In this “affecting…intriguing…heartbreaking” (Booklist) coming-of-age memoir, Rob Henderson vividly recounts growing up in foster care, enlisting in the US Air Force, attending elite universities, and pioneering the concept of “luxury beliefs”—ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class while inflicting costs on the less fortunate.

Rob Henderson was born to a drug-addicted mother and a father he never met, ultimately shuttling between ten different foster homes in California. When he was adopted into a loving family, he hoped that life would finally be stable and safe. But divorce, tragedy, poverty, and violence marked his adolescent and teen years, propelling Henderson to join the military upon completing high school.

A “vivid, insightful, poignant, and powerful” (Nicholas A. Christakis, author of Blueprint) portrait of shattered families, desperation, and determination, Troubled recounts Henderson’s expectation-defying young life and juxtaposes his story with those of his friends who wound up incarcerated or killed.

As he navigates the peaks and valleys of social class, Henderson finds that he remains on the outside looking in. His greatest achievements—a military career, an undergraduate education from Yale, a PhD from Cambridge—feel like hollow measures of success. He argues that stability at home is more important than external accomplishments, and he illustrates the ways the most privileged among us benefit from a set of social standards that actively harm the most vulnerable.

About the author(s)

Rob Henderson grew up in foster homes in Los Angeles and the rural town of Red Bluff, California. He joined the US Air Force at the age of seventeen. Once described as “self-made” by The New York Times, Rob subsequently received a BS from Yale University and a PhD in psychology from St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge. His writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Boston Globe, and more. His weekly newsletter is sent to more than fifty thousand subscribers. Learn more at



“A memoir of hardscrabble living, from foster care to the Air Force to Yale…. [Henderson] traces the contours of his remarkable and often-harrowing life, starting with his abandonment by his birth parents after serious mistreatment…. poignantly describ[ing] his rocky journey through numerous foster homes…. Shrewd on the narrowness and hypocrisy of elites… [he] is at his best in the frank observations about his trip up the ‘American status ladder’…. A blunt story about overcoming adversity.” Kirkus Reviews

 “Affecting…intriguing…heartbreaking...This eye-opening account lays bare the realities of America's deep economic and social divides.”

“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

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 county. He reminds us that the 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

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