Photo: Robin Holland

Barbara Ehrenreich


After studying theoretical physics at Reed College and earning a Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University, Barbara Ehrenreich joined a small nonprofit in New York City in the late ’60s, advocating for better health care for the city’s poor.

She began researching and writing investigative stories for the company’s monthly bulletin, and as she explains in her biography, “There was no decision to become a writer; that was just something I started doing.”

What Ehrenreich calls her “big writing break” was a cover story for Ms. Magazine about feminism and heart disease, which lead to steady essay writing and opinion pieces in Ms., Mother Jones, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine and other magazines.

In 2001, she released her most influential book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, which chronicles the year she spent working low-income jobs and living in low-income housing. Since then, Ehrenreich has written Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, based upon her undercover work as a white-collar job seeker, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, This Land Is Their Land, and her latest, Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America.