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Niall Ferguson is professor of history at Harvard, a fellow of the Hoover Institution and the author of numerous books, most recently Civilization: The West and the Rest and The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World.
Since the advent of "Occupy Wall Street," there has been a tendency to assume that only the Left worries about inequality in America. Charles Murray's Coming Apart shows that conservatives, too, need to be concerned.
This is an immensely important and utterly gripping book. It deserves to be as much talked about as Murray's most controversial work (co-authored with Richard J. Herrnstein), The Bell Curve. Quite unjustly, that book was anathematized as "racist" because it pointed out that, on average, African-Americans had lower IQ scores than white Americans.
No doubt the same politically correct critics will complain about this book, because it is almost entirely devoted to the problem of social polarization within "white America." They will have to ignore one of Coming Apart's most surprising findings: that race is not a significant determinant of social polarization in today's America. It is class that really matters.
Murray meticulously chronicles and measures the emergence of two wholly distinct classes: a new upper class, first identified in The Bell Curve as "the cognitive elite," and a new "lower class," which he is too polite to give a name. And he vividly localizes his argument by imagining two emblematic communities: Belmont, where everyone has at least one college degree, and Fishtown, where no one has any. (Read: Tonyville and Trashtown.)
The key point is that the four great social trends of the past half-century--the decline of marriage, of the work ethic, of respect for the law and of religious observance--have affected Fishtown much more than Belmont. As a consequence, the traditional bonds of civil society have atrophied in Fishtown. And that, Murray concludes, is why people there are so very unhappy--and dysfunctional.
What can be done to reunite these two classes? Murray is dismissive of the standard liberal prescription of higher taxes on the rich and higher spending on the poor. As he points out, there could hardly be a worse moment to try to import the European welfare state, just as that system suffers fiscal collapse in its continent of origin.
What the country needs is not an even larger federal government but a kind of civic Great Awakening--a return to the republic's original foundations of family, vocation, community, and faith.
Coming Apart is a model of rigorous sociological inquiry, yet it is also highly readable. After the chronic incoherence of Occupy Wall Street, it comes as a blessed relief. Every American should read it. Too bad only the cognitive elite will.
*Starred Review* Despite the subtitle, Murray’s book is actually about class in America, not race. By zeroing in on troubling trends in white America, he keeps the focus on the country’s increasing polarization along class lines,onthe growing isolation of the well-off from the poor, with each group developing radically different cultures, perspectives, and expectations from the other’s. Murray provides historical context, showing that, before the 1960s, Americans of all races and classes had similar perspectives and expectations. Using census data for 1960 and 2000, Murray, coauthor of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994), shows increasing segregation of a college-educated elite living in “SuperZips” from those with little education, eking out a living in poor neighborhoods. Murray also shows strong divergence in education, employment, marriage, crime, and other indicators. Beyond statistics, Murray offers sketches of life lived in the upper class and the lower class and argues for the need to focus on what has made the U.S. exceptional beyond its wealth and military power, the ideals that have held a highly diverse nation together: religion, marriage, industriousness, and morality. Writing from a libertarian perspective, Murray offers a hopeful long view of elites, who have enormous influence on economic and social policy, coming to understand the peril of their disconnection from the rest of America. --Vanessa BushSee all Editorial Reviews
There are plenty of reasons to continue the debate or simply disagree with Mr Murray but I find it difficult to fault him for engaging a difficult subject in a compelling way. Read morePublished 5 days ago by Matt Bryant
This is a deeply pessimistic book. Charles Murray warns, Cassandra-like, of the ill effects that are resulting and will result from the economic and cultural divergence between... Read morePublished 5 days ago by Adam Wayne
This provocative book forces the reader to think about how social and economic class has changed over the past 50 years, in America, and what we all need to do to begin addressing... Read morePublished 22 days ago by Carlton L. Miller
Coming Apart is a "Must Read" to understand why our country is becoming more segmented & what the driving forces of change have been from the 1960- 2010. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Martha Rolland
Excellent book. Written by an intellectual who knows how to wright where his words don't get in the way. Makes his points clearly.Published 1 month ago by Richard J. Shokite Jr.
Great read you will never see the world the same way. Helps understand why our society has changed so dramatically.Published 2 months ago by H Walia
This book is generally not about what the title may imply. It is not about a guilt-ridden and self-loathing white majority which celebrates its decline. Read morePublished 2 months ago by The Curmudgeon
Very interesting book and explains a lot where our society is going.Published 2 months ago by RetiredEpi