This slim, searing look at extreme poverty deftly mixes policy research and heartrending narratives from a swath of the 1.5 million American households eking out an existence on cash incomes of $2 per person per day. Edin and Shaefer, respectively professors at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan, trace the history of welfare in the U.S. up to the cuts enacted by President Clinton. They also explore the worlds of the desperately impoverished, profiling people who are able to find, at best, low-wage jobs with no bargaining power. Their subjects’ wrenching stories demonstrate the huge obstacles created by unstable housing and prevalent racial discrimination. Edin and Shaefer examine the many survival strategies used by the very poor to generate cash, including selling plasma, trading food stamps for discounted cash payments, and even selling their children’s Social Security numbers to people with fixed addresses, which the poorest lack. The strain of “the work of survival” has not defeated every person depicted in this book, but when a Mississippi teen is quoted saying that constant hunger can make you “feel like you want to be dead,” it’s impossible to ignore the high costs of abject poverty. Mixing academic seriousness and deft journalistic storytelling, this work may well move readers to positive action.