From the best-selling author of Losing Ground and The Bell Curve, this startling long-lens view shows how America is coming apart at the seams that have historically joined our social classes.
In Coming Apart, Charles Murray explores the formation of American classes that are different in kind from anything we have ever known, focusing on whites as a way of driving home the fact that the trends he describes do not break along lines of race or ethnicity.
Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, Coming Apart demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—a divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.
The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. This divergence puts the success of the American project at risk.
The evidence in Coming Apart is about white America. Its message is about all of America.
Charles Murray is the W. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He first came to national attention in 1984 with Losing Ground. 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.
©2012 Cox and Murray, Inc. (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“A timely investigation into a worsening class divide no one can afford to ignore.” (Publishers Weekly)
“[Charles Murray] argues for the need to focus on what has made the US exceptional beyond its wealth and military power… religion, marriage, industriousness, and morality.” (Booklist)
“This is an immensely important and utterly gripping book…Coming Apart is a model of rigorous sociological inquiry, yet it is also highly readable. After the chronic incoherence of Occupy Wall Street, it comes as a blessed relief. Every American should read it. Too bad only the cognitive elite will.” (Niall Ferguson, professor of history at Harvard and fellow of the Hoover Institution)
Murray uses statistics from 1960 to 2010 as a basis for his arguments as to how our society has become fragmented into the haves and the have nots. This could be a dry oration on statistics, but it is artfully woven into a captivating story.
I would rank this as one of the best books to read if you want to understand the cultural changes that have occurred over the past 50 years.
This is a fantastic little bit of social science, but the author includes a lot of demographic data that can get confusing when in audio format. You'll lose some of the details by listening to it instead of reading it, but it will only matter if you're hoping to use the book as source material for research of your own. The narrator did what he could with it. Otherwise, well-performed and researched.
IMPORTANT FOR AUDIO
The format of "Coming Apart" is awkward for an audiobook because of the many references to graphs and tables. There's an accompanying PDF of these with the audiobook. I found that by reading the PDF before listening to the audiobook, I was able to following the reading fairly easily.
There are plenty of professional journalists who have written extensive reviews and commentaries on "Coming Apart." For a particularly good one, see "Is the White Working Class Coming Apart?" by David Frum, or the review in the Wall Street Journal. These may be more useful than reviews given here.
"Coming Apart" has two basic sections: a description of the situation followed by analysis and opinions.
The description of the situation is brilliant. Regardless of your political persuasion, the description will probably strike you as being largely accurate about the changes and problems in America's socio-economic class structure.
Following this brilliant presentation, Murray gives his views and analysis from a libertarian viewpoint. Murray's analysis is what's flawed. While Murray does a good job at identifying why the upper class has become richer and larger, and why the children of the upper class are much more likely to remain in the upper class than they would have been prior to 1960, Murray's attempts to explain why the lower class has grown and is sociologically falling apart doesn't hold together. For politically interested readers with moderate and liberal views, this analysis may be particularly interesting, as it is a serious attempt at sociology from a libertarian/conservative perspective, and may provide some insights about how your political opposites think.
Murray is possible the greatest sociologist of our times. The book, as usual, will make you think.
Cant wait for his next one.
A truly fascinating book. Murray posits his theory that the social fabric of the U.S. is fraying at the seams as the institutions that defined the nation and separated us as a people from the Europeans are in sharp decline. He goes on to say that these institutions are dying in particular among the lower classes and uses data to support his theory. A must read for all those of every political persuasion must read.
As a parent, I have a stake in the future of the U.S., and the potential for a failure of the American project, as described as a potential future scenario by Murray, does create anxiety. The juxtaposition that Murray draws with American and European social institutions and cultural norms (work ethic, civic responsibility, religiosity) were particularly interesting.
As an American near 50, I can see many of the signs of the fraying of American culture and civic life that Murray describes. Having traveled extensively in Europe, I can see the potential future that the U.S. is approaching, and the worst case scenarios described by Murray are truly frightening (Europe has a glorious past, but no future). The hopeful scenarios for a brighter future are at least equally plausible though, which does leave room for hope. I do highly recommend this book.
Have already listened to it twice. This is an important book for those wanting to understand one of the dynamics shaping our society -- bifurcation by cognitive ability -- and its implications. While that was not new to me, its dimensions and its effects added to what I had already dimly perceived. What was new was how and why it was destroying "American Exceptionalism". Murray lays out the drivers of human happiness and how the modern welfare state enervates true human happiness. His prescription for a potential rebirth is quite interesting, and plausible in theory, but I don't think it will happen any time soon, and certainly not soon enough to prevent the withering away of American Exceptionalism. Too many decades of brainwashing (I tried to think of a less pejorative term but could not) have shaped an important segment of our population to the absolute need for and advantages of the welfare state. Only a complete collapse of the welfare state, which is probably decades away now that the printing of money has not only become acceptable but demanded, will force us to rethink what we have been told and learned.
I probably would not have had the time to read the book. I listen to books when I exercise. Otherwise my day is quite full and there would be little time to read as many books as I listen to.
Book will engage you, make you think, challenge your preconceptions with a data driven analysis of sociological changes in America over the last 40-50 years. The author is optimistic that the American character can rise to the occasion. I hope he is correct.
It may be better to get the print version, because this book contains tables and graphs. They are described in the audiobook, but it's a bit awkward.
White people act the same way minorities do, and have the same outcomes, when their economic and geographic situations are similar.
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