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A senior editor at Mother Jones dives into the lives of the extremely rich, showing the fascinating, otherworldly realm they inhabit—and the insidious ways this realm harms us all.
Have you ever fantasized about being ridiculously wealthy? Probably. Striking it rich is among the most resilient of American fantasies, surviving war and peace, expansions and recessions, economic meltdowns and global pandemics. We dream of the jackpot, the big exit, the life-altering payday, in whatever form that takes. (Americans spent $81 billion on lottery tickets in 2019, more than the GDPs of most nations.) We would escape “essential” day jobs and cramped living spaces, bury our debts, buy that sweet spread, and bail out struggling friends and relations. But rarely do we follow the fantasy to its conclusion—to ponder the social, psychological, and societal downsides of great affluence and the fact that so few possess it.
What is it actually like to be blessed with riches in an era of plagues, political rancor, and near-Dickensian economic differences? How mind-boggling are the opportunities and access, how problematic the downsides? Does the experience differ depending on whether the money is earned or unearned, where it comes from, and whether you are male or female, white or black? Finally, how does our collective lust for affluence, and our stubborn belief in social mobility, explain how we got to the point where forty percent of Americans have literally no wealth at all?
These are all questions that Jackpot sets out to explore. The result of deep reporting and dozens of interviews with fortunate citizens—company founders and executives, superstar coders, investors, inheritors, lottery winners, lobbyists, lawmakers, academics, sports agents, wealth and philanthropy professionals, concierges, luxury realtors, Bentley dealers, and even a woman who trains billionaires’ nannies in physical combat, Jackpot is a compassionate, character-rich, perversely humorous, and ultimately troubling journey into the American wealth fantasy and where it has taken us.
About the Author
Michael Mechanic is a senior editor at Mother Jones magazine. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two teenagers, and various animals. Jackpot is his first book.
“Economic inequality has never been more gaping in the United States, which makes it the perfect time to read Jackpot, Michael Mechanic’s entertaining and eviscerating peek behind the velvet curtains and into the real lives of America’s Super-Rich. Mechanic provides an eyeopening exposé of the myriad ways in which our nation’s political system unfairly enriches those at the top at the expense of those at the bottom. His myth-busting conclusion is that everyone loses, even the lucky few who have hit the jackpot.” —JANE MAYER, author of Dark Money
“Eye-opening…. often a gleeful sendup of the absurd eccentricities of the superrich…. A scathing but fair indictment of how the mindless worship of wealth makes us all poorer.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Jackpot skillfully explores the impact of great wealth on people’s lives and society; an economic system driven by selfish values; and the urgent need for a more fair, equal, and sustainable capitalism that works for the greater good of everyone and the planet.” —MARC BENIOFF, chair and CEO of Salesforce
“Jackpot explores the harm that great wealth imposes, not only on society but also, surprisingly, on those who possess it. In ways that bring to mind the late nineteenth century, the United States now faces the consequences of ‘wealth against commonwealth,’ except today’s robber barons are even richer. Do you want to win the lottery? As Michael Mechanic eloquently shows, maybe you don’t. Instead of playing a rigged game, we should be challenging its outcomes and changing the rules.” —ERIC SCHLOSSER, author of Command and Control
“Such great fun to read—so inside the heads and lives of its subjects— that its vital insights sneak up on you: how America's most fortunate, often despite the best intentions, perpetuate class advantages; how African Americans and women of all races are systematically excluded from wealth-building; and how rethinking our cherished myths about money and mobility could help us survive as a nation.” —PEGGY ORENSTEIN, author of Girls & Sex
“A nimble exploration of a society obsessed with crowning winners and punishing losers. Jackpot makes me angry but also hits the spot.” —Gary Shteyngart, author, Lake Success
“Mike Mechanic’s Jackpot is a rich, well-reported, compellingly told story that is not only a good read but an unsettling reminder of the absurd advantages that accrue to Americans who have won the proverbial lottery.” —Gary Rivlin, author, Broke USA