A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class

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Pub Date 20 Feb 2024 | Archive Date 16 Jan 2024

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For fans of Educated and Hillbilly Elegy 

'Rob Henderson's journey through foster care, the military, and, later, at Yale and Cambridge, is truly extraordinary ... Gripping, moving, and intellectually satisfying, Troubled is a superb book' - Will Storr, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Status Game

In this raw coming-of-age memoir, Rob Henderson vividly recounts growing up in foster care, enlisting in the US Air Force, attending elite universities – and what he learnt from seeing life from both sides of the tracks.

Rob Henderson was born to a drug-addicted mother and a father he never met, ultimately shuttling between ten different foster homes in California. When he was adopted into a loving family, he hoped that life would finally be stable and safe. He was wrong: tragedy, poverty and violence marked his adolescent years.

An unflinching portrait of shattered families, desperation, and determination, Troubled recounts how Henderson eventually managed to find an escape route through the military, which led to an academic career at Yale and Cambridge. As he reflects on the fate of many of his friends – drugs, death, prison – Henderson never escapes the feeling of being on the outside looking in, or a sense that his academic achievements are hollow compared to the love and protection that comes from stable family life. He dissects the hypocrisies of contemporary social class and shows how the most privileged among us benefit from a set of ‘luxury beliefs’ that actively harm the most vulnerable.

'This extraordinary coming-of-age memoir that so deftly transforms those painful personal experiences into a larger expose of social class and elite condescension left me admiring him even more. I defy you to read Troubled and not come away in equal parts outraged and inspired' - Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of Self-Portrait in Black and White

For fans of Educated and Hillbilly Elegy 

'Rob Henderson's journey through foster care, the military, and, later, at Yale and Cambridge, is truly extraordinary ... Gripping, moving, and intellectually...

Advance Praise

'A vital and moving story of success against the odds, with an important social message: as a society, we neglect the importance of a stable and loving family life at our peril' - James Bloodworth, author of Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain

'Rob Henderson had an incredibly challenging upbringing - raised as a foster kid in circumstances most children (thankfully) never know. His educational achievements are extraordinary. What’s more extraordinary is that he’s a keen observer of both the world he came from and the world he now inhabits. He has learned the importance of family despite never having one of his own, and he delivers that message in a gripping way. Read this book. It will challenge both your heart and mind. A rare feat' - J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy

'Rob Henderson's brilliant reported memoir reveals a resounding antidote to a life of chaos and instability for boys and young men: love' - Melanie Notkin, author of Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness

'This memoir is a profound account of a foster child overcoming severe adversity and achieving the unthinkable. Rob's story reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit against all odds and, most of all, what it means to be human. You will likely cry, feel shocked, yet remain hopeful while reading this heart wrenching book' - Yeonmi Park, author of While Time Remains

'Henderson has written an astonishing story. As he chronicles his rise from a callous and chaotic foster care system into the elite ranks of American society, he shows the absurdity and self-serving nature of many elite beliefs and postures. Troubled should be read by all American college graduates who think they want to help the poor or improve society. It will make readers wiser, more humble, and above all more compassionate' - Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership, New York University - Stern School of Business, author of The Righteous Mind

'A searingly honest and remarkably self-aware memoir that makes you wonder where you fall along the privilege continuum anchored at one end by ‘Rob Hendersons’ and at the other by children with cohesive families' - Philip E. Tetlock, author of Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

'Troubled is a gripping and propulsive coming-of-age story. By turns astonishing, heartbreaking, and thrilling, Rob Henderson takes us into a broken America many refuse to see. Rob writes with such vividness that the reader feels taken along on his astounding journey. Troubled is a compassionate and necessary book, and a work of art – one that deserves to become a classic' - Emily Yoffe, author of What the Dog Did

'Troubled resonated with me because, as a product of a single mother raised in public housing, I see so much of my story in Rob's insightful book. Stories like this must be told, not because they show what we are capable of—though that's important—but so we can see the problems in our system and develop better solutions to make a better society. As you see the world through Rob's eyes, you won't be able to pull your eyes off the page. But I'm warning you; you may shed a few tears' - Ed Latimore, author of Hard Lessons From the Hurt Business

