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Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass Hardcover – 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Filled with poignant stories of women and men trapped in destructive behaviors and environments, this volume puts forth a vision of the modern world and of intellectualized modernism as hell but offers few concrete or theoretical solutions. Dalrymple, a noted conservative columnist in London's the Spectator, collects pieces he wrote for the conservative City Journal, using his own work as a physician in British slums and prisons as fodder for an analysis of the underclass: "not poor... by the standards of human history" but trapped in "a special wretchedness" from which it cannot emerge. Most of his patients put their violence in the passive: the murderer who says "the knife went in" as though he had no control; the man who beat his girlfriend and then exclaimed, " `I totally regret everything that happen' [sic] as if... [it] were a typhoon in the East Indies." The fault, Dalrymple asserts, is not bad environments, but a pervasive liberal view and agenda that creates "passive, helpless victims," encourages the idea that the acceptance of "unconscious motivations for one's acts" obviates personal responsibility, and the "widespread acceptance of social determinism." Dalrymple makes many astute observations on British social attitudes about wealth, the tattooing of white youths and urban redevelopment, and his writing is graceful and often witty. But his main points get hammered home too quickly and too often. His critique of liberalism and the welfare state, while sometimes provocative, is spelled out in the introduction and repeated again and again. While Dalrymple is preaching to the converted, his vivid writing and often heartbreaking stories rise above his deeply felt but repetitive social analysis.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Truthful—therefore morally courageous and intellectually rigorous. (Norman Podhoretz )

Dalrymple’s vivid writing and often heartbreaking stories rise above his deeply felt social analysis. (Publishers Weekly )

Brilliant social analysis...a master chronicle of life at the bottom. (Hilton Kramer )

Lucid, unsentimental, and profoundly honest...Dalrymple is one of the great essayists of our age. (Denis Dutton, Editor, Arts & Letters Daily )

This devastating account and analysis of underclass life—and the elite ideas which support it—is a classic for our times. (Thomas Sowell )

It is a truism that ideas have consequences, but a truism is rarely illustrated as implacably as in this book. (George F. Will )

Theodore Dalrymple is the best doctor-writer since William Carlos Williams. (Peggy Noonan )

Mr. Daniels’s best essays cast a spell almost from the opening line. (New York Sun )

A landmark experience is reading Life at the Bottom… (Detroit Free Press )

Once in a long while a writer comes along with a vision so powerful that it shakes you. Theodore Dalrymple is that kind of writer. (Bruce Ramsey Liberty Press )

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 263 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher (2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566633826
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566633826
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (261 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

658 of 673 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Smith VINE VOICE on March 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
I got this book after listening to Mr. Dalrymple interviewed by Dennis Prager, a radio host based in Los Angeles. I was raised in a lowerclass family which fell from the middle class when my dad would not stop drinking and spending money on "toys" for himself rather than things like the rent and the electric bill. We moved from cheap apartment complex to cheap apartment complex. Like many of the individuals described in Life at the Bottom, my own father found blame for his "misfortunes" in everyone and everything but himself and his lack of selfcontrol when it came to alcohol, money, and his temper. I have watched friends raised in middle class homes end up on welfare or living hand-to-mouth because they have not one or two, but three or more children with three or more men (who, of course, pay no support and never marry the women), and their low-level office jobs cannot possibly pay for the needs of a family of 4. Yet without exception the women blame "men" as the foundation of their problems, not their own promiscuity or their apparent lack of knowledge concerning the rudiments of birth control.
It was with these experiences in mind that I read Life at the Bottom.
Mr Dalrymple shows in essay after essay how the choices the underclass in Britain make determines their destiny. There are countless parallels to American life - the rampant gambling that goes on in casinos and in bingo parlors (and those who cannot stop then blame the casino for their problem!
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293 of 309 people found the following review helpful By RPA in VIrginia on January 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The review from Publisher's Weekly makes many points, but begins with a fallacy: Dalrymple's repeated claim is precisely that these people are NOT 'trapped in destructive behaviors and environments' but that most of them, while they may well feel trapped, are there as a consequence of their own choices. His examples and insights are particularly useful for Americans who naturally associate these behaviors with our own experience, where they correlate with race. Dalrymple makes it clear that they do correlate with culture (e.g. different populations from India now residing in Britain have very different crime and drop-out rates,though they all look 'Indian' and so should all have the same experience of racism or non-inclusion). The book is a collection of shorter pieces and could have used some editing of content (to reduce repetition) and of style (the vocabulary editing for the U.S. reader is inconsistent), but the cumulative evidence of Dalrymple's experience cannot be waved away. As he points out early on, if a person's fate in life is pre-determined by his social and physical environment, then we should all still be living in caves... Certainly in a modern and liberal society, citizens have the right to pursue their own lives and their own visions (and versions) of 'happiness.' But whether the rest of us should subsidize the layabouts is another question. Publisher's Weekly is quite wrong in saying that he 'offers few conrete or theoretical solutions.' Dalrymple is crystal clear on that: take responsibility for your own life; the greater community will help in an emergency, but will not provide a home and a meal ticket for years. This book is worthwhile reading for everyone.
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67 of 69 people found the following review helpful By A reader on October 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
Some books you either love or you hate. This is one of those books. I myself thought it was one of the greatest I've read all year. 'Life at the Bottom' touches on a variety of topics, and it is to Dalrymple's credit that such a coherent, clear-eyed critique emerged. Something is rotten in the state of modern times. You know it; I know it. At the bottom of all this is a desire to be excused from any restraint and responsibility.

Dalrymple cites from his personal experiences of what well-meaning social theories have wrought on those it meant to help. The results are plainly hideous, but at the same time are glossed over behind talk of sensitivity, diversity and tolerance. Each essay is meandering but interesting - there is no filler. The incoherence of multiculturalism is highlighted in 'Reader, she married him-Alas'. The darker side of freedom is portrayed in 'Freedom to Choose'. My personal favorite was 'Tough Love', which shows the fruits of the sexual revolution in mature bloom. The results seem a mixed blessing at best, and not only because of the unwanted children, the abortions and the broken homes. We demand sexual freedom for ourselves but fidelity from others. A recipe for jealousy if ever there was one, and it is noteworthy that jealousy is the most frequent trigger for violence between the sexes. This incoherence is a large cause for the ever-growing surrealism in our society.

In the end, this book shows that our attitudes author our destiny. Dalrymple says what is considered heresy in many circles - that the poor are there because of life choices. But having spent my childhood among the poor, there are many things in Dalrymple's Britain I immediately recognize.
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