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Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 Hardcover – January 31, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Forum; First Edition edition (January 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307453421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307453426
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (326 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.


From Booklist

*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 Bush

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Customer Reviews

The book was well written and made its point very well.
Max Snook
Charles Murray, co-author of the controversial Bell Curve, examines the growing division between lower class and upper class whites in his latest book, Coming Apart.
Eric Jackson
If you disagree with Murray about what makes America successful, then this book will make for a very frustrating read.
Samuel J. Sharp

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The last chapter, entitled "Alternative Futures," sounds a note of optimism. All that we need is for America's elites to recognize the problem, come to their senses, and set things straight. Right. As if Murray has not been futilely expounding this message for the past 40 years. He cites Robert Fogel's "The Fourth Great Awakening" as an inspiration for his optimism. America has overcome crises of the spirit in the past, after we lost first the Puritan spirituality, then the secular sense of mission which fueled our independence, then the crisis of the depression which was answered by the New Deal and the welfare state. Fogel argues that today's crisis is a want of meaning in our lives. Murray believes we can reestablish it.

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.
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238 of 275 people found the following review helpful By Publius on January 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Charles Murray has never been one to shy away from a volatile subject. As a result, he has been able to make startling arguments on topics that are rather taboo in the modern intellectual climate. With the Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book), he argued that intelligence, which is partly innate, is more important to social success than socioeconomic status. In Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, he ranks the cultural value of different civilizations and assesses the west as by far the greatest. It's clear from his work that Murray does not suffer from delusion--he is no quack. And the content of his arguments is engaging for anyone who is open-minded and willing to consider arguments from new perspectives.

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.
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227 of 274 people found the following review helpful By Steve T on February 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"Coming Apart" offers a very effective analysis of the diverging economic prospects and social values of American society since 1963. I should say first off that many people seem biased against this book because of the controversy surrounding Murray's prior book, "The Bell Curve." Murray has taken great pains in this new book to avoid the issue of race, focusing specifically on white Americans. I could find nothing offensive or even politically incorrect regarding race in this book.

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.
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