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Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 Paperback – January 29, 2013
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"I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s 'Coming Apart.'”
--David Brooks, The New York Times
"Mr. Murray's sobering portrait is of a nation where millions of people are losing touch with the founding virtues that have long lent American lives purpose, direction and happiness."
--W. Bradford Wilcox, The Wall Street Journal
"'Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010' brims with ideas about what ails America."
-- The Economist
“a timely investigation into a worsening class divide no one can afford to ignore.”
“[Charles Murray] argues for the need to focus on what has made the U.S. exceptional beyond its wealth and military power...religion, marriage, industriousness, and morality.”
--Booklist (Starred Review)
"Charles Murray ... has written an incisive, alarming, and hugely frustrating book about the state of American society."
--Roger Lowenstein, Bloomberg Businessweek
About the Author
CHARLES MURRAY is the W. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He first came to national attention in 1984 with Losing Ground. His subsequent books include In Pursuit, The Bell Curve (with Richard J. Herrnstein), What It Means to Be a Libertarian, Human Accomplishment, In Our Hands, and Real Education. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard and a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives with his wife in Burkittsville, Maryland.
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Having read this book over a period of a few weeks on either side of the 2016 presidential election that has brought Donald Trump within six weeks (as of this review) of the Oval Office, I saw how anyone with Murray’s perspective could have predicted how the vote would be split along lines of geography, education, and income. “Coming Apart” remains a highly relevant read to those with the patience to work through some fairly dense material about why America is what it is today.
Murray views the four founding virtues mentioned above as the basis of “American exceptionalism,” a phrase he uses to summarize how America is different from (not necessarily better than) any other country. That said, Murray’s veneration of the four founding virtues and their role in the success of the American experiment over many generations – is clear. So too, is his fear of America ending its experiment with a government that allows people to define and pursue their own happiness, rather than defining it for them. That, in Murray's view, would result in the United States becoming unexceptional among nations.
The book is not for someone in search of a canned ideology or a casual read. Murray marshals much sociological data, and observations of 19th-century sociologists about how Americans used to be, in support of his conclusions and prognosis for whether the American Experiment can continue. Readers will need to focus to absorb it.
Murray’s thesis regarding the American educational system as a people-sorting mechanism that helps to self-perpetuate a new stratification of citizens into the current elite class, is cogent and fascinating. Add data showing that smart, well-educated kids come from smart, well-educated parents, and you have the rise of new American ruling families. They are a scant percentage of our total population. They lead us yet they have, in many ways, lost touch with us. Murray offers a somewhat amusing, yet thought-provoking quiz to help you understand how much you have in common with the elites who have isolated themselves, in many ways, from the other 98% of Americans.
Murray’s analysis of what has happened to working-class white America’s adherence to the four founding virtues from 1960-2010, is sobering. And, Murray sees the subtle abandonment of these principles among the new elite class as well; an abandonment of commitment if not yet in behavior.
The final chapter contains a critique of socialist (European-style) democracy that, while worded kindly, contains powerful insights as to why such a system, however well-meaning, would represent a serious blow to the United States’ status as a place that promotes the pursuit of happiness. Those who are just interested in getting an overview of Murray’s thought, might skip ahead to read this chapter.
The author brightens his prognosis for America by recalling the American tradition of rising to the difficult occasion. He awaits a new, secular “Great Awakening.” This makes me consider millennials, and their well-chronicled focus on serving others and seeking out meaningful lives. Perhaps America’s greatest hope to retain its exceptionalism – no, make that its distinctiveness among the nations – are the children and grandchildren of my generation who may find their meaning and call to service within the framework of the institutions of religion, family, vocation and fair play that the Founding Fathers had in mind. Some will find that formula trite; Murray might say that those people are making his point about abandonment of the four founding virtues, for him.
As I said, Murray's book is a sociological study, but the political ramifications we are just beginning to see now, with the rise of Donald Trump to the Presidency.
It is unfortunate for Hillary Clinton and President Obama that they apparently aren't aware of the facts that Murray spells out in the book because if they had, they would have understood better the anger and frustration of so many white people whose parents lived in an optimistic world of American promise, but whose children have seen that promise evaporate.