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What to Expect When No One's Expecting: America's Coming Demographic Disaster Hardcover – February 5, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

The UN projects that world population, currently around seven billion, will peak over the next eighty-five years between ten billion and twelve billion people before starting a long and inexorable decline. Which is, Last argues, precisely the real cataclysm humanity faces. An extremely sharp writer with a great eye for telling details and revealing anecdotes What To Expect When No One's Expecting is a rich and detailed read, well worth the price of admission just for Last's cogent summarizing of long-term demographic trends. —Nick Gillespie


"A powerful argument that the only thing worse than having children is not having them. I'm reading What To Expect When No One's Expecting aloud to the three little arguments for birth control at my house in hope they'll quit squabbling and making messes and start acting so cute that all my neighbors decide to conceive."

P.J. O’Rourke, Author of Holidays in Heck

“This book explodes old ways of thinking. Not moralizing, not blaming, Jonathan Last peers methodically ahead at the cold consequences of plunging global birth rates: aging and ever smaller national populations, the fatal destruction of the financial premises of the welfare state, disappearing military strength. He describes the comfortable, happy childlessness chosen by more and more highly educated couples—lives of personal contentment, yes, but with unutterably sad national consequences. We are left to draw conclusions ourselves: The use of sex is not simply personal; the future of the whole human race hangs on it. Those who missed Ben Wattenberg’s The Birth Dearth (1987) have another chance to be shaken awake by the earthquake rumbling louder and faster beneath us.”

Michael Novak, recipient of the Templeton Prize (1994), and author of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

"Jonathan Last provides us with a well-written, well-argued description of one of the most profound, yet poorly understood phenomena of the 21st century: the world worldwide fall in birthrates and attendant rapid aging of the human population. He masterfully describes the key facts and concepts any literate person should know about the sea change in global demography and speculates wisely and soberly about the implications for the future of humanity. Avoiding the alarmism, sexism, and racial chauvinism that mars so such other writing on this subject, Last is an insightful and trustworthy guide."

Phillip Longman, Senior Fellow of the New America Foundation and author of The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity And What To Do About It

"Jonathan Last's writing matches his reasoning: as clear as a shot of gin, and just as bracing. America is changing more quickly than ever before, and this book explains why. A terrific, important read."

Tucker Carlson, Editor of The Daily Caller

"Jonathan Last's pulled off an amazing feat. He's written a book that's at once lively and profound, that deals with weighty matters with a light touch, and that explains a complex subject clearly. It might make you laugh, it could make you cry--but above all it will make you think."

William Kristol, Editor, The Weekly Standard

"Imagine a merger of Mark Steyn and David Brooks with a Supreme Court imposed page limit."

Hugh Hewitt, Host, The Hugh Hewitt Show

“The Malthusian paranoia of a coming population boom has nothing on the reality of a coming population implosion. Frankly it kinda makes a girl want to procreate.”

S.E. Cupp

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; 1st edition (February 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594036411
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594036415
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 8 x 5.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #355,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard, a Washington-based political magazine. His writings have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Post, the Claremont Review of Books, First Things, The Week, Salon, Slate, TV Guide, and elsewhere.

He is a regular commentator on both television and radio and has appeared on ABC, CNN, Fox News Channel, PBS, NPR, CNBC, Sky News, and the BBC.

He blogs at and tweets, reluctantly, @JVLast.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Having just finished this well-written and sobering look at fertility decline and the coming population implosion both here and abroad, I'm tempted to paraphrase Sir Edward Grey's famous remark on the eve of the First World War: "The lamps are going out in maternity wards all over the world, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime..." Contrary to the worries of the overpopulation crowd, we're simply not having enough babies, due to what the author describes as a "giant constellation" of factors -- and the likely consequences of this global baby bust are grim.

Demographics can be a tricky subject to write about, and difficult to read about. But have no fear -- Mr. Last lays out the facts and data about our demographic & fertility dilemma clearly and thoroughly (and in under 200 pages sans footnotes!); he teases out the implications of these facts judiciously; and he does it all with enough dark humor and interesting vignettes to make the demographic medicine go down easy. (One fascinating example: He notes that last year in Japan -- a nation well-advanced in a demographic death spiral -- consumers bought more adult diapers than diapers for babies, for the first time ever. Let that nugget sink in for a minute.) Mr. Last is clear-eyed about the probable consequences of population decline, and he does a fine job showing its likely effects on everything from the unsustainability of our entitlement programs to foreign policy to American economic growth and innovation -- while always cautioning that Demography is not inevitably Destiny.

No doubt some will assume the author wants to pin blame on feminism, or on selfish women who sacrifice motherhood for careers. I would respectfully ask such persons to read the book with an open mind, because Mr. Last does no such thing.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By John G. Burford IV on February 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I liked this book more and more as I went along, but I still had a few beefs with it.


1. I found his observations on the effect that ideological sorting has on a region's politics to be very interesting, even though it was only tangentially related to fertility. In the 1976 presidential election, only 26.8% of counties went to either candidate by greater than a 20 point margin. In the 2004 presidential election, 45.3% of counties went to either candidate by greater than a 20 point margin. In both elections, the percentage of the popular vote was similar--it's not that American individuals became more Democratic/Republican, it's just that increasing mobility allowed like-minded people to collect together, polarizing election outcomes and leading to the election of more polarized Congressmen.

This plays out with families too. People who are married, religious, and want to have kids (these things are often found together) gradually group together, usually in suburbs/rural areas where things are cheaper and roomier. I found his discussion of Salt Lake City interesting: the actual city has recently started to go Democratic, but the surrounding suburbs have become even more Republican and Mormon. A small scale version of the Big Sort.

2. I liked his detailed examination of how various countries' efforts to boost fertility have failed. In short, the government is quite ineffective at convincing people to have children they don't want to have. In reading reactions to this book, I've noticed that liberal commentators usually use the opportunity to slam Last for not promoting policies like universal paid maternal leave, child subsidies, etc. What they seem to ignore is that Last does examine these policies, and find that they just don't work.
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102 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Lee Forest on February 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I might have expected the author to come at this subject from a moralistic, right-wing point of view, and was happy to discover that was not at all the case. Last presents a tremendous amount of data, academic research, and statistics from the U.S. and around the world in a way that is not at all dry, but engaging and oftentimes entertaining. Neither does he glorify parenthood -- he seems unsentimental and the actual baby part of the book is pushed into the background. Instead he focuses on laying out what has happened, is happening, and might happen as a result of falling birthrates--not bringing his own feelings or leanings into it but presenting a vast amount of academic research and government data, which is much more compelling or convincing than whatever his personal views might be. He makes the case that it's much better to expend efforts making it easier for those people who do want children to have them, than to try to coerce or convince those who don't want them to do so, given the at-best mixed results other nations have achieved by trying to lift their fertility rates. The most striking stat to me was that 97 percent of the world's population now lives in a nation whose fertility rate is falling -- I wouldn't have guessed that based on how much one reads about the "overcrowded" world. My corner of it seems that way, but it's not true on a global scale or even in the U.S. He manages to talk about potentially divisive social issues such divorce, cohabitation, abortion, contraception, and even entitlement programs in a straightforward manner, not preaching at all, but instead discussing the hidden costs of social developments which most of us (the author included) regard as net goods. I found the discussion of Europe's precarious situation and the implications for the U.S.Read more ›
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