Life At the Bottom
The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
(Ivan R. Dee, 2001)
By Theodore Dalrymple
Theodore Dalrymple is a physician and psychiatrist who practices in England. He writes a column for the London Spectator, contributes frequently to the Daily Telegraph, and is a contributing editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. His other books include Mass Listeria and So Little Done. He lives in Birmingham, England.
What it’s like and why they stay there
Here is a searing account—probably the best yet published—of life in the underclass and why it persists as it does. Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist who treats the poor in a slum hospital and a prison in Engalnd, has seemingly seen it all. Yet in listening to and in observing his patients, he is continually astonished by the latest twist of depravity that exceeds even his own considerable experience. Dalrymple’s key insight in Life at the Bottom is that long-term poverty is caused not by economics but by a dysfunctional set of values, one that is continually reinforced by an elite culture searching for victims. This culture persuades those at the bottom that they have no responsibility for their actions and are not the molders of their own lives. Drawn from the pages of the cutting-edge political and cultural quarterly City Journal, Dalrymple’s book draws upon scores of eye-opening, true-life vignettes that are by turns hilariously funny, chillingly horrifying, and all too revealing—sometimes all at once. And Dalrymple writes in prose that transcends journalism and achieves the quality of literature.
“I am a great admirer of Theodore Dalrymple’s essays, which seem to me among the most truthful—and therefore also among the most morally courageous and intellectually rigorous—descriptions anyone has given us of ‘life at the bottom.’”
“It is a truism that ideas have consequences, but a truism is rarely illustrated as implacably as in this book. Drawing upon his harrowing experiences as a physician and psychiatrist in a British slum and nearby prison, Theodore Dalrymple demonstrates that much of the degradation of the underclass—the dishonesty, passivity, and self-deception—can be traced to bad ideas that have trickled down from the intelligentsia.”
—GEORGE F. WILL
“On the melancholy subject of today’s underclass and the ideas governing its destructive behavior, no one writes with greater personal experience, greater intellectual authority, or a greater gift for narrative prose than Theodore Dalrymple. He is at once a brilliant social analyst and a master chronicler of life at the bottom.”
“This devastating account and analysis of underclass life—and the elite ideas which support it—is a classic for our times. It is as fundamental for understanding the world we live in as the three R’s. The book’s own three R’s are readability, rationality, and reality. The fact that the setting is a white underclass community in Britain may enable some people to see and acknowledge a pattern of self-destruction that they may be reluctant to acknowledge in America, for fear of being considered ‘racist.’”
“Theodore Dalrymple is the best doctor-writer since William Carlos Williams.”
“Dalrymple is a writer of genius: lucid, unsentimental, and profoundly honest. This collection demonstrates beyond question that he is one of the great essayists of our age.”
—DENIS DUTTON, Editor, Arts & Letters Daily