Read Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray Online


From the bestselling author of Losing Ground and The Bell Curve, this startling long-lens view shows how America is coming apart at the seams that historically have joined our 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 tFrom the bestselling author of Losing Ground and The Bell Curve, this startling long-lens view shows how America is coming apart at the seams that historically have joined our 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—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. That 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....

Title : Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
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ISBN : 9780307453426
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 416 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 Reviews

  • Hadrian
    2018-10-30 11:26

    This was an incredibly frustrating book.It starts off with a statistical analysis on income disparity and social segregation. The basic topics are well-established in American discourse. However, he ascribes an unusual cause - the rise of liberal technical classes, and the lack of the 'moral character' of the poor. The elites are sorted out due to technical skill and intelligence, so he says, and place themselves in nice little ritzy neighborhoods and thus refuse to enact meaningful social help for the proles.To be fair, it is possible for those with technical education to move away from their rural hometowns and live in nicer areas. That's social mobility, especially possible for those with technological or knowledge-based occupations. His later discussion of community-based thinking is a position that is treasured by both left and right. Communities bring people together. But as he turns to the discussion of the poor, the analogy starts to fall apart. The leftist policies which the 'liberal elite' espouses at least attempt to address some of the worst effects of income discrepancies. Welfare reform, health care reform, education reform, etc. If he wanted to get into the idea of elites, it would only be fair to bring up Super-PACs and how single plutocrat individuals are able to keep political campaigns afloat far more than the average prole.It is a myopic view of history, claiming that the social policies of the Great Society in the 1960s were responsible for the moral decay of the American public. Why didn't the New Deal and the subsequent 'Moral Decay' afterwards, of World War 2 and the 1950s? Or is that contradiction too inconvenient for this hypothesis?And what of western Europe and Scandinavia, with its social democracy? Granted, they have their own share of economic problems, but the larger industrial powers aren't as bad off as we are. Why aren't these heathen nations suffering, with their laziness and atheism?And why are the lower classes down on their luck? Is it because of outsourced jobs, a judiciary which defines corporations as people and allows the free reign of lobbyists to spread plutocratic interests? A truly indolent legislature? The collapse of the union system? The dismantling of the welfare system, heralded by libertarians and social conservatives, with pseudo-racist rhetoric on mythical welfare queens? A minimum wage which has fallen behind a living wage standard?Of course not! Instead, the poor are such because they are Lazy and Indolent and Immoral and will Never Amount to Anything Unless They Do As I Say. They will 'pull themselves up by their own bootstraps', but the bootstraps are gone, and only 'I told you so' rhetoric will save them. An idealized Libertarian version of the Founding Fathers is described (to say nothing of the fact that 1) they were not a homogenous political group to begin with, and 2) some advocated a form of proto-social security for the common good), as well as conservative legislation which will claim to be in support of Families, while directly hindering them (women's reproductive rights, gay marriage rights, etc.)Even worse than The Bell Curve.

  • Lewis Weinstein
    2018-10-25 15:45

    "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 JournalIt’s always daunting to disagree with such eminent authorities, but I see “Coming Apart” as little more than right wing political screed dressed up in the trappings of the author’s “alleged” research findings. It seems to me that Charles Murray decided first on the point of view he wanted to espouse, i.e., that the declining lower middle class is the cause of its own problems due to their failure to maintain what he calls the “founder virtues" (especially industriousness and marriage). Answers clearly in mind, he then selectively dug out data and prepared analyses to support his pre-ordained conclusions. In my view, Murray didn’t do much of a job with either the data or the analysis, and his conclusions therefore remain little more than an expansion of his original biased speculation.Murray’s “facts” are concocted according to rules which do not come close to conforming to the kind of rigorous investigative procedure practiced by researchers who really want to learn something. Mostly derived from census data, Murray excludes any categories which would complicate his conclusions (like blacks, mixed-marriages, scholarship students), and groups the rest of America’s humanity into two over-simplified constructs he calls “Belmont” (the elite ones sort of like him) and “Fishtown” (some imaginary lower middle class group that none of the elite know much about). Finally, Murray camouflages this highly selective witches brew with a patina of mostly obvious observations which, while often true, do nothing to buttress his conclusions.Of course Murray, and the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank of which he is a part, have a serious right wing agenda, and it is within this context that “Coming Apart” must be viewed. It is a political document - nothing more - which should not be accepted as sociological or demographic or any other kind of disciplined analysis. It is intended to blame the poor for their problems, and even more importantly, excuse the wealthy from any responsibility towards the less fortunate among us.Now, I do not argue that every aspect of what liberal government seeks to do for its poorer citizens is successful. Some of it is horribly conceived and incompetently executed. Some of it is corrupt. Murray points out these failures, and in this he is correct. But there have also been significant successes (voting rights for minorities, equal rights for women, early education programs in disadvantaged neighborhoods, diversified admissions programs at elite colleges), and the goal to enable all Americans to have a fair chance to engage in "the pursuit of happiness" was and is critically important. Here’s why: If our country does not figure out how to help those who are now spiraling downward become productive members of our economic and political society, they and their children will continue to be a serious drag on America’s ability to succeed in a competitive world. How will we fare as a country where many of our citizens contribute little and an ever-larger percentage of our resources must be devoted to their support? This is one of those instances where compassion and self-interest are perfectly aligned.Murray’s analysis, which I see as both wrongheaded and poorly argued, does serve one useful purpose. It gets us talking about political issues which we ought to be addressing, although not perhaps in the way Murray and his group would like. Let’s see, where do you think contraception, universal healthcare, education and broad electoral rights fit into this discussion?

  • Faith
    2018-10-22 17:39

    Here's a nice little summary of the book:Poor people are unsuccessful because they're lazy, immoral, and stupid. Upper and upper middle class people are successful because they are smart, morally upright and industrious. However, they are elitist snobs who are too far removed from poor people. Hence, poor people are suffering. They don't have a good example of how to be industrious and moral. As for being smart, well poor people can just forget it. With the exception of a few lucky members, they're just destined to keep passing on those dumb genes. However, if the upper and upper middle classes decide to watch American Idol, drink domestic beer, buy a pickup truck and maybe hang out with the poor every once in a while, then everything will be better in America again.No need to create jobs, provide healthcare, provide better education or anything else that involves the government spending money on programs intended to help the poor and the rest of American society.

  • John-Paul
    2018-11-12 18:33

    This book has earned many 1-star reviews and many 5-star reviews. I don't like to present myself as some kind of political Goldilocks, but I must say that I disagree with most of Murray's political leanings and assumptions but I also learned a lot from this book. So three stars it is.The parts of this book about elites are all stuff I (and probably you) have heard before. Educated people who have jobs that require some measure of skill and intelligence tend to live close to one another, associate with one another, have the same tastes and values and preferences, etc. Murray backs this up with some useful data and makes the serious point that it was not always thus. Though there have always been rich people who lived their own way, there were educated people who earned decent salaries with their brains, somewhat more money than the laborers who worked with their backs, but the managers' and the laborers' lives weren't all that different. They lived near one another, sent their kids to the same schools, attended the same churches. But since the 60s, the elites separated from the herd.That brings us to the second, far more interesting and disturbing section of the book, which is about the non-elites and how much their lives suck. The data is crushing in most senses of the word. It wasn't always like this. But the separation from the educated professionals has made the non-educated non-elites' lives worse in every conceivable way. (I call them "non-educated non-elites because there is no satisfying term for them, which is significant in and of itself.)The people who gave this book 1 star seem to have read an entirely different book than I did. They see Murray blaming the poors for being lazy and stupid. I see him simply noting how the American landscape has changed. We can play chicken-and-egg with values and economic conditions all day but that's just what we do while other people's lives get worse. I have many of my own thoughts on this subject but they don't really matter. I think this book is worth reading, not just for the charts, but because it ends with Murray's open admission of the limitations of his own politics. He calls himself a "libertarian" and he says that government shouldn't get involved in things like this, but that leads him to admit that he is helpless before the problems he has just clearly diagnosed. Libertarianism depends a huge amount on what's called "civil society" to provide what a welfare state tries to provide, and when civil society goes away, it's hard to get it back or find anything adequate to replace it. Libertarianism is like a political version of Christian Science.A side issue (that's not really a side issue) on method and discipline: this book focuses on what Murray calls "white America" (sorry I didn't get into race in this review... you can read almost all the others for that) in 1960-2010. Murray is a sociologist, but what that really means is that he's a highly opinionated journalist who can do regression analyses. What he should be -- or what we need -- is a historian. It would really help if he could, y'know, talk about the stuff that happened around 1960 that brought about these changes, good and then also make meaningful points about how this is all somehow different from 1860 or 1760, and/or how America is different from other countries, etc. But we don't get any of this, so "Coming Apart" is simultaneously far-reaching and exceedingly narrow.

  • Jessica Scott
    2018-11-14 17:48

    If you want to have a discussion about class in America, you MUST read this book. This book was eye opening in many significant ways and the most troubling part is that if Murray is even half right, the American experiment is coming to an end. He echoes the call of other authors/intellectuals such as Michael Sandel in Justice for a civic awakening so that the stratification of American doesn't continue. But short of a vast swath of the well to do reinvesting in the culture that so enabled them and a dramatic turn about in the welfare mentality, the American experiment is in trouble.