'Rob Henderson's story is one of struggle, resilience, and accomplishment. Spare, searching, and provocative, Troubled chronicles an epic journey from an unstable childhood through foster care, the military, Yale, Cambridge, and now the preeminence needed to prick complacent consciences everywhere. This is a powerful, moving, and necessary book' - John Lewis Gaddis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, George F. Kennan: An American Life; Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University

'Troubled is vivid, insightful, poignant, and powerful. Beautifully written, it is a moving memoir, a powerful description of the predicament of countless foster children, and a sophisticated social critique. Using his own astonishing life as a guide, Rob Henderson sheds light on the plight of foster children and the ways that elites and policy makers often adopt ideas that do not, actually, advance the interests of those who are most vulnerable in our society. Troubled is magnificent' - Nicholas A. Christakis, author of Blueprint, and Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University

'Troubled is an extraordinary document. It is a primary account of historical descriptions of life in working and lower middle class America in the late 20th-century. It is time to sit up and listen to the voices of those who have suffered because of the policies of the highly educated and affluent class that validates and affirms the behaviors and attitudes of marginalized children that they would never accept for themselves or their own children. Rob Henderson's story is breathtaking but all too familiar in this county. He reminds us that the child raised with experiences of abandonment and chaos will experience the same in their relationships and employment' - Dr. Drew Pinsky, author of The Mirror Effect

'Searing and brutal, but utterly articulate. Devastating, yet full of hope: Troubled is a masterwork. It pulls no punches about our deficient systems of care for abandoned children—and speaks from the heart to anyone even remotely interested in promoting resilience in young people. A must-read; five stars' - Stephen P. Hinshaw, author of Another Kind of Madness

'Troubled is impossible to put down. Rob’s raw and intense account of his childhood reveals that there are two Americas: one that rewards you for perpetuating 'luxury beliefs' and one that pays the price. Rob is a master storyteller, and his memoir acts as a mirror in which we can all see our own imperfect reflections. One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read' - Polina Pompliano, author of Hidden Genius and founder of The Profile

'A captivating memoir about the travails of foster care, the discipline of military service, the importance of family, and the shock of discovering what has become of elite universities, told with a clear voice and focused determination' - Jordan B. Peterson, author of 12 Rules for Life

'[A] must-read. He unearths unpopular and nonobvious social truths, from data and personal experience, and created the ‘luxury beliefs’ framework' - Naval Ravikant, co-founder of AngelList

'Rob is a refreshing voice that always finds unique ways to weave together social science, psychology and incentives. I’ve integrated his thinking into my frameworks and appreciate the time he takes to explain his way of seeing the world. This memoir is a testament to the path that has shaped Rob’s unique perspective' - Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and CEO of Social Capital, co-host of the All-In Podcast

'Absorbing and deeply moving, Troubled tells the story of a foster kid who eventually finds his path despite all odds. Henderson's book is a reminder that achieving extrinsic success can never heal the wounds of childhood abuse and neglect - and that what children need above all is emotional security, love, and stability from their parents' - Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning

'Henderson catalogs just how stacked the odds are against kids brought up in Foster Care. He takes us through the system; what he did to escape it and his findings that he and the other students in the Ivy League spoke different languages that he attempted to learn. One of his most shattering observations is that elites have moved on from materialistic Veblen Goods to a perhaps more dangerous set of ‘luxury beliefs’ that they may profess but don't practice. I highly recommend this provocative new book' - James O'Shaughnessy, Chairman and Founder of OSAM LLC, host of the Infinite Loops podcast

'This is an extraordinarily important book. Troubled delves into the realities of foster care, the unexpected costs of upward social mobility, and the culture shock upon discovering elite campus culture, all shared with an unwavering resolve and a unique voice. A tremendously promising debut by an already important young American thinker' - Greg Lukianoff, co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind

'Troubled is one of the most compelling stories I've ever read. Rob Henderson masterfully weaves together the imperfections of the human condition, the bankruptcy of social policy, and one man's tenacious quest to not let adversity define his future. The book is a masterclass on human flourishing and nourishes the heart, mind, and soul' - Anthony B. Bradley, author of Heroic Fraternities, Professor of Religious Studies, The King's College

'Rob is one of the most insightful thinkers I follow. I’ve learned an incredible amount from his work over the years and hearing his backstory adds an entire new dimension. Learning from a talented researcher about human nature is great, hearing him apply his cutting-edge insights to lessons from his own fascinating journey is even better' - Chris Williamson, host of the Modern Wisdom podcast

