This unique book depicts the stories of Americans born in poverty, who achieved national or international fame. Accessible to students and lay readers, this scholarly study describes poverty as a disability that typically stunts important areas of growth in childhood. Wagner shows how poverty hampers individuals and groups for their entire lives, even many of those who emerge from poverty. Examples of individuals with difficult childhoods who faced residual lifelong challenges are presented in the stories of 27 Americans, including athlete Babe Ruth, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, singer Billie Holliday, author Jack London, actress Marilyn Monroe, black leader Malcolm X, singer Johnny Cash, comedian Richard Pryor, author Stephen King, and entertainer Oprah Winfrey. The book yields insight into successful individuals and how they coped, adapted, and ultimately achieved success.
Wagner's website can be found here.
"Has it gotten harder for Americans from poor backgrounds to become famous? In a new book, Unlikely Fame: Poor People Who Made History, historian David Wagner suggests fewer famous people come from poverty today than did in the past.
"David Wagner is a foremost scholar on issues of poverty, homelessness, and social welfare policy."
"Informed and informative, Unlikely Fame: Poor People Who Made History is a fascinating and informative read from beginning to end. It is a unique and seminal work that is truly extraordinary and highly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as school, community and academic library American Biography collections."
“A pioneering book on the influence of impoverished childhoods. . . . Wagner reveals that many people from seriously deprived backgrounds remained rebellious, often class conscious, and even more creative in their chosen work.”
—Stanley Aronowitz, CUNY Graduate Center
“With all the current talk about both our celebrity culture and the end of the American dream, David Wagner’s Unlikely Fame underscores the impact of poverty, especially childhood poverty, and the lifelong price paid by 27 famous Americans, mostly artists, athletes, and activists, from Theodore Dreiser, Jackson Pollock, Billie Holiday, Marilyn Monroe, and Richard Pryor to Babe Ruth, Malcolm X, and Fannie Lou Hamer, all of whom went from rags to riches but were heavily shaped by their poverty backgrounds. A must-read for both academic and popular audiences.”
—Robert Fisher, University of Connecticut
“David Wagner provides a fascinating look into the world of those who grow up in poverty and become famous. Unlikely Fame vividly documents the obstacles and struggles that such individuals must overcome. The book is engaging, well written, and a page turner.”
—Mark R. Rank, Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare, Washington University in St. Louis
1. Poverty as a Serious Disability
2. Childhood Poverty: Abandonment, Loss, Hurt, And Shame
3. Hedonism, Pain and Suffering in Adult Life
4. Class Consciousness
5. Rebels Against Authority
6. Fame and Poverty
7. Contemporary Fame & Poverty
Bibliographic Essay for Chapter 1