  • Socraticgadfly
    2018-11-07 13:28

    "Coming Apart" is quite possibly more mendacious than "The Bell Curve." It's certainly more hypocritical, and given that Murray's whole thesis is ultimately a screed against the Great Society more spiteful.In this long review, I'm going to list in exquisite detail all the problems it has, which lead me to note that Paul Krugman, in an oped column about the book, was far, far too nice.The single biggest statistical/demographic/historical problem with “Coming Apart” is that the lesser income inequality and narrow class differential of the middle third of the 20th century is something that Charles Murray, with little evidence, assumes is the American norm.Rather, in reality, large chunks of American history have shown as much if not more class differentiation than today, albeit without a specific knowledge (or alleged knowledge) caste at the top. And, yes, in other periods in history, classes were able to separate themselves, and were not confined to a “Northeastern establishment.” Coastal planters vs. Tidewater and further inland was a staple of the slave-era South. Being able to live further away from work due to ownership of horses or even a coach also allowed for separation.Ergo, Murray’s relatively narrow slicing of American history is either ignorant or mendacious. Given an almost visceral dislike he has for European social democracy and its paler U.S. cousin that culminated in the Great Society, one must say that mendaciousness is the likely candidate.In fact, that leads to another lie. Murray claims he’s not primarily discussing the “whys” of this allegedly new class divide. But, in reality, America’s Great Society “wrong turn” likes behind his starting date for all his comparisons and more.All other errors, misconstruings of fact and misstatements in this book flow from that.1. Murray goes wrong from his prologue, claiming illegal drugs were rare in 1963, among other laughers. Heroin was starting to gain underground popularity by then, marijuana never went away, and cocaine never totally did, either. This also shows the problem with arbitrary timelines, something that plagues this book in general. If we want to go pre-1914 and various criminalization laws, of course, cocaine was all over the place among the well-to-do white upper class, which in turn feared blacks’ alleged increased use of pot, etc. Cocaine itself was prescribed by Freud, among others, as treatment for morphine addiction., But, because Murray uses the day before Kennedy’s assassination (and the day before LBJ could be in office to start that evil, individualism-sapping Great Society), you won’t hear about illegitimacy in the 19th century. You won’t hear about the Gilded Age. You won’t hear about a lot of other sociological American history. (One of the few things about which Murray is right is also in the prologue, namely that Camelot was largely a myth and that JFK never would have pushed for a Great Society.)2. It’s arguable that the separation of America into upper and lower classes with largely different values, contra Murray, is nothing new. He likes to cite things like rising illegitimacy rates, but again, what about pre-New Deal days, or certainly, pre-Progressive days? (We know from Britain that in Victorian Scotland, 1 in 3 brides was pregnant at her wedding. I don’t know, the story I saw that didn’t say, how many women had their first child, at least, out of wedlock back then.) The point is, Murray’s careful slicing dates give the impression that mid-20th century America was the norm, rather than, quite possibly, an exception of sort, as far as divisions by economic class, social class, and more. (This is certainly true of religiosity; the mid-20th century’s high point is a definite anomaly compared to much of the 19th century.)3. In his take on the modern “elite,” Murray claims that the rich of the 1950s likely ate much the same types of food as the rest of America. The Kennedy White House puts a partial lie to that.4. In looking at the new upper class and elite colleges, Murray ignores the “legacies” effect of Ivy League and near-Ivy schools. There isn’t a tremendous amount of information to support his claim that elite schools have, in recent years, engaged in major talent segregation vs. lesser ones. Rather, and contra claims he makes against liberals elsewhere, the combination of legacies and the effects for random chance in a population more than 50 percent greater than in 1960 must be taken into consideration.5. On marriage being upheld more in the early U.S. than in Europe, Murray again glides over something that should, from the Bell Curve if nothing else, star him in the face – the number of Southern planters having “affairs” with slave women, and even the occasional planter’s wife doing that with a male slave. In many ways, on how early Europeans viewed early Americans, in fact, one wonders whether Europeans, in something similar to poll bias today, weren’t in fact reporting what they thought their fellow Europeans wanted to hear.6. His claim that lower crime rates mean nothing, and that, since in part they’re due to high incarceration rates, that means we actually have higher criminality levels among whites, is tendentious at best and mendacious at worst. This ignores that much of the incarceration is for drugs, which Murray, a professed libertarian should well know. Also, he knows well that many of those drug-related incarcerations are of minorities, and therefore, the argument about incarceration meaning higher criminality is more tendentious yet in a book focusing on white America.7. Second, his statement that it’s hard to believe more Americans are on disability today than in 1960. First, a graying population alone explains it. So too does the fact that while manufacturing as a percentage of jobs has declined, a smaller percentage of manufacturing jobs are unionized than 50 years ago and that federal safety enforcement started declining in the 1980s. Finally, Murray ignores the great rise in depression and lesser rises in other mental health problems, some severe enough to indeed qualify people for federal disability filing.8. His lamenting of lower-class whites not taking more involvement in social programs like PTA ignores issues like the possibility of them working more than 40 hours a week, working split shifts or other “non-traditional schedules,” working two jobs, etc.9. Yet more cherry-picking – Murray talks about how presidential election voting declined 22 points from 1960 to 1996, and STOPS THERE! (He also ignores the high turnout of 1960.) We know it went up again after that. In fairness, he stops other data on changes in communitarian participation in the mid-1990s, but that fairness is just a thimbleful – it’s possible that he did that to cherry-pick a lot. He does go to 2008 in a later graph, which also looks at income disparities in voting, but again, presents no “whys.” For a political scientist, this is again, mendacious, or cherry-picking, or, for someone who worked with a professional statistician on The Bell Curve, simple laziness.10. He does little to discuss the role of the rise of the Net in “online communitarianism.” He offers little explanation of the “why” of these changes, otherwise. In many cases, most likely, though, these declines are in part due to what I note in point 3, above. If you’re working extra hours, multiple jobs, or whatever, you can’t be so involved. Murray also ignores that, whether many Americans are truly conscious of what it means to live in a nation of 310 million people today vs. less than 200 million in 1960, and maybe have gotten less involved either because they feel their voice gets less hearing in a bigger population or because “somebody else will do it.” These stats are also mendacious in a book about growing white class divisions because Murray presents them by all races/ethnic groups, ignoring the likelihood in this case that Hispanic immigration, especially of the illegal kind, has an influence on the numbers.11. His chapter on happiness is flawed from the start since it has “faith” as one of its four domains of happiness. Arguably, the “vocation” domain relies in part on the “Protestant work ethic,” and on naïve views about how easy it is to find FULFILLING work. He does claim this can include “avocations” or “causes,” but that’s lame. I could say that “ideals” should be a fifth domain, and included avocations, causes, and other things, too. This chapter also ignores the psychological and philosophical fact that some people are more introspective, internally motivated, etc. Besides that, we will always have less desirable jobs. There will never be a Lake Wobegon of the American labor market, where all the jobs are above average. And, it’s not just Europeans who think we work too much; so do Japanese, Australians and others. American “industriousness” could rather be seen as a a fault, or even worse – a symptom of psychological neurosis, of a people culturally unable to relax.12. And, two chapters later, when comparing America’s past, present and future to “the European option,” it seems clear that Murray deliberately stacked the deck on how one can achieve happiness. As a libertarian, he hates social democracy. He also hates the fact that many countries of western Europe have higher happiness levels than the U.S. HATE is not too strong of a word, here, since there’s plenty of sociological statistics to undercut Murray, hate is a driver. His claim that European social democracy restricts human freedom is, overall, laughable. Rather, it’s arguable that many aspects of social democracy, such as extended family leave time, are liberating and that they might even encourage some of the communitarianism whose American decline Murray regrets. Even more laughably, in the next breath, Murray exalts the general rise in fortunes of African-Americans and women while ignoring that this happened through massive government intervention. 13. Related to the two points immediately above, Murray has a simplistic understanding of religion, and certainly of its development. He has zero “informing” from sociologists of religion or psychologists of religion. A Scott Atran would rip his ideas to little shreds.14. Murray claims that, at one time, using Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story as an example, that all American social classes adhered to the same moral codes. Outside of ignoring Jim Crow, etc., this too is laughable. Robber barons and the organized theft, no robbery, of company towns, payment in script rather than money, etc., are just two of many counterexamples.15. Related to that, his scolding of today’s upper class for the unseemingly gaucherie of how they parade their wealth ostentatiously? Again, nothing new. Happened in the Gilded Age and later. Murray ignores that the massive government intervention of a federal income tax, making it stronger during WWII, and the start of a true social safety net during the Depression were part of what reined in previous such gaucherie.16. Finally, he ignores that his libertarian capitalism is what produces the problems of the two points above, plus other unseeminglyness like massive CEO pay. 17. Related to that, on the issue of business ethics, he cites the fact of fewer IRS tax fraud actions against businesses. However, this ignores the IRS’s declining audit rate in recent years, especially against businesses and upper-income individuals.18. In this chapter on “alternative futures,” he chides opponents of his point of view on some issues for not being able to prove a negative. We all know the response to that in formal logic, at least. And, in excoriating “old Europe,” he ignores that both government and business leaders of old Europe excoriate not only huge CEO pay, but the perceived over-abundance of managers in U.S. businesses. Actually, in a number of ways, in a quasi-Jeffersonianism updated for the 20th century, “old Europe” meets some American ideals from the past in some ways better than America does.19. His claims about American exceptionalism ignores the “whys” of it, as well as fatuously claiming Americans have never had “class envy.”In sum, then, this book, as it progresses, demonstrates again that Charles Murray is not only a liar but also a hypocrite.It’s also interesting to see how many libertarian types simply can’t bring themselves to openly condemn the New Deal, because of the third rail of Social Security, even though unemployment benefits also stem from then.===I've made a couple of brief edits, based on the claim that Murray is not an atheist during a Facebook discussion. At a minimum, I can say:If Charles Murray is allegedly not an atheist, he's still also a sociological "Christianist" in the sense of Samuel Huntington. “Christianity was the primary reason this one small section of the Eurasian land mass exploded into an unprecedented five centuries of creativity called the Renaissance. The basic Christian premise that all human individuals are invited into a personal relationship with …", that said:He's not religious, either. He says earlier this year, that "I'm an agnostic." People who claim he's religious need to click the link:

