MY BOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER
Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class
Today is my birthday.
If you’d like to get me a gift, there’s nothing I would appreciate more than you pre-ordering a copy of my book.
You can now pre-order my book in hardcover, Kindle, and audiobook formats.
The UK edition is here.
The bicycle I’m riding on the cover of the book was my first ever birthday present. I tell the story of that bike in the second chapter. In the foster homes, and in school, my birthdays passed unnoticed because it’s during the Christmas holiday. I became used to not receiving birthday gifts, so you can imagine my surprise when I got that bike.
Many (perhaps the majority) of nonfiction books are ghostwritten. More and more books are being written with the assistance of AI.
I wrote every word and strived to retain my vision for the book.
For those interested, I read the audiobook version myself. In fact, I just finished up recording last week.
Despite my relatively young age, I have lived a lot of life. Readers appreciate my un-sheltered point of view. My book contains my reflections and recollections of the trials and anguish of my youth, and the path I took to climb out. The squalor of all the foster homes, the poverty and dysfunction of my adoptive family, family members shot, my decision to break away and start a new life for myself by enlisting in the military, the cost of all I went through, and my subsequent attempts at recovery. These experiences ultimately culminate with my entry into higher education and what I witnessed at Yale and Cambridge. I share my commentary and observations of current and future members of the American elite, and how I came to develop the framework of “luxury beliefs”—ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class, while inflicting costs on the lower classes (this term now has a wikipedia page). I dedicate an entire chapter to this concept and its origins to explain why those who sit at or near the top of the American class ladder “walk the Fifties and talk the Sixties.”
Alfred Hitchcock once said “What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out.” My book is the first thirty-one years of my life with all the boring parts cut out.
We finally have an official publication date: February 20, 2024.
I have been dropping breadcrumbs reminding you and the other readers of this Substack that I have a book coming out. Thus far, though, I have been relaxed about marketing.
This is me asking you directly to please pre-order it.
Over the course of the next couple of months, I’ll be speaking about and promoting my book to the point where you might start to get annoyed. But I’d much rather you say, “I wish Rob would shut the f*** up about his book already” than “What? I didn’t know Rob had a book out.” So be ready.
Here are some endorsements from prominent authors and public figures:
“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, Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University
My book contains observations of the mass student protests that targeted Nicholas and his wife, Erika, at Yale in 2015. Nicholas read early drafts and shared some clarifying pointers about the facts behind those events. I got to know Erika while I was a student at Yale. The Christakises are very good people. I will never forget how the students and administration treated them. Never.
“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: An Antidote to Chaos
“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 has given the world a gift with this direct, vulnerable, and incisive account of his tumultuous childhood and early adult life. With a manner that invites readers to experience and understand, Henderson shares vivid details of his childhood characterized by abandonment and instability, and an adolescence that offered a brief promise of stability with an adoptive family, but ultimately was dominated by family dissolution, setbacks, and self-destructive behaviors. Something inside Henderson propels him forward, first to the military and then to Yale and Cambridge, where he dramatically alters his life trajectory, while forging a deep understanding of himself, his own life, and the hypocrisy of the ‘luxury belief class.’ Like Educated and Hillbilly Elegy, this book gives us an autobiographical account of a phenomenal person who overcame childhood trauma to attain educational and professional success, and in so doing, reminds us of the millions of children who never overcome the shackles of their childhoods and challenges us to look beyond superficial solutions to advancing upward mobility.”
—Melissa S. Kearney, Neil Moskowitz Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland, author of The Two-Parent Privilege
“This memoir is a profound account of a foster child overcoming severe adversity. 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 In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom
“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, Co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind
"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. 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, professional boxer, public speaker, author of Hard Lessons From the Hurt Business
Ed has told me my story is crazier than his. I’m looking forward to reading his forthcoming book to make that call for myself.
“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
"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 of George F. Kennan: An American Life, Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University
This one meant a lot to me. John was my professor at Yale. In addition to history and grand strategy, he also teaches a popular course on biography, and was the first to read and critique early drafts of my memoir. John’s confidence in the writing and story helped to quell my early doubts about this project.
“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, senior editor at The Free Press
Emily was so helpful in reading and supplying feedback for early drafts as well. Her support and encouragement went a long way.
“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 country. He reminds us that a 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, former host of HLN's On Call, Celebrity Rehab on VH1, and Loveline
Dr. Drew is a legend. A shortened version of his blurb is on the cover of my book.
“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
“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
My boy Chris. He and J.D. are the only two young (Millennial) white guys to blurb my book. Gotta fill out the quotas.
“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, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley; inductee, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; author of Another Kind of Madness: A Journey through the Stigma and Hope of Mental Illness
“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: The secret ways of thinking that power the world’s most successful people
"Troubled disturbs, fascinates and educates. Through vivid and compelling storytelling, Rob Henderson shows how early trauma can set us on a destructive path. But Henderson didn’t give up on himself, and you won’t give up on him. I could not put this book down, even when I wanted to, and was left enriched by its life lessons and trenchant social insights. If you liked Hillbilly Elegy or Educated, you’ll love Troubled."
—Carole Hooven, author of T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us
"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 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
“Rob Henderson's journey through foster care, the military, and, later, at Yale and Cambridge, is truly extraordinary. In Troubled he uses his own fascinating personal story to explore social class, status, his 'luxury beliefs' framework, and the ways educated elites think about complex social issues. Gripping, moving, and intellectually satisfying, Troubled is a superb book.”
—Will Storr, author of The Status Game and The Science of Storytelling
Will supplied useful advice on the manuscript. He literally wrote the book on good storytelling, so despite my general reluctance to make changes, I implemented just about all of his suggestions.
“In Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class debut memoirist Rob 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
James has been a good friend and strong supporter of my work. His careful critiques and observations led me to rethink and reconfigure some of the later chapters.
“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
“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
This one was particularly surreal for me. Growing up in the early 2000s, I would watch Even Stevens at one of my friends’ houses (he had cable) on the Disney Channel. Just about every boy of a certain age had a crush on Christy Carlson Romano, who played Shia LaBeouf’s older sister on that show.
“When I first became aware through social media of Rob Henderson and his remarkable journey from a childhood defined by dysfunction and neglect to an adulthood of unusual discipline and accomplishment, I admired him immediately. 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, contributing writer at The Atlantic
"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
"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
“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
And here’s a Marginal Revolution post yesterday from Tyler Cowen:
I know pre-ordering isn’t exactly popular. Nobody wants to buy something and then wait 2 months to receive it. But pre-orders can make or break a book.
Pre-orders notify brick-and-mortar stores how many copies to order, because it gives them a sense of what the demand is like. If the stores order a lot of copies, they then prominently display them because they need to get rid of them. It's a "success breeds success" thing where pre-sales convince other parties involved to promote the book. It makes a difference. No matter how good a book is, nobody will buy it if they don't know about it.
By pre-ordering, you signal that there is interest in the book and bookstores are more likely to take notice. And to get the attention of the people who shape culture and policy, a book typically needs to sell well its first week. All pre-order sales prior to the publication date count toward the sales numbers of that first week. You aren't charged anything until the book actually ships, so pre-ordering essentially is an act of support.
If you find my work on this Substack or on Twitter/X useful or interesting or valuable, then I would greatly appreciate your support.
It would mean a lot if you pre-ordered my book:
I’ve posted the official pre-order announcement here on twitter/x. I would be thankful if you retweeted or posted something else about the book online.