Dancing with Broken Bones: Portraits of Death and Dying Among Inner-City Poor

Moller, David Wendell

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

  • Date of entry: May-09-2005


Moller is a sociologist who takes us into the world of the urban poor; he focuses on half a dozen individuals, giving intimate and moving portraits of them. An opening character is called Cowboy (a pseudonym); he lives under a bridge with his dog Cowgirl and dies a slow death of lung cancer. In an Epilogue (pp. 163-184) Moller calls him "an urban Thoreau." This respect for the dying poor pervades the book.

Besides descriptions of the characters, there is much dialogue, including extended quotations, but also some 100 small photographs, usually close-ups, inserted into the text. One photo shows a man in his coffin. Clearly Moller gets close to his characters, and so does the reader.

Moller argues that the dominant society--to its shame--neither supplies adequate care for this sector of society nor even recognition that such people exist. He calls the dying poor "an invisible world." It's a disturbing world, with the pain and neglect, but also an inspiring one, because of the caregivers such as social workers and nurses and the heroism and dignity of the patients presented.


This is a powerful and illuminating book. Because we do not see the urban poor in the media, because we avoid "the other side of the tracks," because politics, economics, and the health-care "system" do not give attention to these people, they are neglected and ill-treated.

This is a good text for students of public policy, health-care policy, and American culture. The book is a fine example of primary research; Moller spends many an hour with his subjects and presents them effectively.


The author is currently (2005) director of Medical Humanities, School of Medicine, University of Missouri-Kansas City.


Oxford Univ. Press

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