Book review: Living with a Wild God by Barbara Ehrenreich

The sociologist responsible for influential journalistic tomes including Nickel and Dimed awes with a memoir guided by spiritual introspection.

Photograph: Lauren Spinelli
By Barbara Ehrenreich. Twelve, $26.

Legendary social scientist Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the seminal treatise on American inequality, Nickel and Dimed, has spent her career creating crucial and incisive works that investigate the treacherous fault lines of race, class and gender. In the process, she’s established a reputation as a fair but tough-minded chronicler of the many ways in which our society often fails its own citizenry. But in a rich new memoir, Ehrenreich takes her unfailingly brilliant perspective to new and surprising places—broadening her scope to consider spirituality, mortality and her own trajectory from informed innocence to hard-won experience.

Using her teenage journal as inspiration and source material for this in-depth exploration of self, Ehrenreich focuses on the deeply personal, including an abusive father, a suicidal mother, her own dissociative hallucinations and one profound, mystical incident that helped shape her worldview. Departing from her usual journalistic style, the writer turns her attention comfortably inward while retaining a self-critical perspective. Even as a teenager, Ehrenreich was an intensely inquisitive, insightful and often very funny young intellectual, and Living with a Wild God poignantly pieces together where she came from and where she believes she is going.