One of the maddening riddles of American life is why a country with an egalitarian ethos and the world’s oldest democratic system could allow itself to become a grossly unequal land of haves and have nots in recent decades – a society with a pattern of income distribution now closer to that of Brazil than, say, Germany.

Look no further for an answer to the riddle. This alarming new book by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson offers up perhaps the best explanation so far of how the U.S. got on the path to plutocracy.