  • Orrin Woodward
    2018-10-28 16:52

    Charles Murray's book pinpoints the unraveling of America's community over the last 50 years and shares a plan for its restoration. It's one of the few books that I purchased and read within the week. Truthfully, it was hard to put down!Although many believe that the complex challenges facing us today cannot be solved through the lens of the American founder's virtues, Murray writes:I take another view: The founders were right. The success of America depended on virtue in the people when the country began and it still does in the twenty-first century. America will remain exceptional only to the extent that its people embody the same qualities that made it work for the first two centuries of its existence. The founding virtues are central to that that kind of citizenry.Murray found that people with satisfying work; a happy marriage; a high social trust community; and a strong religious foundation are more likely to be happy than people without these four attributes. Of the four, in fact, a happy marriage is the factor that generates the biggest improvement in someone's happiness score. I can speak on marriage and happiness both personally, experiencing first-hand the changes in happiness when Laurie and I improved our own marriage, and professionally, witnessing many couples improve their marriage and subsequently, their happiness over the years.Coming Apart reveals that only 10% of respondents who are unmarried, unhappy in jobs, profess no religion, and have low social trust describe themselves as genuinely happy. When a good job is added, the number of respondents stating they were happy increased to 20%. A happy marriage, however, jumped the total to 60% sharing they were happy. The final two attributes - high social trust communities and strong religious faith increased the respondents scores an additional 10% each. Thus, from a baseline of 10% of respondents being happy, over 80% of the people who had all four attributes stated they were sincerely happy. That's an eight times improvement! This is a significant increase and enough to make even the most skeptical of people pause and ponder.If America desires to restore its degenerating culture, Murray has just provided the blueprint. Hopefully, it isn't too late.

  • L.A. Starks
    2018-10-25 15:46

    Charles Murray has gained notoriety due to the attacks on him and protests over one of his earlier books. Leaving that aside (with no wish to get in a firefight), THIS book, published in 2013, explains the class stratification of the US and is one of the very few (along with Hillbilly Elegy) with clues to the support for Donald Trump. Murray's idea was to pull race out of the equation (and he ultimately puts it back in, with little change to his results) and to investigate how and why Americans have segregated themselves by class--and why those inside the wealthier bubble have so little clue about the rest of the US. This is a sociological study by a libertarian. One of his interesting conclusions is that we no longer preach what we practice--an inversion of the usual saying--so that there is less common culture, less assimilation, and less education about American history and traditions, about who we are.Please--this is a summary, not a political stance or an invitation to argument. If one is so inclined to know more about current American sociology and stratification, Murray's book has answers. It is recommended solely to these readers.

  • Lawrence Lihosit
    2018-10-24 11:28

    While reading Charles Murray’s new book, I thought about our recent national obsession with civil discourse and events in Oakland, California. Since it never snows in Oakland, Occupy Wall Street has been very visible there. It would have been most illustrative to seat Mr. Murray at a cloth covered table, set on a high platform overlooking the street below. A finely dressed and polite moderator could have introduced him while the author poured himself a glass of water from an imported bottle.“Charles Murray is an American libertarian, author and PhD invited here to explain that you do not have jobs because you are fat, lazy and dishonest sons and daughters of bitches.”Murray cloaks these terms in ten dollar words and phrases but they represent his conclusions for the disappearance of the American working class. Forget the war on unions, the use of technology to cull the workforce in the name of efficiency and a tax system that rewarded giant companies for relocating overseas. Forget our Congress, filled with men (and women) who spend more time at tanning spas and hairdressers than they do actually writing laws. Forget our court system that has decreed a corporation a person except with more rights and a President who emptied the national cash register for bankers but never even proposed banking reform. It is all our fault. Shame on us!This 407 page book is chock-full of cherry-picked statistics and unenlightening footnotes. The author has interesting conclusions. For instance, he ignores all historical comparisons of the American Standard of Living and concludes that “The poor didn’t really get poorer…Real family income for families in the middle was flat.” (p 50) When discussing the long hours (without overtime) that Americans now work, he concludes that we “live in a world where work has more of the characteristics of fun than ever before.” (p 43) Best of all, when he compares the working world of today to that of a half century ago, he concludes that “the world is usually the same.” (p 44) This sounds like an English Lord describing Serfdom. I was surprised that he did not propose a debtor’s prison.Instead of cruising books and websites, the author could have offered much more had he simply bought used clothing at a flea market and tried to find a job with an extremely meager budget (like most of us). Hopefully, he would have found a real job–maybe as a Wal-Mart greeter since he is the right age. He would have discovered that his conclusions are as fictitious as a Disney cartoon which is possibly why his book was published by Crown Forum, the publisher of A Crown Imperiled: Book Two of the Chaoswar Saga and The Church of Liberalism Godless and not published by either of his alma maters: Harvard and M.I.T.When analyzing the rich and powerful, Murray can be critical. He notes that “Washington is in a new Gilded Age…that dwarfs anything that has come before.” (p 294) He’s a libertarian so rules are bad and a spontaneous “awakening” is invoked. Didn’t Ronald Reagan imply something similar? Empathy and compassion are the children of sacrifice. Just as Reagan had Voodoo economics, Murray offers us Voodoo social theory. He bemoans a lack of social responsibility among our wealthy but completely ignores history. Our system is based upon greed and unbridled, it is nobody’s friend. The Gilded Age gave birth to reform which is exactly our hope for this era. This is a great example of how anyone with the right connections can get a book of nonsense published commercially. It is also a great example of how the Peace Corps experience does not necessarily spawn kindness, patience and wisdom. The experience can also produce acid-tongued know-it-alls.Years ago after a night of mischief, my buddies and I often went to the local midnight movie theater showings. While smoking Mary Jane, we giggled at experimental films and old cartoons. So, Lorenzo sez five stars for Coming Apart. Buy it, toke-up, read and laugh until it hurts. The next day, crawl on your knees in penance to the nearest libertarian and beg forgiveness. Offer to propose a debtor’s prison. It worked for Charles Dickens’ father, right?Lawrence F. Lihosit is the author of various books including essays, short stories, poetry, history, memoirs and travel narratives. His latest book, Peace Corps Experience: Write and Publish Your Memoir will be published in April. He is not nor ever has been a libertarian.

