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Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future Hardcover – May 4, 2004

3.5 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

America is divided into two camps, according to U.S. News and World Reports writer and Fox commentator Michael Barone. No, not Red and Blue, though one suspects Barone may taint the two groups in the hues of the 2000 presidential election. Barone's divided America is one part Hard, one part Soft. Hard America is steeled by the competition and accountability of the free market, while Soft America is the product of public school and government largesse. Inspired by the notion that America produces incompetent 18 year olds and remarkably competent 30 year olds, Barone embarks on a breezy 162-page commentary that will spark mostly huzzahs from the right and jeers from the left. Certainly the unforgiving nature of the marketplace can sharpen skills in upstarts, but what's softer than the landing of a CEO with a golden parachute? And one would assume Barone would favor toughening up coddled kids by retaining, if not drastically raising, the inheritance tax, but the subject never comes up. Still, the Washington, D.C.-based pundit's premise is provocative, his arguments are nuanced, and his writing is sharp. Ultimately, Barone forecasts "a Harder America on the horizon." Would that be what they used to call "hard times"? --Steven Stolder

From Publishers Weekly

In his latest book, Barone, a writer for U.S. News and World Report and a well-known political commentator, describes America as comprising two diametrically opposed characteristics: hard and soft. "Hard America" is characterized by competition and accountability, while "Soft America" attempts to protect its citizens through government regulation and other social safety nets. While Barone's book is not without its political overtones-he identifies Hard America with the political right and Soft America with the left-his book should not be seen as the latest installment in the conservative-liberal cultural wars. Rather, Barone provides a deeper look at the way in which ordinary people live and work and the meaning behind the decisions they make. His concrete historical examples highlight the advantages and disadvantages of Hard and Soft America, creating a compelling picture of two very different ways of looking at the world, without degenerating into mudslinging or name-calling,. Although Barone, a conservative, clearly favors Hard America, he appreciates the necessary difficulty that comes with balancing the two Americas. He concedes that a society without some softness would be a cruel one, but warns that "we have the luxury of keeping parts of our society Soft only if we keep enough of it Hard." Despite his conservatism, Barone (The New Americans) writes with moderation and insight. Even those who do not agree with his normative conclusions can enjoy his thought-provoking and perceptive analysis.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Forum (May 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400053064
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400053063
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,252,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bernard Chapin on May 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In our society we generally acknowledge that the only way to gain strength and prestige is through working hard and enhancing one's innate abilities. Even though some may dispute this reality, the proof is in the peripherals as there is probably not a work place in the country lacking one of those mundane "Sharpen the Saw" posters.
That is why it was with considerable excitement that I opened Michael Barone's Hard America, Soft America: Competition Vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future. The book was just over 160 pages long and proved nearly impossible to put down. In this extended essay, Barone pounces upon one of the most important questions of our day and his work overlaps public policy, politics, history, philosophy and education. In short, it is a text that just about everybody should be able to relate to if not appreciate.
The theme of Hard America, Soft America is that from the ages of 6 to 18 Americans grow up in a downy world that is largely devoid of competition and accountability, but from the ages of 18 to 30 the texture of their lives radically changes as it becomes rocky and subject to the laws of nature. One either produces or they are fired. It is this world, this cauldron of struggle, that forges the Americans who awe the world with a never-ending parade of inventions and discoveries.
Barone gives us a tour of our own history and concludes that much of our illustriousness was created by the rigid and unforgiving forces of Hard America. Men like John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan may not have been able to release their inner child or give group hugs but they were able to employ thousands and provide the means for mass production that made us the victors of war and peace.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a small, short book, about 200 pages. It is highly readable, flows well, and stays away from heavy language. Barone is smart and doesn't need to prove it with his vocabulary.

Barone initiates the discussion by asking a simple question "How does a country which produces such a large amount of statistically inferior teenagers create such capable adults?" His answer is that our youth are brought up in "soft" systems, like education, but are quickly thrown into the "hard" world of our brand of capitalism.

Barone goes through several examples of how our systems have turned harder over the years, and how that hardness has served to make America more competitive and prosperous than our European counterparts, and more prospersous than we were before.

He points to a couple of main trends. The first is the transformation in the 50s and 60s to a more math and science based education system (althought this has changed in the last 20 years). The second is deregulation in business. He argued before the deregulation movement, big business was almost governmental in their approach to the markets and competitiveness, and they fought to maintain the status quo of an uncompetitve marketplace and lifetime employment. After the deregulation movement, businesses had to grow leaner in their business practices to survive competition from both internal and external forces, and he argues this "hardening" is what is chiefly responsible for our prosperity over the past 25 years.

His overall premise is that "hard" and "soft" America are constantly competing against eachother, but we need both to survive.
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Format: Hardcover
I can't believe how badly the previous reviewer missed the boat. Barone's analysis in "Hard America, Soft America" is brilliant. He provides amazing insight into what's going on in this country. And this is not just some political book, as that reviewer implied. It makes you realize that so many of our strengths--and weaknesses--as a country are connected. Barone looks at everything from our schools to our economy to our legal system to our military. Take a step back from the day-to-say political disputes and really look at what's happening: that's what Barone does here. You really have to read "Hard America, Soft America".
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Format: Hardcover
I had a manager who use to often comment that the right perspective could be worth as much as 20 IQ points. How you see a problem affects your ability to solve it. Even the smartest people in the world have trouble solving problems if they see the problems from a bad perspective.

Michael Brone's perspective on trends and problems in American society may be worth 20 IQ points. He looks at many areas in America and breaks them down into "Hard" or "Soft". For the purposes of the book "Hard" is where there is competition and accountability; people suffer or reap the consequences of their actions. "Soft" is when people are protected from competition and not held accountable; they are coddled.

The book explores changes in Education, Big Business, Government, Big Unions, Crime, Military, and other areas. One of the interesting points made in the book is that there is constant change. For example Big Business was soft 50 years ago and has grown harder; however, Education has only grown softer over the last 50 years. Michael Barone shows the consequences of what happens when an area is hard or soft. While he acknowledges there are reasons for softness, Michael Barone clearly believes that it is best for all parts of society to have some degree of hardness.

The book is well written and the material is well presented. It is a quick read; the main part of the book is only 162 pages. I would have liked it to be longer. It was very thought provoking and gave me a number of ideas to think about. I found it worth reading, and felt it was a good investment of my time.

The approach of looking at issues in terms of Hard or Soft does provide some good insights. Michael Barone has provided a unique perspective on life in America over the last hundred years. If you want to improve your understanding of many of the important modern issues, this is a good book to read.
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