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.
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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, Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University)
It is a truism that ideas have consequences, but a truism is rarely illustrated as implacably as in this book. (George F. Will, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post)
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)