  • Todd N
    2018-11-07 18:25

    Baratunde Thurston, the author of How To Be Black, astutely pointed out that you have to hand it to Charles Murray for coming out with a book about white people during Black History Month. (Oh wait. I just checked on Amazon and the publication date is actually January 31. But still, I would be willing to bet that the possibility never crossed Mr. Murray's mind.)This book was about what I expected: A premise that I was willing to accept, a bunch of stats that I found fascinating, and conclusions that I mostly disagreed with.The premise is this: Way way back in the early-60s -- about 50 years ago and when Mad Men's first few seasons were set -- the upper class and the lower-middle class weren't that far off. They watched the same TV shows, had the same basic interests, understood the same cultural references, and ate the same food. But nowadays -- about 4 years ago and when the first few seasons of Fringe were set -- the new upper class and the new lower-middle class are so isolated that they are pretty much different cultures with different mores.To make this point, he offers a quiz so that we can gauge how much we really know about the new lower-middle class. (There is no quiz going the other way, so I suppose we should assume that the new lower-middle class forgot how to read.)I'm proud to say that I scored a very low 23, which (accurately) pegged me as "a first-generation upper-middle-class person with middle-class parents. Range: 11–80. Typical: 33." I don't know who the hell Jimmie Johnson is or why people go to Branson, Mo., and I really don't care. What's more, I'm pretty sure that if I took the test at 25 I would have scored exactly the same, which is to say I have had no new experiences associated with the lower-middle class since then.But here is the problem: Now that he has proven to me that I know nothing about the new lower-middle class (and inadvertently discovered a surprisingly strong streak of resentment against them), the new few chapters could be about how they all have blue skin and shoot lasers out of their eyes and I would have to accept this at face value.So when we get into part two, I find that I have to trust that Mr. Murray isn't cooking the books when he pummels me with statistics about how the new lower-middle class (a) gets married less, (b) has more bastard children, (c) gets in trouble more, (d) is less honest, (e) is lazier, (f) attends church less, and (g) is more depressed than the good, old lower-middle class. I'm willing to take him at his word, though I have also read some critiques of this part of the book. (Most notably the multi-part one in The Daily Beast.)Another reason I find myself trusting what Mr. Murray has to say about the new lower-middle class is what he writes about the formation of the new upper class.Here is how the new upper class formed (which I am planning to turn into a book for all the kiddies in Palo Alto): Some time between WWII and the late-1960s admission to college became more meritocratic. This changed America's top colleges from a bastion of privilege into a powerful sorting machine that enabled the supersmart from all around the country to pair off and move to a handful of zip codes where they spawned supersmart kids.Around the same time jobs that involved symbolic manipulation suddenly became very high paying. Whereas a math genius in a small rural community might have become a math teacher or a weird Boo Radley-type figure not too long ago, now he is more likely to make a fortune at a hedge fund or maybe just a few million writing software in Silicon Valley.So their supersmart kids go through the same sorting process and wind up even better able to take advantage of the new economy, make the money, and move to the desirable zip codes to spawn even smarter kids.Even if this isn't not true, I still want to believe it because it's like a superhero origin story.Actually, this does seem true to me. Of the successful people I know at least half of them are all three of (a) supersmart, (b) grew up with not much money, and (c) went to a great college, usually on a scholarship. And I know of no one personally who is successful without being (a) supersmart and (c) having gone to a great college. Of course I understand that there is a significant survivor bias and small sample size to this. I also see a dark side to this in the local schools here.The third major part of the book contains the conclusions that Mr. Murray draws from all this. He writes that he expects most people to disagree with him because he's a "libertarian."He claims that the major problem with the new upper class is that they aren't confident enough (!) in their morals to suggest that America's four Founding Values represent a better way to live. In essence, they aren't providing the moral leadership that our country needs.Simple experiment to try: Go speak with a someone from the new upper class about recycling, carbon emissions, or the 2012 election. I guarantee that you will not walk away thinking that there is any lack of moral confidence.Anyway, the end bummed me out because Mr. Murray wants to turn America into a giant small town where everyone is in your business and goofballs like me would wind up getting scolded all the time.The way he lays out the Founding Virtues as crucial to America, he's basically describing an America where if you don't marry your pregnant girlfriend in a church on your way to a menial job then you are a traitor. Doesn't sound too libertarian to me.I am willing to say that some life choices are better than others and will lead to a happy life, but I'm definitely not going to get all Church Lady about it. And I don't think it would make a better America if I did. Chris Rock, who is neither white nor a sociologist, said it very succinctly: "If a kid calls his grandma "Mommy" and his mama "Pam", he's going to jail."And then at the very end, Mr. Murray doubles back and accuses the new upper middle class of being just as morally backwards because CEO's take too much pay and executives decorate their offices too expensively. At this point it's all anecdote and no statistics. (Very sloppy sociology.) I was shocked to realize that he was being just as mealy-mouthed as he was accusing the new upper class of being just a few pages ago! Doesn't he realize he's hurting America by doing this?I still recommend reading this book, especially if you are as race and class-obsessed as I clearly am. But while there are many brilliant insights and perspective that you won't find anywhere else, there are also some flaws.

  • Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton
    2018-11-09 13:52

    I have friends who remind me, regularly, that wealth is becoming more and more concentrated among the wealthy. Further, the "not rich" are making less than they used to, relative to the wealthy. In other words, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. There is a divide growing in America, argues Charles Murray in his book "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960 - 2010" but it isn't necessarily just over money. In fact, the divide may be greater because it is cultural, not just economic.Displaying a dizzying array of statistics, studies, and research, Murray shows an America that is watching the rise of what seems, to me, to be a new ruling class, a group of elites that are well educated ("overeducated elitist snobs"), well connected, and with a set of values and interests different from much of modern America. The self-segregation is not malicious, but, largely a result of people being attracted to others like them. As a result, their children grow up with a different set of values, more educated, and in turn marry people like them, further segregating themselves. It works both ways, though, and Murray sets up as a comparison a hypothetical city on the upper ("Belmont") and on the lower ("Fishtown") ends of the spectrum to compare them. In his analysis, people in Belmont are better educated, less likely to get divorced (if at all), more involved in their community, work longer hours, are more honest, and are more religious. On the other hand, vital statistics in all of these areas for Fishmont show a gradual falling off over the last fifty years.Why is this problematic? One reason is that it has resulted in a culture for the upper class that is completely out of touch with most of America. They watch different movies, participate in different social activities, drink different beers, and read different books. Their interests are not the same, and yet they are a select group that sets policy and opinion, controls wealth and power, for America.Another problem is that the degradation of values in lower class America over the last fifty years is leading to a collapse of "American civic life," something exceptional about America. At this juncture in the book, Murray, a confessed libertarian, recaps the roots and history of American civic culture and its uniqueness in the world. Neighborliness, vibrant civic engagement in solving local problems, voluntary associations, and so on. All hallmarks of America up to as recently as the 1960s, the members of lower and upper classes shared through these civic association a culture together that connected them and their values. Further, although the elite retain some values, they have failed to lead. The elite class is as "dysfunctional in its way as the new lower class is in its way. Personally and as families, its members are successful. But they have abdictated their responsibility to set and promulgate standards." Instead, its most successful members take advantage of the perks of position without regards to the "unseemliness" of that behavior, showing something of a new "gilded age."Prognosis? "If the case I have just made for a hollow elite is completely correct, all is lost," says Murray on page 294. The lower class is only barely able to care for itself by 2020, while the upper classes enter yet another generation separate from main stream America and further out of touch with the "real world." Insightfully, then, Murray says that "new laws and regulations steadily accrete, and America's governing regime is soon indistinguishable from that of an advanced European welfare state. The American project is dead."Is all lost? Murray says that for things to turn around, America must see four predictions borne out: America must watch what happens in Europe (and if the turmoil of the last few months is any indication, this prediction is bearing out), science must undermine the moral underpinnings of the welfare state, it will become increasingly obvious that there is a simple, affordable way to replace the entire apparatus of the welfare state, and Americans' allegiance to the American project must be far greater that Murray's argument has acknowledged.Could these be born out? Time will tell. In the meantime, it's a powerful argument for a retrospection of the great problems of our times and our country.

  • Sandra
    2018-10-19 14:44

    Trigger Warning: I was not triggered by this book. I read it with a cool head and no preconcieved notions about the author's supposed hidden motivations and biases. Charles Murray appears to belong to that now endangered species of contemporary conservatives of Burke-ian flavor. If they do disappear, we will miss them and suffer for it, even if we won't realize it. He seems to deeply care about his society, and tries to diagnose and address the ills he believes might eventually prove irreversible and fatal. The intent is obvious: starting a public discussion, and for that alone he is very brave. Only if the intelligentsia would engage him with facts instead of mudslinging, we might even get something good out of the whole thing.Just like with TBC, I had a number of (in this case less adamant) reservations. Having had to argue my way though parts of it, I am left with a sense of having gained a more systematic understanding of a host of contemporary social maladies and challenges. While the book's topic is very USA-centred, it is undeniably relevant to other Western, and Westernizing, societies.

  • Ron Davison
    2018-10-19 19:35

    Murray has written a book that deserves serious attention. He calls himself a libertarian but what Murray has done is articulate Santorum's campaign better than Santorum did. (At this point it's probably worth mentioning that I'm a liberal and thought that a Santorum presidency would be a major step back into medieval times.)Murray deals with class in this book - a topic that seemingly became forbidden once communism lost to capitalism. But what he talks to (roughly 2/3 of children born to the working class are unlikely to live with both biological parents by the time the mother is 40 .... a huge swath of the working class don't hold steady jobs ... etc.) are very real problems that should be central to talk about policy no matter whether what your political orientation. I do agree with him that the causation is not all one way (that is, it is not just a simple matter of saying that poverty causes these conditions). Culture matters and it deserves discussion. Murray is brave enough to take it on and for this deserves kudos.

  • John Harder
    2018-10-30 19:37

    First an explanation of the title – Coming Apart, The State of White America, 1960-2010. Mr. Murray does not want the distraction of bringing race into the equation when evaluating the state of American society. Murray contends that Americans are becoming split between two distinct societies based upon class, or more precisely, the cognitive elite and, well, the less cognitive. Race is not the problem and there is no significant difference between the races in the bifurcation of society – class is the determinant.Fifty years ago, though individuals may have differing incomes, the ethos of the “haves” and the “have-not” were essentially identical. They had a similar work ethic, sexual mores and religious observance. Since then this common ethic has atrophied. Compounding the problem, it is now socially unacceptable to judge anyone. The upper class, however, continues to observe the ethos of yore, while the lower class has given up such a constricted lifestyle. Society is restricted from condemning self destructive behavior, so essentially the upper class is barred from expounding the secret of their success.The book focuses on two towns, Belmont and Fishtown. Both towns, though economically different, once had similar unemployment rates, out of wedlock births, crime, etc. Over the past 50 years, however, the welfare state and shifting societal acceptance of deviant behavior has eroded the structure of Fishtown, while Belmont has remained largely unaffected.This is an interesting thesis, well presented and well documented.

