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Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life Hardcover – August 10, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The; First Printing edition (August 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159558403X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595584038
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,024,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Labor lawyer and Europhile, Geohegan (Which Side Are You On?) makes a passionate case for the high-tax, regulation-heavy model of life on the Continent. Using Germany as a model, he argues the middle class is the real beneficiary of European social democracy--its members reap free education, free child care, free nursing home care, guaranteed vacation time, and generous unemployment payments--while their white-collar American counterparts struggle to pay for the same. "Europe is set up for the bourgeois," writes Geohegan. "America's a great place to buy kitty litter at Wal-Mart and relatively cheap gas. But it's not set up for me, a professional without a lot of money." While he's quick to acknowledge that critics seize on labor's costs and prominence as a potential path to the collapse of the system, he's convinced of the framework in place. The narrative unspools in a chatty, anecdotal style; it's jumpy, appealingly digressive, and winning, all the more so for being such an unabashed polemic that refuses to be resigned to the rising rate of inequality in the U.S.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Most diverting… [Geoghegan] has the great virtue of being witty and ironic—and to the point… A necessary primer.”
—Jurek Martin, Financial Times

“Clever and immensely appealing.”
—Katha Pollitt, The Nation

“All dissatisfied Americans, not just progressives, should read the book.”
—Jeremy Gantz, Alternet

“A travelogue, self-discovery prose and business book all at once… written with humor and candor, making for an easy, fun read.”
—Courtney Crowder, Chicago Tribune
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

So I needed to sit down and really think this whole thing through.
Breck Breckenridge
What I got instead was a disappointingly disjointed book that reads more like an undergraduate's meandering term paper.
"Most Germans have big supplements from collective bargaining," writes Geoghegan.
John Wasik

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 67 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Sutter on September 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a very clever and worthwhile book. It's hard to imagine an easier, more entertaining or more vivid way to learn about the differences in social policies between Europe and the States. It has something in common with Michael Moore's "Sicko," except it's broader in scope, more first-person, more self-deprecating, a touch more wonkish and from a someone with a lot more gravitas. (Warning: it makes no pretense of being "fair and balanced": the author (TG) touts his liberal credentials proudly -- though he ridicules Larry Summers as much as any Republicans.)

The style put me off at first: TG is a double-Harvard graduate (college & law school) and a partner in a law firm, but tries to make us believe he's a clueless, farcical shlemil as he embarks on his first trip to Europe as an adult. But by the second half of the book he often peeks from behind this mask, and his humor is much more ironic and pointed. I read most of the book in a couple of cafés, and got stared at for chuckling out loud.

Stared at, because I live in Japan where people reading books in public don't usually laugh. But otherwise Japan has a lot in common with the Europe described in this book: most people are much better taken-care of here, with far lower unemployment than the US (or even Germany), health care that's almost as cheap as Germany's, and far less impact from the recent recession. And yet people in America imagine we're spiraling down the toilet, mainly because US media outlets spin their reportage (and op-eds, Prof. Krugman) to align with that theme. Just as they demonize Europe as socialist. I totally understand why TG uses such an unsubtle, though good-humored, tone: because Americans so often refuse to see what's really, really true.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By John Wasik on September 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As a Harvard-educated labor lawyer, Geoghegan is acutely aware of how frayed and tattered the social contract has become. Companies close down factories and wreck communities. The workers are left with little to nothing. Globalization forces the business to find cheaper labor in Mexico, China or Viet Nam. It's a constant race to the bottom if you are in a high-wage country. Well, maybe not, and that's the strange interplay of sacrifice and hope when we look at the future of American labor.

Geoghegan sees the European Model of Social Democracy as a beacon in the Western World. Germany offers a prime example. Once ridiculed for its rigid model of union-management partnerships, huge social safety net and six-week vacations, Germany seems to have evaded the ugliest aftershock of globalism.

In the European "worker-first" system, both mothers and fathers get paid leave after the birth of a child; work weeks are shorter, there's lots of vacation time (three times as much as the US), nursing home benefits, national health care and workers who are not only allowed to work with management -- but sit as active members in boardroom decisions.

Is this the horrible socialist peril that ravaged the Soviet Union? Hardly. Social democracy thrives. The Germans have an export surplus, high productivity, a vibrant manufacturing base and low debt. They didn't suffer from a housing meltdown and their banks didn't need bailing out. Of course, German unemployment is still a problem (although it's a few points lower than the US) and taxes are high, yet look what they get for their public-sector dollars.
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67 of 74 people found the following review helpful By John Foster on July 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Explains our problems in the US and why Europe is doing better. We don't get that in our news here. The rich own the media here and tells us what they want to believe. Anyone in the lower or middle classes should read this book.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By wj2007 on November 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
While I have much sympathy for the overall views of the author, I was disappointed by this volume.

Though the book asks whether you were born on the wrong continent, almost the entire focus is on certain aspects of German social democracy. Interesting as Geoghegan's discussions of Germany are, Germany is only one European country and, given the title, more extensive discussion of other nations would have seemed to be appropriate. Alternatively the book should have been called "Should You Have Been Born in Germany?" Only limited passages address how other European countries adopt economic models differing from those of the United States and Germany. A knowledgeable reader might well wonder who has governed Denmark, Norway, and Sweden for large portions of the post-WWII period and how!

To my mind, more disturbing is that the author does not present a well-argued consistent case for a social democratic approach to the economy so much as present a large number of personal impressions, stories, incidents, etc. aiming to show the advantage of such policies. Many of these stories are very interesting and mind opening. They clearly contrast the economies of the United States and Germany. To most Americans, hearing how Germany, the economic power of the EU, runs its affairs ought be very thought provoking. Still, anyone wishing to construct a coherent case concerning such an economic approach, one that could be offered in a point-by-point argument with a supporter of the American style free enterprise approach to economics, will struggle. Basically you will have to read the book and formulate the pro and con arguments yourself.

And that is why this book did not satisfy me.
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