Unlikely Fame: Poor People Who Made History


Book Info

  • Length: 208 pages
  • Trim size: 6" x 9"

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  • ISBN: 978-1-61205-715-6
  • Publish date: August 2014
  • List Price: $138.00
  • Your Price: $117.30


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.

Author Info

David Wagner, Professor of Social Work and Sociology at the University of Maine, is the award-winning author of eight previous books, including Confronting Homelessness: Poverty, Politics, and the Failure of Social Welfare.

Jenna Nunziato is a recent graduate of the MSW program at University of Southern Maine.


“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

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