  • Bojan Tunguz
    2018-11-08 16:33

    Charles Murray is one of the most distinguished and insightful social scientists of our time. His work over the past few decades has systematically and methodically probed into some of the most consequential and momentous societal and policy issues. Unfortunately, due to the highly politicized and contentious nature of many of such topics, he and his work have been subject to some very severe and withering criticism over the years. It's a testament to Murray's courage, integrity, and intellectual honesty that he stuck to his guns and pursued his research and intellectual interest, often paying a pretty high price in his professional career."Coming Apart" is intended as Murray's valedictory. It's a book that crowns his professional career, recapitulates certain points and topics that have long been at the center of his interest, and offers his views of what the future may hold - both for the society and for the research into these issues. It is also a sequel of sorts to "Losing Ground", Murray's seminal 1980s book that explored the consequences (intended and unintended) of various welfare policies between the 1960s and 1980s. That book has pretty much launched Murray's career as a public intellectual, making his influence well beyond the academic and scholarly circles. "Coming Apart" explores the consequences of those same policies over the period of another thirty years of their implementation, ending roughly around the year 2010.The first two parts of the book are primarily scholarly and descriptive. Here Murray lays down the facts in a very straightforward and informative way. He has always been incredibly adroit at presenting even the most arcane social science data in a way that makes them seem almost effortlessly intuitive. Using all the statistical and methodological tools that are at his disposal, Murray paints a very grim picture of the drastic divergence of the classes in American society. In order to avoid the false impression that the class division is in fact the racial division, Murray concentrates primarily on the divergence of the "white" classes in America. At a later point in the book he actually includes the figures for other ethnic group, but only to make the overarching point that the class divergence has very little to do with the racial and ethnic factors. Murray concentrates primarily on cultural and sociological measures in which the classes have grown apart, such as out-of-wedlock births, religious attendance, etc. One of the more interesting pieces of insight in this book was that, aside from the few large metropolitan areas (New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco), the elite neighborhoods are in fact very evenly split along the cultural and political lines.The last part of the book is largely discursive and polemical in nature. Here Murray tries to give his own interpretation of the social forces that have driven America apart over the course of the past half a century. His overwhelming message is that America needs to go back to instilling its "founding virtues" in order return to the kinds of social cohesion and solidarity that was prevalent until the 1960s. (He indirectly blames LBJ for the start of the decline, although he never spells this outright.) The four virtues that he has in mind in particular are industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity. I particularly give him credit for including the latter two, especially considering that most libertarians have largely avoided (at best) promoting them. This is one of the main reasons why I have long held Murray in the highest esteem when it comes to discussing policy and social issues.The founding virtues have in fact never gone out of fashion, and are significantly much more likely to be practiced by the wealthy educated elites than they are by the rest of the society, particularly those in the "underclass." This is very unfortunate, as these virtues are exactly what had enabled many of those in elite circles to obtain their high status. For this state of affairs Murray blames in large part the cultural norms of "inclusivity" and "acceptance," where it has become unfashionable to think that certain cultural norms and behaviors are, in fact, better in every meaningful sense. In Murray's words, it is high time for the elites to start preaching what they practice.Even though this book is filled with a lot of sobering and depressing statistics, the saddest part for me was in the acknowledgment section. Murray refrained from mentioning ANY of the social scientists that he had consulted while researching and writing this book, because this could prove extremely harmful to their academic careers. It is a really sad that someone who I consider the foremost intellectual giant of our time has to be treated as toxic in the highest intellectual circles. It further highlights how much more someone of far lesser stature must be thought of as unpalatable by the same academics.This is an outstanding, magnificent work that ought to be read by anyone interested in public policy and the cultural forces that are driving Americans away from each other.

  • Dane
    2018-11-18 17:26

    This is an incredibly well written book that advances a number of claims in sociology, among them: 1) Racial comparisons are losing their validity as benchmarks of social progress (i.e. comparing black poverty rates to white poverty rates) 2) American cultural norms have changed significantly since 1960, particularly in regards to four areas: attitudes towards marriage, work, honesty, and community engagement. 3) Upper class Americans are becoming physically and culturally isolated from mainstream America. Altogether pretty fascinating. Murray uses 'white people' as a surrogate group to make his points about norms, and cultural changes, but the import of the book is that 'white people' is no longer a useful construct.Moving beyond the detached scientific claims about social change, Murray also advances a evaluative thesis: the aforementioned changes are, on the whole, bad for America. Here his arguments are no less fascinating, if somewhat less persuasive. However, Murray does makes a moving case that American Exceptionalism is grounded in a unique culture of hard work, honesty, integrity, and community engagement, which is rapidly vanishing. Even if you disagree with the philosophical dimension of the book, you will probably be persuaded regarding one of the three sociological claims. And even if you disagreed with all three of those claims, the act of thinking about why Murray's argument goes wrong will strengthen your reflective acumen, because Murray approaches very complex problems in a methodical and EXTREMELY accessible way. The book is such an easy read that I devoured all 300 pages in just a few hours, and understood the essential message. After that, I went back and reread the sections I wanted to think more deeply about. If a classic is a book that you can learn from without agreeing with, then this book is a classic.

  • Sean Chick
    2018-10-24 18:38

    You mean the decline of America has to do with government? That thing that socially speaking has been shrinking since 1980? I also love the part where the wealthy are virtuous and the poor whites are now slobs. Of course like most conservatives he believes in a rigid kind of inequality. It is ultimately what connects Filmer and Burke to Hitler and Gingrich. There are those born to rule and those born to serve. The conservative debate is always over who the rulers really are. Here our masters will be the ones to revitalize our civic and moral decay and it will occur through charity not government. After seeing Paris Hilton and the boys at Enron I'd say this is a pipe dream.Murray is right about the fall in values. He is right that since the 1960s things have come apart, and the left shares most of the blame for the initial failure. However, his rigid conservatism leads to some silly conclusions about the role of government while he ignores the rise of a corporate aristocracy. He ignores the role of off-shoring and the shift from unionized industrial labor to low-paying service work. He seems to think the upper class are lords of virtue, when really they are as debauched as the poor folks. He fails to see that capitalism, in its quest for profits and exultation of pleasure, creates the very culture of license that he pins on the government. He thinks a small government will revitalize America, but the very social order he pines for was a product of leftist thinking. At heart he is a social Darwinist who worships the current ruling class. In 1776 he would have defended George III. I do respect his honesty though. At least he bluntly acknowledges inequality as derived mostly from nature, as opposed to the conservatives who masquerade themselves in liberation rhetoric.The real shame is that the first 2/3 are decent. It is the last part where he utterly fails and earns from me only one star.

  • Ray
    2018-11-06 16:40

    Once upon a time was Middletown (Lynds). Now there is Murray's Coming Apart. It has extensive statistical and graphical elaboration of his premise. Murray's premise that increasing class separation of United States into an upper class and a lower class with unique responses to the unifying forces of our "exceptionalism" threaten that exceptionalism. If that uniqueness weakens and disappears the consequences will be destructive of the elements of the good life that have been and, though weakening, disappearing. So contends Murray.Many of this book's reviews will attempt to disprove the premise by minimal attacks of minor significance while avoiding its breadth and depth. What will be lost, if my regrets prove to be correct, will be the dialogue that is implicit in the book. Murray's writing is clear; his evidence impressively relevant and convincing. I would hope that the potential that should (yes, judgmental) be forthcoming motivates enough individuals to respond constructively to halt the decline upward that Murray argues faces us--or, at least to discuss it dispassionately.Read it, darn you, read it!

  • Simcha Wood
    2018-10-30 14:37

    Though this reader cannot quite place Charles Murray's Coming Apart into that category of unfortunately rare books that should be read whether or not one ultimately accepts the premises and conclusions laid out in the book, it does fall into the still unusual category of books that are worth reading even if one ultimately finds disagreement with the book's central ideas and arguments.Part of Murray's central thesis - that American culture is dividing into increasingly segregated spheres, one sphere constituting an elite "creative" class that shapes public policy and contributes and acts as gatekeepers for much of what is defined as American culture, and another sphere constituting a poorly educated, poorly employed, socially and civically unengaged underclass - will not come as news to many. For years now, it has been apparent to many that the new information society is providing numerous benefits to those with the necessary education and intelligence while leaving behind those who do not have the skills or social connections necessary to succeed in the changing economy.Murray's thesis goes beyond this, however, to argue that these changes have also resulted in an elite class which has not only reaped the benefits of the information society but which has used these benefits to increasingly isolate itself from the rest of America. The end result is that those who shape our laws and public policies, and those who provide us with our arts and entertainment (often presented as reflections of who we all supposedly are), are increasingly oblivious to how much of America lives or to the repurcussions that political, cultural, and life-style decisions made by the elite class have on the rest of America, and particularly on those who are now becoming increasingly segregated in their own underclass.The subtitle of Murray's book is The State of White America, 1960-2010, and while this at first seems like a somewhat odd and narrow window through which to view American culture, it does help emphasize one of Murray's points which is that, going forward, some of the most troubling lines of schism in American culture are not going to be along the lines of race or ethnicity, but along the lines of class. Even if one suspects that Murray is perhaps a little too facile in disengaging any discussion of race and ethnicity from the discussion of class, one may still find his argument for this growing class schism to be rather compelling.Murray offers plenty of statistical evidence to back up his assertion that the social virtues of marriage, industriousness, honesty, and religiosity are more widely practiced among the elite class than among the underclass. The end result of this, Murray argues, is an underclass in which children are increasingly raised in single-parent homes, the work ethic is disdained, trust of one's neighbors is diminished or entirely absent, and little or no sense of social and civic engagement remains, all leading to unhappy people in dysfunctional communities.Unfortunately, Murray does not answer two of the most compelling questions that these arguments raise: How did this divide of American culture and the deterioration of the underclass come about? And, what can be done to alleviate both the growing schism between the "best" and the "rest" and the resulting social collapse of the underclass?One suspects that Murray's answer to the first question - something which he addresses explicitly in some of his other writings and which he hints at here and there in Coming Apart - is that the modern welfare state is largely to blame. But, while Murray has made some compelling arguments about the unintended detrimental affects of the modern welfare state elsewhere, given the focus of this book, one would like to see evidence that his implied culprit is indeed the perpetrator rather than, just to grab one obvious possible suspect out of the air, the rise of the information society itself and the social changes it has brought about which are necessarily going to be harder on those at the lower end of the economic spectrum who were already vulnerable and perhaps less able to absorb sweeping societal changes.Still, even if the reader does not accept some or all of the assumptions that underlie this book, she may still find much here to ponder and worry over. Whatever its flaws, this is not a book that one dismisses lightly.

