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Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 Paperback – January 29, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0307453433 ISBN-10: 030745343X Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Forum; Reprint edition (January 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030745343X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307453433
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (329 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,981 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.


--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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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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259 of 313 people found the following review helpful By Martin Focazio on March 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Slog through this book - it's a must read.

Keep in mind, however, that this is an infuriating book in many ways, because it's got a deep pro-libertarian political agenda that is awkwardly melded with evidence that shows how libertarian policies and politics can tear apart the very society the author describes as "ideal" - the honorable but poor nuclear family living in a community of racial, social and religious uniformity.

While it was at times disturbing to see how accurately he was able to describe the "bubble" that I increasingly live in (his 25 question "test" of the thickness of your middle class bubble was very interesting), what surprised me was how myopic his views on the influence of globalization on society's lowest-paid workers are. Like most libertarians, the role of externalities is often downplayed, leaving the fault of economic failure and the praise for economic success exclusively with the individual, and all other factors are nearly irrelevant.

Much of the statistical evidence he cites in the book is based on a few surveys, and where there's no data, he just invents information that supports his thesis, and then backs in the "evidence" to fit his views. That can be frustrating at times, because it leads to "trending" a data item even where there is no valid data longitudinally over the periods of time in which he's citing a trend.

In many ways, those are nitpicks, because the real core of the book is an interesting, and by my own experience, accurate view of the United States today.
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