on September 16, 1999
At a time of incredible hysteria (1980's) about the Asian economic challenge, James Fallows came through with a sensible, level-headed assessement of what makes America unique. Open immigration, physical mobility, economic mobility, lack of traditions, mass-media culture - all the things that make America culturally unique among nations also makes America an economic power house that can rebound and renew itself. A profoundly important book.
on July 14, 1999
I read this book while living in Japan for the first time in early 1990. I love Japan and studied the language but I also love my own country and began to realize that after I began to make my initial adjustments to life in metropolitan Tokyo. Yes, America is a life of immigrants and constant change, as Mr. Fallows's own family history illustrates. And, yes, Japan is a land of far less mobility and still offers far less of an opportunity for an individual to "reinvent" him or herself. 1990 was also a time when American businesses were suffering at the expense of formidable Japanese competition. The world's richest stock market valuation belonged to Tokyo. It was the height of their great bubble. Mr. Fallows, an esteemed writer and editor who has since been chief editor of U.S. News and World Report, made a name for himself, together with Mr. Clyde Prestowitz, as one of the chief "revisionists, " alarming us Americans that Japanese cultural, historical and organizational characteristics would continue to be formidable. And they are right: despite our freewheeling economy and porous nation (definitely our great attribute), we still have the same stubborn record-level trade deficits with Japan. Yet Japanese are voracious consumers too so something tells me that "They" continue to get it right too. Most importantly, Mr. Fallows's book puts a human face on our respective strengths -- and weaknesses -- as Americans and Japanese. After four years of living in Japan over a seven-year period, I've figured out that we as proud and "unique" nations and people are more alike than unalike, a point Mr. Fallows repeatedly makes.
on August 5, 1999
Fallows has a very important message for esp. those of us who came of age in 60'& 70'when America's faults made it so easy to feel lousy about this country's role in the world. (I was living in France when we bombed Cambodia and felt everything was ending.)
His message about race & racism is profoundly important -- that one of the things that makes America "unusal is its assumption that race should not matter, that a society can be built of individuals with no particular historic or racial bond to link them together." And I love his vision of "people always in motion, able to make something different of themselves, ready for second chances until the day they die." (it was from this book I learned that William F. Buckley's grandfather was a south Texas sherif -- I love it!)
I hope Fallows comes out with a new edition analyzing the economic dynamics of the 90's in the light of his premise that we need to be more like us.