  • Heidi
    2018-11-04 12:48

    Upon hearing about this book on NPR, I thought it would be much more a study about the growing class divisions... and it is, but that's not it's central theme. Libertarian Charles Murray begins with the premise that the United States was designed as a limited government democracy in which most of the day-to-day work of society is organized, managed, and overseen at a local level. This local civic involvement has always been fueled by a few core values: integrity, industriousness, marriage, and religiosity. (These values may, at first glance, make a liberal reader like me cringe because they seem to tread awfully close to the "family values" platform of social conservative-cum-fascist politicians, but Murray provides historical examples that clarify that he's not talking about people's private sexual behavior, but the benefits that these social institutions confer upon society.) Murray's analysis slogs through reams of data (and yes, sometimes it is a slogging read) to show how these core values have remained more or less static among the white upper class over the last fifty years, but have seriously eroded among the growing lower classes. People in crime-riddled poor neighborhoods don't trust each other (integrity). Marriage rates are falling, especially among the working and lower-middle classes, leading to poorer outcomes for children of single parents (marriage). Fewer working and lower-middle class men are working full time, or even working at all, despite a booming economy in the 80s-90s (Murray's data controls for the increased unemployment rate caused by the 2008 recession)(industriousness). And religious observance is on the decline, as anyone who pays attention to shrinking church congregations can readily tell you (religiosity). Why does this matter? Because in a limited government such as ours, if things don't happen on a local level, they don't happen. -And all of these historical core values are the reason that people get involved in their communities and get stuff done. Maybe most of us don't care that people aren't getting married or going to church anymore, but Murray's data shows us that the downward spiral doesn't stop there. People aren't joining unions or the PTA anymore, either. They're not getting involved in local politics or civic organizations such as the Elks or the Odd Fellows. Volunteerism and philanthropy are way down. Most of them are not even showing up to vote, that most basic responsibility of democratic citizenry. Instead, they're withdrawing from society, from democracy, into the isolation of their own homes, where they watch more hours of television per week than most people devote to paid employment. Murray doesn't tell us how to fix it. He's not advocating a redistribution of wealth or government policies aimed at encouraging marriage and "traditional" family values. Instead, his role is that of the canary in the coal mine: to provide starkly irrefutable proof that we're all in danger, and it may or may not be too late to do anything about it.

  • Richard
    2018-11-11 13:29

    David Brooks, the New York Times pet almost-a-conservative, claims about this book, “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s Coming Apart.” Yeah, it looks seminal. See his review at The Great Divorce (I’m a little curious about whether there’s some hidden linkage to the C.S. Lewis book).At least, at a mere 416 pages, it won’t take nearly as long to read as 2011’s most important book.                                ❦ Update:Brooks is an editorialist; so it isn’t surprising that the New York Times Sunday Book Review would also cover this book. The article, Tramps Like Them leads me to believe the book is even better than Brooks averred.Note for review: see (referred to post-election in

  • Christie
    2018-10-22 11:50

    I figured few people I knew would even bother to read this book, so I did so myself. It seems like many of the complaints fail to take the book as what it claims to be. Murray purports to show the factual trends in various measures over time - and I think he does that fairly well. There might be a few other variables here and there one would like to also see controlled, but the statistics seem to be honestly presented. What appears to be most irksome to many is Murray's interpretation of the data and prescriptions for fixing the problem he has outlined. However, Murray does meet my standards for intellectual honesty by being clear about those things for which Murray has evidence and those things that he is saying because, well, it's his book and he can talk about his ideas in his own book. He even provides references to books arguing the point the other way. This book left me curious to learn more and read others' perspectives while giving me at least a taste of views I disagree with that were nonetheless written from an intelligent perspective. I suppose that might be a low bar, but this book surpassed my expectations.

