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Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent Hardcover – April 3, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Luce, Washington bureau chief of the Financial Times, joins a lengthening parade of pundits—among them, Fareed Zakaria, Thomas L. Friedman, Tom Brokaw, and Bill Clinton—describing, in painfully graphic detail, America’s decline. Luce focuses on the seismic shift of money and talent from America’s technology sector to those of China, India, and beyond, a shift that has reverberated throughout the U.S. economy, particularly for the middle class. He attributes the change to, among other things, Republican demagoguery against federal funding of research, red tape in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a polarized and paralyzed electorate, and the influence of big money on national politics. Unlike his fellow pundits, Luce doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions in this fine analysis, except maybe in this quote from one American entrepreneur, “To overcome a problem, you must first recognize it exists.” --Alan Moores


“[Luce] knows the country well, and he wishes it well too. A result is that he leavens his yearning for smarter, more nimble government with a realism not always found among Europeans . . . Luce is a good writer with a vacuum-cleaner for a notebook. His book could not be bettered as a compendium of American problems, at least as filtered through the center-left sensibilities of a pro-American European. . . . Time to Start Thinking raises the right questions at the right moment, which is what books are supposed to do. It deserves an audience in America. And I wouldn’t be surprised, too, if it ends up stacked on the best-seller tables in China.”—Jonathan Rauch, The New York Times Book Review

“Luce puts his finger right on some obvious and less obvious problems, all the time pointing the way out of the swamp. . . . Some of his observations are simply delightful. . . . This book needs to be read as a dose of cold water, but also as a goad to action to change its sad prognosis before it is too late. The waterfall is just ahead.”—Dan Simpson, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"In a tradition stretching back to de Tocqueville, sympathetic foreigners are often the keenest observers of American life. Edward Luce is one such person. He paints a highly disturbing picture of the state of American society, and of the total failure of American elites to come to grips with the real problems facing the country. It rises far above the current political rhetoric by its measured reliance on facts rather than canned ideological posturing to reach its conclusions."—Francis Fukuyama, author of The End Of History and The Last Man

"Time to Start Thinking is not only a wonderful tapestry of the current state of America, it provides a deeply insightful narrative on the origins of our current economic and political malaise. Ed Luce is a brilliant reporter who has spoken to everyone: CEOs and members of the cabinet, lobbyists and small town mayors, recent MBAs and unemployed teachers. In his acutely observed, often witty, and very humane portraits he succeeds in converting the abstractions of economics and bringing them to life. This is a book that will transform the way you think about this country."—Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Lords of Finance

“Americans need friends who will tell us what we need to hear and how to think about the troubles, many of our own making, that threaten our democracy, prosperity, and leadership in the world. We’ve got just such a friend in Ed Luce. He’s a foreign observer who has not just traveled widely in the United States but listened carefully to a wide array of our citizens. His concerns reflect what he has seen and heard from us, and he shares with his predecessor de Tocqueville a belief that America’s greatness lies in an ‘ability to repair her faults.’ ”—Strobe Talbott, president, The Brookings Institution

“Warning: this book could be a danger to your peace of mind. One of the finest journalists of our time, Ed Luce has crisscrossed the United States, trying to understand what ails the country and what must be done. His conclusions are highly disturbing—and may sometimes set your teeth on edge—but they are a “must read.” Once again, a visitor to these shores has written a masterful portrait of America.”—David Gergen, professor, Harvard Kennedy School; senior political analyst, CNN

“A superb new book. . . Ed has done a far greater public service than all speeches touting America’s greatness that will be given during this campaign season.”—James M. Lindsay, The Council on Foreign Relations

“Luce is a very good reporter. He has spoken to a terrific array of characters—including eccentric entrepreneurs, bankers, captains of old industries, new technology evangelists, senior politicians, an admiral, academics, a community college head, a recruitment agency boss, brilliant immigrant students who are “going back” (ie away from the US). Best of all are his vivid portraits of Americans struggling to get by, assailed by what he calls “the hollowing out” of America’s middle class.”—The Financial Times

“Superb reporting of the on-ground reality of America’s current economic crisis . . . an unflinchingly brave book. Luce does not shy away from conclusions that are hard for many Americans to hear, not does he cop out and offer up the happy ending many in his audience may want to read. Rather, he offers what is most needed now: an objective profoundly thoughtful look at the underpinnings of America’s economic troubles, what makes the current crisis different from the past, and where we are likely headed from here.”—Foreign Policy

“Deeply-researched.”—Bernd Debusmann, Reuters.com

“[A] lucid, reported tour d'horizon. It provides an excellent snapshot of America in 2010 and 2011, a country grappling with serious issues and unsure about its place in the world.”—Yahoo.com

“[A] thoughtful and gently polemical book on contemporary American society. . . an engaging read, filled with anecdotes, stories and character vignettes that make the main arguments easy to follow and interesting to read.”—The Irish Examiner

“[T]his sharply written analysis by Financial Times columnist Luce (In Spite of the Gods) presents a sobering account of the U.S. in decline. . . . Despite ample doom and gloom, Luce’s analysis is sound, and his data irrefutable—required reading for pessimists and pious optimists alike.”—Publishers Weekly, boxed review

