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Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 Hardcover – January 31, 2012
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Featured Guest Review: Niall Ferguson on Coming Apart
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.
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Murray says that there are only about four fundamental personal characteristics undergirding a happy life. The ones he names are two character traits: honesty and industry, and two societal connections: meaningful relationships with one's fellow man, and a satisfying marriage. He provides another, overlapping list of four elements that have historically defined American society which he calls the four founding virtues: industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity. He goes into some length presenting sociological surveys that demonstrate the importance and the interconnectedness of these characteristics to personal happiness, and their importance to the well-being of society. If only we could recover them, all would be well.
The backbone of his book is a comparison between two hypothetically constructed communities, Fishtown and Belmont. They are based on real places, predominantly white neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Boston respectively, with incomes at the 8th and 97th national percentiles.Read more ›
Here, Murray explains that white America has grown increasingly divided along class lines. There is a clear moral case being made here. The lower class is falling into illegitimacy, crime, and poverty while the upper class is excelling in education, career, and family. The main cause is simple: primarily, a devaluation of white middle class values brought on by increased intervention by the government. This intervention takes the form of welfare support, in which the government gives incentive for people to break apart families and avoid work. Meanwhile, the upper class is left alone to prosper in its highly technical fields.
This argument will challenge the reader, whether you agree with the central premise or not.Read more ›
The author's main premise is that over the past 4+ decades, America has divided strongly into two classes, that he illustrates with fictional town names. "Belmont" refers to the cognitive elite: The top 20% with college or graduate degrees, who hold jobs in knowledge-based occupations. And "Fishtown" refers to the working class: The bottom 30% with at most a high school diploma and (if employed) working in blue collar or low wage service jobs. Murray demonstrates quite effectively (using statistics) that the people who make up "Belmont" have become more industrious and more traditional in their attitudes toward marriage, family and community, while the people in "Fishtown" are living in communities that are basically falling apart and where traditional nuclear families are becoming harder and harder to find.
While the book bases its arguments on solid statistics, I have two primary complaints. First, it does not always do a good job of distinguishing cause and effect. For example, the author points out the working class men now choose to engage in much more "leisure" and less work. He then conjures up a vision of a typical male, who all bent out of shape because he doesn't have the opportunity has grandfather had at the GM factory, turns down a $12 per hour job driving a delivery truck.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Interesting take and how thick is your bubble quiz is very entertaining and thought provoking.Published 5 days ago by Amazon Customer
This work is scholarly and even-handed, devoid of ideological freight of any kind. It avoids the politically-charged analysis based on white versus black communities. Read morePublished 1 month ago by olemikey
The introduction gave me hope that Murray had written both a "very readable" book and one with a nice mix of statistics and decently-researched suppositions. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Michael D. Ullman
The author's opinion backed up with his interpretation of data did not convince me of his premise.Published 2 months ago by Casey
The United States is still young as civilizations go. This book helps understand our current growing pains, and aims us toward a hopeful future.Published 2 months ago by Jack
Great analysis of what is wrong with a formerly great nation that has been fundamentally transformed into the cesspool of the worst aspects of European decay.Published 2 months ago by M. Duncan
To listen to Murray, you would think that Ivy League Corporate Lawyers and Bankers were beacons of shining virtue! Read morePublished 2 months ago by Keith McKenzie
As this is a book written by a graduate of Harvard and MIT I will make this short and sweet as so I don't try to speak above my education level, reading books by smart people... Read morePublished 3 months ago by J.H.Gason