that I didn't say less fortunate.) The only problem that I had with this book was when I reached the epilogue. The author stood on a soapbox and took a very liberal stance to what he felt the government should do. It was completely the opposite of what I had taken from the experience. I literally could only read a few paragraphs of the epilogue at a time before huffing and throwing the book down in disgust. Thankfully, I managed through it (a few paragraphs at a time) and got to the part where he says that more neighborhood heroes are needed to set good examples. People who are fighting their way out need to show other people it's possible. Programs like Big Brother/Big Sister are out there and have positive results. It isn't necessarily about raising taxes as much as raising the bar on attitudes.
This is an inspirational book that shows that there are always options in life. ...more info
Well written, perceptive - it will change your outlook about the homeless This book will change your outlook on the homeless. Some homeless are just down on their luck and need a hand - other homeless won't be getting off the streets any time soon. The real problem is, there's no way to tell the difference - so if you want to help the first variety, you have to help the second as well. If reading this book doesn't move you to volunteer your time or money at a homeless shelter, you have no heart.
Adam claims not to be an author, and apparently before this book he wasn't - but he is now. As another reviewer said, I'll buy this guy's next book.
Adam's discovery that it's not the job, but how well you do the job that counts in life - is years ahead of a lot of people I know and will serve him well (as well as his readers who learn this from his book).
A couple of reviewers criticize him for not being genuinely poor - but to his credit he does a good job of acknowledging the benefit of having people in his life who encouraged him and planted the seed of ambition in him. He seems to realize that this encouragement in and of itself is a priceless gift - a gift which helps a person over the rough spots in their lives.
A must read for all walks of life As a volunteer for a homeless shelter I interact with displaced people of all walks of life. Adam saw what I see and what all of America should know. Yes, there are many hustlers out there dodging rent, child support and the law by living in shelters but there are others who truly want out but are not sure how to go about it. I agree with a previous reviewer that Scratch Beginnings should be required reading in high school if not before. Order a copy for yourself and for a spoiled teenager today....more info
A great story but not such a great book... I can't agree more with Adam W. Shepard on the value of attitude, determination, hard work and thrift. But Adam is not a prose write and his final conclusions seem significantly at odds with his experience and the self-reliance theme that dominates the narrative. One wants to blame his editors for the lame conclusions in the final chapters but Mr. Shepard probably has to own up to them.
I hope Mr. Shepard has a good run on the lecture circuit talking to high school students, missions, social workers, ministers and others about his experience. I definitely recommend this book as a Christmas holiday read for my children....more info