"Carefully balanced and often startlingly evocative analysis and reportage . . . It is true that there have been serious errors in policy. Luce, formerly the Financial Times’s south Asia bureau chief based in New Delhi and now the paper’s chief Washington correspondent, spells out these exercises in self-damage in painful and illuminating detail.”—The Guardian

“The book is not simply a laundry list of present-day policy failures (of which there have been many) but as hinted at by the title of a political system that’s stopped constructively engaging with policy challenges. . . . It’s time to start thinking.”—Slate.com

“[Luce] makes a convincing case.”—Matthew Partridge, MoneyWeek

“Luce wisely refrains from prescribing what America needs to do to get out of the rut. . . . They need new ideas, the lack of which Time to Start Thinking hopes to have captured. That in itself is no meager achievement.”—Hindustan Times

“Every half-decade or so, Financial Times journalist Edward Luce delivers an easy-reading but insightful country profile. . . . Luce’s books profile nations at the tipping point. . . . Edward Luce is carrying forward the great tradition of foreign correspondents from the Anglo-Saxon world, going back at least to Edgar Snow, who have produced penetrating outsider accounts of nations in the throes of change.”—Indian Express

“Luce finds plenty of fresh thinking . . . Essential reading for anyone who cares about the fate of the US and its consequences for the rest of us.”—Irish Times

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; First Edition edition (April 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802120210
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802120212
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #935,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Edward Luce, who is British but has lived in the United States for many years, offers a critical perspective on the challenges that America faces. The book is wide ranging and touches on nearly all the major issues that will determine the country's future. The book is based in part on interviews with some very high profile people, including Bill Gates and Larry Summers.

The core of the book focuses on the decline of the American middle class. Wages for most people are stagnant or declining and economic insecurity has soared as more and more risk (retirement, health care, etc) is transferred from employers to individuals.

The book shows how advancing technology and globalization are hollowing out the middle class by destroying many of the best jobs. Jobs are being automated, offshored or contracted out to temp agencies. Even the CEO of the biggest temp agency Kelly Services, which benefits from this trend, is pessimistic about the future for most people, saying "I know well paid engineers at big companies whose only role is to think up ways to reduce headcount."

This ongoing trend toward leaner organizations and less jobs all around may be the biggest single challenge we face, and yet there are very few real solutions being offered.

"Time to Start Thinking" goes on to look at problems with education. Here it gives a balanced look at the Gates Foundation and the out-sized role in plays in this area. The book also questions whether charter schools are really a viable answer.

Next Luce goes on to look at our immigration policy, which borders on lunacy as we turn away the most highly capable and educated immigrants who have come to the U.S. for an education.
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Format: Hardcover
If current trends and predictions are to be believed, the United States will soon no longer be the leader of the free world. Howe do we adapt to these changing times? Time To Start Thinking by Edward Luce, the chief U.S. columnist for London's Financial Times, takes an unflinching look at the current political climate and what steps could be taken to avert America's current date with a backseat destiny.

Luce tackles some of the front page issues such as the need to cut military spending, the shrinking middle class, the changing job market, and the growing healthcare crisis. He was also at one point, Lawrence Summers's speechwriter and had incredible access to interview a broad spectrum of executives, politicians ,military personnel in order to get a clearer picture of what is happening and what actions need to be taken. The colloquy of experts lends a deep gravitas to a book that covers fairly familiar hand-wringing ground.

Studies show that the immigrants are always bigger risk takers than the home born in any society. America has long been seen as the land of opportunity, attracting the best and the brightest from around the world. Those immigrants used to stay in the country but now many leave after getting an education or when their careers are taking off. As Luce sees it, the government plays a key role in making sure that innovators are able to thrive. The second half of the book delves deeply into the failures of our political process to provide clear leadership and direction.

Unlike many of the political candidates, Luce doesn't take issue with government's size, but instead with its adaptability and capacity to change.
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Format: Hardcover
America is on the skids and time is running out. The core of Edward Luce's 'Time to Start Thinking' is about the decline of America's middle class; other topics covered include public education (we're now ranked below #20 in international comparisons of math and science achievement), the need to overhaul our government, eliminate polarization of politics, the pursuit of empty-headed ideologies, and end our seemingly never-ending campaign season. Summarized into a single sentence, the U.S. is in relative economic decline, and our political system lacks a coherent response and is making things worse. Or, as former Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen put it, 'We're borrowing from China to build weapons to face down China - this can't continue.' A decade ago the U.S. accounted for almost one-third of the global economy - now it's less than a quarter and likely to fall to about one-sixth by 2020 when China becomes the world's leading economy.

All net job creation since 1990 has been in the non-tradeable sector and McKinsey predicts no growth in the tradeable sector through 2021; almost all of this was in services, with about half in health care and half in government (sectors with essentially no productivity growth). Many areas have suffered from massive job losses in manufacturing over the last generation. Gambling is one of its most frequent replacements, bringing low-wage jobs, pimps, and drugs as replacements. Economists earlier told us that service jobs were superior to those manufacturing jobs moving to Asia, but that's not bearing out. Too many of the new service jobs are dead-end and part-time w/o benefits, and/or in health care - a sector that cannot continue to grow.
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