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The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues Of Community In America Paperback – August 23, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (August 23, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465041930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465041930
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #648,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Alan Ehrenhalt is the executive editor of Governing magazine. He is also the author of The United States of Ambition.

Customer Reviews

A fun, interesting read.
Michael Baca
This is an excellent book that challenges many of the commonly held assumptions about progress.
Joe Flood
Ehrenhalt's writing style is fluid and intriguing.
Patrick R. Thrush

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Joe Flood on January 6, 1998
This is an excellent book that challenges many of the commonly held assumptions about progress. It's almost an elegy to the 1950s, before the Baby Boomers imploded authority, institutions and religious belief. Now these same Boomers curiosly wonder why the streets aren't safe and our popular culture revolves around money and sex. Boomers wanted more individual autonomy and, in the process, they had to destroy the institutions that held communities together--churches, schools, families. Ehrenhalt illustrates his thesis by concentrating on several neighborhoods in Chicago in the 1950s. The history and the real-world stories of the people involved make it very interesting reading. He does a great job (worthy of a novelist) of evoking the character of the time with lots of interesting detail. What's controversial about the book is his belief (contrary to today's requisite belief in empowerment)that most people want rules, regulations, guides, authority. They want a Catholic Church to tell them right from wrong. They want a community that enforces its values. "The Lost City" is an excellent history that will make anyone think about the condition of America in 1990s.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By saskatoonguy on October 15, 2001
Alan Ehrenhalt's premise is a provocative one: People in the 1950s were happy, and they were happy because they accepted authority. The book is a rebuttal to all those who portray the 1950s as the 'dark ages' of US history, and the author argues that even blacks were better off than popularly believed. Ehrenhalt takes us to three Chicago neighborhoods: the Southwest Side with its working-class Catholic population, the suburban community of Elmhurst, and the black ghetto of Bronzeville. In each, he shows that people in the 1950s were content with their lives, and in many ways were better off than they are now. Even Chicago's black ghetto had a multitude of black-owned businesses and black social organizations, which have since vanished, replaced by nothing but vacant lots and failed housing projects. This is a provocative work of social history that challenges our image of the 1950s, and in addition, it challenges our assumptions about the benefits of free choice and the 'evil' of obedience to authority.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael Baca on January 17, 2000
This is a wonderful book which stayed with me for days after reading it. The author essentially boils down the cultural differences between pre and post 1960s America to the rise of personal freedom along with its inherent companion, the demise of societal authority. He does so with a mixture of anecdote and fact, ignoring the mainstream stereotypical view of that era, making for an easy and engaging read.
Whether you view that time through the prism of the establishment, the dispossessed, or the child of either, you will find plenty here to mull as we approach the next phase of our evolving American culture. A fun, interesting read.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Patrick R. Thrush on September 9, 2001
It is not often one encounters a scholarly work that is difficult to put down, but The Lost City is just that. I found this book to be immensely readable. Ehrenhalt's writing style is fluid and intriguing. By zeroing in on the individuals and communities that were archetypes of social conditions in the 1950s, the author is able to ground his argument solidly, while weaving an interesting dialogue of people and community.
If you have ever wondered about the "Fabulous Fifties" and what its communities were like, this is the book for you. Those longing for the security and morals of that decade may well be surprised by what was necessary of its citizens. The Lost City is a great read, and belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in society, community, and change.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Powers on September 4, 2013
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I enjoyed this book but found it to be infuriating on the quantitative nature of the author's observations and conclusions. He collects a wide-ranging array of information about the Chicago area in the 1950's, which is really enjoyable to contemplate and wonder how things worked in those days.

As an example the author seems to think that "nearly all" of the 15,000 people living near St. Nicholas of Tolentine were Catholic, and the "vast majority" attended Mass and sent their children to parochial school. Then, with shocking arithmetic, the author announces that 1,000 students attended parochial school. Hmm...1000/15,000=6.66%, which is not all that many. Also, the capacity of the Church is maybe 500 on a good day. To get all these parishoners inside...there would have to be 15 Masses, just to hit a majority of the 15,000, or 7,500 taking communion on a Sunday.

He does this quite often, with baseball players and his observations as to how grocery stores market themselves (where in neither case do his observations/conclusions seem accurate). Fun facts and data points, but they only support his thesis when he meanders into some observable truth, rather than his theoretical projection of how metropolitan communities work.

I think the author frames the questions pretty well, but he does not make his case for his pre-drawn conclusions.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on June 8, 2010
It is a common cliche that Americans were more orderly, more community-minded, and less individualistic in the 1950s. Ehrenhalt shows how this was so by skillfully examining three Chicago communities: one white working-class urban neighborhood dominated by the Catholic church, a poor African-American neighborhood dominated by a few business leaders and the black church, and a middle-class white suburb dominated by PTAs and similar neighborhood-based community groups. His portrait of those neighborhoods, like a good novel, is readable and feels right.

Ehrenhalt suggests that in all three neighborhoods, people had fewer choices than today, but were perhaps happier and were certainly more community-minded. People did business with local businesses, and had more social ties with people who lived nearby.

According to Ehrenhalt, informal social authority was stronger than today: Americans were more likely to follow their neighbors or local institutions such as public schools, and less likely to follow their own instincts or the regulations of a centralized state. Certainly this is true in some respects: for example, the Catholic Church was far stronger than today.

On the negative side, these institutions were often arbitrary. For example, the sadistic parochial school nun or public school principal is a common figure in pop culture. Why was this so? And why did Americans revolt against it? Ehrenhalt, like a reporter, picks and chooses the stories that fit his mold- so as a result he gives no persuasive answers.

But he does give us some interesting speculation. For example, he suggests that low-level authority figures really were overly strict and arbitrary, causing some of the Baby Boom's rebellion.
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The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues Of Community In America
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