  • Eva
    2018-10-19 11:38

    The first half of this book was amazing. The second half was meh--lots of abstract commentary and theorizing that didn't appeal to me. Some kindle notes: food, a few Italian restaurants serving spaghetti and pizza, and a few restaurants with a French name, which probably meant that they had French onion soup on the menu. But if you were looking for a nice little Szechuan dish or linguine with pesto or sautéed fois gras, forget it. A Thai curry? The first Thai restaurant in the entire nation wouldn’t open for another eight years. Sushi? Raw fish? Are you kidding? - location 89As of 1963, Americans continued to obey those norms with remarkable consistency. The percentage of births to single women, known as “the illegitimacy ratio,” had been rising worrisomely among Negroes (the only respectful word for referring to African Americans in 1963). But among whites, the illegitimacy ratio was only 3 percent, about where it had been throughout the century. Marriage was nearly universal and divorce was rare across all races. In the 1963 Current Population Survey, a divorced person headed just 3.5 percent of American households, with another 1.6 percent headed by a separated person. Nor did it make much difference how much education a person had—the marriage percentages for college grads and high school dropouts were about the same. Not only were Americans almost always married, mothers normally stayed at home to raise their children. More than 80 percent of married women with young children were not working outside the home in 1963.2 - location 102Almost as many girls as boys had enrolled in college in the spring of 1963, - location 167America didn’t have a lower class or an upper class in 1963. In the responses to a Gallup poll taken that fall, 95 percent of the respondents said they were working class (50 percent) or middle class (45 percent). A great many poor people were refusing to identify themselves as lower class, and a great many affluent people were refusing to identify themselves as upper class. Those refusals reflected a national conceit that had prevailed from the beginning of the nation: America didn’t have classes, or, to the extent that it did, Americans should act as if we didn’t. - location 186A sexual revolution of some sort was inevitable by November 21, 1963. The first oral contraceptive pill had gone on the market in 1960 and its use was spreading rapidly. Of course sexual mores would be profoundly changed when, for the first time in human history, women had a convenient and reliable way to ensure that they could have sex without getting pregnant, even on the spur of the moment and with no cooperation from the man. A revolution of some sort in the fortunes of African Americans was inevitable. The civil rights movement had been intensifying for a decade and had reached its moral apogee with the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, which filled the Mall with a quarter of a million people and concluded with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The precise shape of the legislation and regulatory regime to implement the revolution were probably different under Johnson than they would have been under Kennedy, but momentum for major change in 1963 was already too great to stop. Something resembling the War on Poverty would probably have been proposed in 1964, no matter what. Michael Harrington’s The Other America had appeared in the spring of 1962 proclaiming that 40 to 50 million Americans were living in poverty, and that their poverty was structural—it would not be cured by economic growth. Kennedy had read the book, or at least some laudatory reviews of it, and ordered the staff work that would later be used by Johnson in formulating his War on Poverty. How many programs Kennedy could have actually passed is another question, but Harrington’s thesis was already being taken up by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and would have become part of the policy debate even without the assassination. Other movements that would have sweeping impact on American society were already nascent in 1963. Early in the year, Betty Friedan had published The Feminine Mystique, seen now as the opening salvo of the feminist movement. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had appeared in 1962 and become a New York Times best seller, setting off public interest that would lead to the environmental movement. Ralph Nader had written his first attack on the auto industry in the Nation, and two years later would found the consumer advocate movement with Unsafe at Any Speed. The cultural landscape of the Sixties was already taking shape in 1963. Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”—all theme songs for what we think of as the Sixties—had been released six months before Kennedy died. In November 1963, the Beatles had played for the queen, were the hottest group in England, and were planning their first U.S. tour. - location 209First, I do not argue that America was ever a classless society. From the beginning, rich and poor have usually lived in different parts of town, gone to different churches, and had somewhat different manners and mores. It is not the existence of classes that is new, but the emergence of classes that diverge on core behaviors and values—classes that barely recognize their underlying American kinship. - location 238But in 1963 there was still no critical mass of the people who would later be called symbolic analysts, the educated class, the creative class, or the cognitive elite. In the first place, not enough people had college educations to form a critical mass of people with the distinctive tastes and preferences fostered by advanced education. In the American adult population as a whole, just 8 percent had college degrees. Even in neighborhoods filled with managers and professionals, people with college degrees were a minority—just 32 percent of people in those jobs had college degrees in 1963. - location 416For an example of elite housing in 1963, download an episode of Mad Men that shows the Drapers’ suburban home—that’s the kind of house that the creative director of a major New York advertising agency might well have lived in. - location 439Some members of the new upper class look upon fast food as an abomination and never, ever take their children to McDonald’s. For others, a Big Mac or Popeyes fried chicken is an occasional guilty pleasure, but hardly anyone in the new upper class approaches the about-once-a-week average of the rest of the population.12 - location 608According to the Centers for Disease Control, about a third of American adults still smoke, but you wouldn’t know it if you hang out with the new upper class.13 - location 613the average American watches about thirty-five hours of television per week.16 - location 632The new upper class and mainstream America don’t take the same kind of vacations. Money comes into play here, but the vacations are also different in kind. For elite thirtysomethings who have not yet had children, the vacation might consist of backpacking into a remote lake in British Columbia or diving off Belize, whereas their age contemporaries in the working class and middle class already have children and are driving them to Disney World. Fortysomethings of the new upper class are likely to be attracted to a barge trip through Bordeaux or chartering a sailboat to cruise the Maine coast, not a trip to Las Vegas. New-upper-class and mainstream fiftysomethings might both choose to go on a cruise, but the new upper class would never consider booking a passage on one of the big liners with two thousand passengers. They take their cruise on a small all-suite ship accommodating just a hundred passengers, and it’s going to the Galápagos. - location 640In 2006, the mean age at first birth among all American women with fewer than sixteen years of education was 23.0. The mean age for women with sixteen years of education was 29.5. The mean for women with seventeen or more years of education was 31.1. - location 691In the early 1990s, Bill Gates was asked what competitor worried him the most. Goldman Sachs, Gates answered. He explained: “Software is an IQ business. Microsoft must win the IQ war, or we won’t have a future. I don’t worry about Lotus or IBM, because the smartest guys would rather come to work for Microsoft. Our competitors for IQ are investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.”1 - location 778The analogy originated by sociologist Steven Goldberg helps keep things in perspective: For the professions, creative work, and the management of large and complex organizations, cognitive ability plays the same role in determining success that weight plays in determining the success of offensive tackles in the National Football League. The heaviest tackle is not necessarily the best. In fact, the correlation between weight and performance among NFL offensive tackles is probably quite small. But to have a chance of getting the job, you had better weigh at least 300 pounds.3 Similarly, the correlation of IQ scores with performance among those people who are attorneys, screenwriters, and biochemists is modest. But to be a top attorney, screenwriter, or biochemist, you have to be very smart in the ways that IQ tests measure. - location 790the bigger the stakes, the greater the value of marginal increments in skills. In 1960, the corporation ranked 100 on the Fortune 500 had sales of $3.2 billion.4 In 2010, the 100th-ranked corporation had sales of $24.5 billion—almost an eightfold increase in constant dollars. That kind of supersizing in the corporate world occurred across the range—the corporation ranked 500 in 2010 was about eight times larger than the 500th-ranked corporation in 1960. The dollar value of a manager who could increase his division’s profitability by 10 percent instead of 5 percent escalated accordingly. - location 812Real family income for families in the middle was flat. Just about all of the benefits of economic growth from 1970 to 2010 went to people in the upper half of the income distribution. - location 836Other “poor” members of the new upper class are journalists, academics, and public intellectuals in general. David Brooks calls their plight status-income disequilibrium, - location 862Cognitive stratification among colleges occurred extraordinarily fast.8 As of 1950, elite colleges did not have exceptionally talented student bodies. By 1960, they did. - location 915The average Harvard freshman in 1952 would have placed in the bottom 10 percent of the incoming class by 1960. - location 931Together, just 10 schools took 20 percent of all the students in the United States who scored in the top five centiles on the SAT or ACT. Forty-one schools accounted for half of them. All 105 schools, which accounted for just 19 percent of all freshmen in 1997, accounted for 74 percent of students with SAT or ACT scores in the top five centiles. - location 953The Dominance of the Upper-Middle Class in Elite Schools The concentration of high-ability students wouldn’t be so bad if those students had only their ability in common. - location 98279 percent of students at “Tier 1” colleges as of the 1990s came from families in the top quartile of socioeconomic status, while only 2 percent came from the bottom quartile.16 - location 993students with the same gender, race, and SAT scores are more than three times as likely to apply to a selective school if they come from one of those professional high-income families in the Northeast, and twice as likely if they come from a professional high-income family outside the Northeast.18 Other things being equal, Asians were almost twice as likely to apply as non-Asians, and students from private schools were four times more likely to apply than students at public schools.19 So the applicant pool is skewed. - location 1004In 1960, just 3 percent of American couples both had a college degree. By 2010, that proportion stood at 25 percent. The change was so large that it was a major contributor to the creation of a new class all by itself. - location 1049Educational attainment is correlated with IQ, but education does not have much effect on IQ after the child enters elementary school. - location 1061statistical analysis will not show that the children who went to the expensive private schools got an IQ boost as a result. - location 1064Another consequence of increased educational and cognitive homogamy is the increased tenacity of the elite in maintaining its status across generations. The adage “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” grew out of an observed reality: If the children and grandchildren are only average in their own abilities, money from a fortune won in the first generation won’t keep them at the top of the heap. When the parents are passing cognitive ability along with the money, the staying power of the elite across generations increases. - location 1118the expected value of the IQ of a grown-up offspring is 40 percent toward the population mean from the parents’ midpoint IQ.35 - location 1128Parents’ Educations Expected IQ of the Child Two high school dropouts 94 Two high school diplomas 101 Two college degrees (and no more) 109 Two graduate degrees 116 Two degrees from an elite college - location 1134“During the late twentieth century, in other words, the well educated and the affluent increasingly segmented themselves off from the rest of American society.”4 They were reminded of a phrase coined by Robert Reich when he first described the new class of symbolic analysts back in 1991: “The secession of the successful.” - location 1195As mature adults, fully a quarter of the HPY graduates were living in New York City or its surrounding suburbs. Another quarter lived in just three additional metropolitan areas: Boston (10 percent), Washington (8 percent), and San Francisco (7 percent). Relative to the size of their populations, the Los Angeles and Chicago areas got few HPY graduates—just 5 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Except for the Philadelphia and Seattle areas, no other metropolitan area got more than 1 percent. - location 1504ceteris paribus, the higher the centile of the SuperZip, the more densely it is populated by graduates of elite colleges and, by extension, the more densely it is populated by overeducated elitist snobs. I encourage others to explore this hypothesis empirically. - location 1536Many of the members of the new upper class are balkanized. Furthermore, their ignorance about other Americans is more problematic than the ignorance of other Americans about them. It is not a problem if truck drivers cannot empathize with the priorities of Yale professors. It is a problem if Yale professors, or producers of network news programs, or CEOs of great corporations, or presidential advisers cannot empathize with the priorities of truck drivers. - location 1762I must ask you to serve as a source of evidence by comparing your own experience to my generalizations. This time, I have a twenty-five-question quiz for you to take.2 I hope it will serve two purposes: first, to calibrate the extent of your own ignorance (if any); second, to give you a framework for thinking about the ignorance that may be common in your professional or personal circles, even if it doesn’t apply to you. - location 17691. Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your fifty nearest neighbors probably did not have college degrees? 2. Did you grow up in a family in which the chief breadwinner was not in a managerial job or a high-prestige profession (defined as attorney, physician, dentist, architect, engineer, scientist, or college professor)? 3. Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American community under 50,000 population that is not part of a metropolitan area and is not where you went to college? 4. Have you ever lived for at least a year in the United States at a family income that was close to or below the poverty line? - location 17875. Have you ever walked on a factory floor? 6. Have you ever held a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day? People Who Have Been Part of Your Life 7. Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian? 8. Do you now have a close friend with whom you have strong and wide-ranging political disagreements? 9. Have you ever had a close friend who could seldom get better than Cs in high school even if he or she tried hard? 10. During the last month, have you voluntarily hung out with people who were smoking cigarettes? 11. What military ranks do these five insignia represent? 12. Choose one. Who is Jimmie Johnson? Or: Have you ever purchased Avon products? 13. Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck? 14. During the last year, have you ever purchased domestic mass-market beer to stock your own fridge? 15. During the last five years, have you or your spouse gone fishing? 16. How many times in the last year have you eaten at one of the following restaurant chains? Applebee’s, Waffle House, Denny’s, IHOP, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday, T.G.I. Friday’s, Ponderosa Steakhouse Some American Institutions 17. In secondary school, did you letter in anything? 18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or a meeting at a union local? 19. Have you ever participated in a parade not involving global warming, a war protest, or gay rights? 20. Since leaving school, have you ever worn a uniform? 21. Have you ever ridden on a long-distance bus (e.g., Greyhound, Trailways) or hitchhiked for a trip of fifty miles or more? Media and Popular Culture 22. Which of the following movies have you seen (at a theater or on a DVD)? Iron Man 2, Inception, Despicable Me, Tron Legacy, True Grit, Clash of the Titans, Grown Ups, Little Fockers, The King’s Speech, Shutter Island 23. During the 2009–10 television season, how many of the following series did you watch regularly? American Idol, Undercover Boss, The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, House, Desperate Housewives, Two and a Half Men, The Office, Survivor 24. Have you ever watched an Oprah, Dr. Phil, or Judge Judy show all the way through? 25. What does the word Branson mean to you? - location 1798Scoring Your Access to the Rest of America 1. Have you ever - location 1829A majority of Americans in their forties have been below the poverty line for a year at least once since their teens—56 - location 1851In the Centers for Disease Control’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for 2009, 35 percent of the respondents said that they smoked some days or every day. - location 1896In the 2000 census, 26.4 million Americans were veterans of the armed forces. - location 190891 percent top marginal rate that prevailed in 1960 - location 2071A Different World To get a sense of just how different attitudes were in the early 1960s, perhaps this will do it. These ever-married women were asked, “In your opinion, do you think it is all right for a woman to have sexual relations before marriage with a man she knows she is going to marry?” Note the wording. Not sex with someone a woman is dating, nor with someone a woman loves, but with a man she knows she is going to marry. Eighty-six percent said no.2 - location 2537The two neighborhoods, which had been only 11 percentage points apart as late as 1978, were separated by 35 percentage points as of 2010, when only 48 percent of prime-age whites in Fishtown were married, compared to 84 percent in 1960. - location 2613The divergence between Belmont and Fishtown is substantial, with 22 percent of Fishtown children living with a lone divorced or separated parent as of 2010, compared to just 3 percent of Belmont children. Divorce isn’t the biggest problem that the childre

