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A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class


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About The Book


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

Photograph by Carmen Hui Jing Lim

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


Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (February 4, 2025)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982168544

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Raves and Reviews

“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

“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

“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

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, and Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University

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

“This memoir is a profound account of a foster child overcoming severe adversity and achieving the unthinkable. 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 While Time Remains

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. Stories like this must be told, not because they show what we are capable of—though that's important—but so we can see the problems in our system and develop better solutions to make a better society. 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, author of Hard Lessons From the Hurt Business

“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, George F. Kennan: An American Life; Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University

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 and founder of The Profile

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