America by numbers

<strong>50 Facts You Need to Know: USA</strong>

Stephen Fender<em> Icon Books, 288pp, £10.99</em>

For a country that styles itself as the world’s number-one, official, card-carrying, uncontested, brilliant – nay, awesome – champion of the “rights of man”, the United States is one rocky place for the poor.

We learn, for example, that US health care is “by far the most expensive in the world”, and that each year more than 18,000 adults die because they can’t afford the private insurance. One-eighth of the entire population lives below the official poverty guidelines, which comes as no surprise when you take into account the uncompromising modesty of their minimum wage: it was static in real terms at about $5.15 between 1997 and mid-2007.

The home of the brave is in grave disrepair, and it’s full of fat people. A staggering 65 per cent of American adults are overweight, and almost half that number are literally staggering, clinically obese, and dying at a rate of 400,000 a year. “These proportions are growing,” writes Stephen Fender, as he reports the figures grimly. Though Fender admits that “a mere 50 facts” are inadequate to encapsulate the essence of any country, he needn’t have worried. His thoughtful tour is a rich catalogue of what makes up the “world’s most powerful but least understood nation”.