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The Optimism Gap: The I'm Ok--They're Not Syndrome and the Myth of American Decline Hardcover – September 1, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; First Edition edition (September 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802713343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802713346
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,721,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

David Whitman first considered how public opinion affects American lives in a 1996 article for U.S. News & World Report. The Optimism Gap builds on that piece, elaborating upon his contention that Americans tend to think their immediate communities are better off than are communities across the nation. Concomitantly, he argues, people underestimate local problems and are daunted by national issues; the result in both cases is dangerous entropy.

Whitman's research is stunning for both its breadth and tonnage: a text of fewer than 150 pages merits 451 footnotes citing studies and polls, journal articles, and government stats. With this daunting cache of information, he presents a cautiously optimistic view of where Americans stand. This book is an antidote to cynicism, he suggests--and a way to counter the "we-they" distinctions Americans make, which result in "a dividing line that is exaggerated at best and pernicious at worst." Skewed views of issues such as crime, scholastic achievement, health, and race may result from a fairly natural human tendency to be self-admiring, Whitman says, but "much of the time, however, public fears about America's future stem from a kind of iron triangle of alarmism created by the media, advocacy groups, and business lobbyists." Hyperbole sells, he explains, but even if the cause is good--missing children on milk cartons or calls to save the environment--exaggerating reality renders people helpless or inured. To narrow the gap, Whitman suggests a program of reduced expectations and increased sense of common purpose. For anyone willing to consider even the possibility that the present and future are, overall, actually rosy, Whitman's book makes a useful case. --Lise Funderburg


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This writer who I haved followed for many years from his earlier book on Welfare Reform to more recant writings over the last decade at US News and World reports once again shows unique insights that only he is able to offer up--way to go
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on April 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Very good book --helped with my history class--I got a A
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Hamilton Jackson Truman on January 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The author may feel his point overwhelming demonstrated by his mountain of research, but he should consider the fact that few people can and even fewer choose to climb Mt. Everest. Simply because a statistic is favorable does not mean it must be included to justify every point. This book is so saturated with statistics that the effect on the overall thesis is catastrophic. Furthermore, not only is the volume a problem, but, though I have no statistics to prove it, Americans and readers in general are leery of statistics. They are justifiably leery because it seems that in this modern era, polling is a near-exact science and questions can easily be asked in a way that virtually guarantees a certain response. My, admittedly unprofessional, advice: Drop all but an extreme minority of the statistics and focus on developing the skills necessary to craft an effective and persuasive article!
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