Inventing the poor

Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, former president Jimmy Carter remarked that the “growing gap between the rich and poor” is the most elemental problem facing the world economy. But the gap between the rich and the poor is also a very old problem. Princeton historian Peter Brown takes up this issue of care for the poor as it was practiced in the fourth and fifth centuries of the Christian era.

As usual, Brown combines erudition with an elegant style and makes his argument readily accessible. His concern with the social location of poverty is part of his larger effort to understand the character of Christianity as it negotiated its place in a still durable classical culture. The interface of classical and Christian culture has its obvious pivot point in Augustine, of whom Brown has written a classic study.


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