'Rob Henderson has traversed a vast class divide that the last half-century of American life has rendered virtually unbridgeable. Seized from his drug-addicted mother by the state and raised in a series of chaotic foster homes, he snuck in through a side door to matriculate as an undergraduate at Yale University at the precise moment when a therapeutic cult fetishizing victimhood and construing marginalization as solely a function of one's ranking on an inverted hierarchy of immutable traits distinct from one's actual experiences of hardship swept across elite American institutions. He is thus uniquely positioned to serve as a witness to the ongoing bourgeois moral revolution that has conferred high status onto a corpus of social and political opinions with radically disparate effects on the members of the educated elite who hold them in a status signaling game and the actually marginalized who are forced to live amidst the social breakdown that these dysfunctional ideas exacerbate wherever they influence policy. The memoir he has written in clean, spare, miraculously unmawkish prose toggles seamlessly between a personal narrative of Dickensian horrors and traumas both experienced and seen with an encyclopedic recitation of all the relevant social scientific research pertaining to the outcomes witnessed on either side of the vast class divide he traversed. It's an intriguing and effective hybrid that feels entirely natural and unforced. The book moves its readers from a distinctive ‘lived experience’ to providing evidence-based support for what were once common moral intuitions that we tamper (further) with at our collective peril' - Wesley Yang, author of The Souls of Yellow Folk

'Troubled is a tragedy in gripping story form - a deeply moving memoir that is also a vital indictment of policies put in place to help foster children that actually lead to horrific harm and neglect. Importantly, through Rob Henderson’s earned wisdom, insight, and scientific background, he shows us the primary thing any child needs: a loving, stable family. Policy makers need to read this book before one more child is turned into a throwaway' - Amy Alkon, award-winning applied science columnist and author

'In his superbly composed memoir, Rob Henderson illuminates an often overlooked segment of our nation. His profound saga - of his struggles as a foster kid attempting to pursue conventional badges of success and coming to realize the importance of family despite never having one - deserves careful attention' - Christy Carlson Romano, actress, co-founder of PodCo

'A vital and moving story of success against the odds, with an important social message: as a society, we neglect the importance of a stable and loving family life at our peril' - James Bloodworth...

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ISBN 9781800753648
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

Wow, what a confusing chaotic childhood. Completely get how Rob says that the foundation for progress is a stable and loving home life. Yes education opens lots of opportunities but if you are not in a position to take those opportunities they are not a valid choice.
It explains why boundaries are needed and why so many young men thrive in the military and struggle to return to civilian life.
All credit to Rob for opening up and sharing his life.

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"Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class" by Rob Henderson is a powerful and thought-provoking memoir that sheds light on the complexities of the foster care system and the impact of social class on a young life. Henderson's storytelling is candid and raw, offering a firsthand account of his journey through foster care, navigating the challenges of identity, education, and personal growth.

The memoir delves deep into the emotional and psychological struggles of a young man who moves from one foster home to another, providing readers with a unique perspective on the experiences of foster children. Henderson's resilience and determination to break free from the cycle of adversity and achieve academic success are both inspiring and eye-opening.

"Troubled" is not just a personal narrative but also a reflection on the broader issues of inequality and social mobility. It encourages readers to reconsider their understanding of social class and the obstacles that many individuals face in their pursuit of a better life. Henderson's memoir is a must-read for anyone interested in the foster care system, social issues, and personal transformation. It is a heartfelt and courageous account of one man's journey from a troubled past to a promising future.

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This was incredible. It was emotive and thought-provoking. The last few lines spoke to me and made me think ‘it’s amazing life advice for parents’. I woke my wife up in the middle of the night to read it to her.

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This was definitely a 5 star read for me as I love inspiring stories like this one! Rob has done so well for himself but he hasn’t ignored that other people’s support meant he could reach his full potential.

This is worth a read and is coming out on 20th February 2024! Thanks to @_swiftpress and @netgalley for my review copy.

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Eye-opening and heartbreaking. This book is absolutely needed, because many of us have no idea about the realities of the life Rob describes, and we breezily think that a good education means the person has succeeded in life, without giving much thought to how their early life affects them. Kudos to Rob for writing it.

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