  • Sean B.
    2018-11-17 12:39

    So apparently the author of this book took a lot of flak once upon a time because he said things that people didn't like, that conflicted with a lot of stubbornly set and rigidly defined descriptions of "HOW LIFE WORKS".I don't know, maybe look at things that you disagree with with an open mind, people. After all, facts are facts; they cannot change because you don't like them (but you can change your interpretation of what they mean).This book has an interesting story to tell, and a lot of statistics to back it up. I would say that what the author is warning about is probably true, but I haven't been around long enough to notice general societal trends. Perhpas one day, when I'm older, I'll say grumpy things about how life used to be.The main point of the book is that American civic culture is dying out, especially among the lower class (who represent a vast section of American life). This civic culture is what made America a unique and successful nation, and without it it will fall from the inherent virtue of our national spirit into a ruin of corruption and lost values, a graveyard of idealism. I cannot help but see that this viewpoint is shared by a lot of people - the whole 'good old days' thing that I just mocked in the paragraph above - but then, presented with the information in this book, as well as the information gained from my brief glimpses of national media and much recent experience with people of the lower class in a town that the author would probably lament, I can say, again, that American culture is definitely moving towards a new paradigm, one very far away from the values that were upheld by the people who created this nation. Certainly there is less civic participation, and it also seems that crime is being viewed less and less as something really bad, at least by certain segments of our population (this includes both white collar and blue collar groups, by the way).And, on the whole, is that a bad thing or a good thing? What 'founding virtues' are good and worth preserving, and what ones shall we rightfully discard? Is the direction our nation is taking a bad thing? I don't presume to know, and I certainly won't go into that with this review. But if anyone reads this, feel free to think about it.

  • Sanjay Varma
    2018-11-16 16:28

    He describes an America that is separating into two societies based on economic and educational class. His hypothesis (instead of "insight") is that uneducated poor whites have experienced stark declines in church attendance and employment, and steep increases in incarceration and out-of-wedlock pregnancies. The book had a pleasing and logical quality as I read it, but it left a bad taste afterwards when I asked myself: How did he prove his point? What was the author's point? I didn't like the answer to either question. "Coming Apart" presents itself as one of the new data-oriented books full of new insights from mining big data. But this is merely a disguise, In fact the book is the oldest kind of persuasive argument that uses every trick, some dishonest, to make its point. First of all, he uses only data that had been pre-selected by two other conservative authors when they wrote their books. Next, the author scrubs the data to organize it into "whites" and "all races" categories." Why? Just as one might adjust financial data to 1960 dollars, for ease of comparison, the author adjusts all sociological data to describe only white people, to guide the reader to imagine a sort of 1950's era when you can believe everyone was white. I personally find it hard to give credibility to an author who organizes his data in such intrusive ways for so little gain. This book would have been much better if he had truly embraced data science to identify new insights, instead is merely confirming his conservative philosophy. Modern data science is best exemplified by "Freakonomics" which followed a core principle that the data provides the insights. You don't go in with a hypothesis and then prove or disprove it. You go in with an open mind and look for hidden causes and connections.As for why he write the book, the author is trying to prove his preconceived beliefs that poor people are suffering because they are lazy and immoral. The "whites" versus "all" segmentation of data is a typical juvenile Republican behavior to be needlessly provocative.

  • Rebecca
    2018-10-25 18:39

    Charles Murray has been at the center of some backlash on college campuses recently, and as some of his supporters noted, many of his critics haven't read anything he wrote. So, in that spirit, I tried to see for myself what he is about (although, his most controversial/loathed book is not this but the Bell Curve). I did not expect to like this book based on what I knew, but tried to keep an open mind. I was not impressed. On its face, his argument that white elites and working class whites are bifurcating in regards to core values like marriage rates, working habits, civic involvement seems plausible and is perhaps accurate. However, Murray makes this argument by bombarding the reader with a mix of anecdotal evidence and lots (and lots and lots) of graphs. I did not want to wade through the appendices to understand more about how he made the graphs, but my sense was that he bombards the reader with quant data that backs up his anecdotes, but not in a analytically robust way, for example not proving causation, or that the figures reflect what he is talking about fully, or to the exclusion of other factors. I also do not buy into his assumption that elite and "mainstream America" (what the heck is mainstream America, anyway?) can be evaluated by looking only at data for "whites," and that adding in other races (which he does near the end) proves that trends among whites can stand in for all of America. Nor does his admitting that his view of the past "mainstream" might appear nostalgic convince me that it is not so...all in all I thought this book was not convincing, and seems to rely on dubious data manipulation as far as I can tell. Finally, he has a brief section about how in the near future scientists will prove that certain groups based on gender, race, etc have different aptitudes. While he says resistance to this is "political correctness," I'll continue to prefer my social science without a side of eugenics.

  • Judi
    2018-11-10 18:48

    Noooooo! Three CD's in I want to pitch the "book" out the window. Stereotyping folks by education and zip codes, then describes the specific tastes, interests of each stereotype and who they despise. For me that concept is not relevant. To give the dude the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he isn't in touch with the diversity of Los Angeles. My experience being born and raised in LA is completely different. It is, and has been, in the decades he writes about a virtual gumbo, stew, soup of diversity. Diversity both racially, educationally, culturally and financial. I had to chuckle when he describes the "tastes" of the bougie folks. Hey, I could relate. I like to read newspapers, I practice yoga, I savor good, healthy foods. That's me. Then he started the description of the "lower castes". That was me as well. I also can enjoy cheetoes, a Big Mac, recently went on a binge watch of Jerry Springer, have only a high school education, I have literally worn the same clothes for years . . . shorts, tank top and (of course) Birkenstocks or flip flops. I am there. My modest, working class neighborhood has morphed from a poor Zipcode to home prices well over a million dollars. Same modest shacks. Done! Done! Done! I tried to read and learn a "different" perspective. Off to cook my hot dogs and bougie organic farmer's market corn for dinner.

  • Blair
    2018-11-01 12:25

    A Tale of Two Cultures, in Two BooksBroken families, no work ethic, contempt for education, and growing isolation from the rest of society. Who is this about? No, both this book and Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis are about what is happening to a large part of the white population in America. I will review them both together.The basic message in “Coming Apart” is that over the past half century there has been a large decline in the general morality of the working class in America, especially regarding family stability. This leads to declining educational achievement at a time when the good jobs require ever more education. The result is a growing division between them and the wealthier part of American society. On the other hand, there has been relatively little change in the same measures for we in the elite.We? Well, part way through the book there is a quiz entitled “How Thick is your Bubble?” My bubble is very thick indeed according to my score. I have almost no direct experience of working class life. So while I don’t cut it as a member of Murray’s “narrow” or even “broad” elite, I think I can claim membership of top group he uses for his statistics. So yes, I will use the royal “we”. The point is, “we” know little about what is happening to the other half of our society, so I turned to a fellow elitist with a bag full of statistics.Wait, isn’t Charles Murray that racist IQ guy? After all, it even says “White America” right in the title. Those of us who are not totally trapped in our cultural bubble understand that he is a libertarian, which is not code for racist. The point of studying changes in white America is to take race out of the question, to better understand what is happening to the poorer half of the population. The short answer – forget about “white privilege”.One of his measures is about declining religiosity, and it turns out that we atheistic elites even have better church attendance. The underclass may talk about God but apparently that does not translate into actually showing up at a church very often. While those of us elitists who sort of believe in something actually go sometimes. (I go for the music on Wednesday afternoons. Does that count?)The curious thing is that while we elites lecture endlessly about our superior social justice values, we have little to say about our actually better moral values. I guess we are a little embarrassed by that. After all, speaking as a child of the sixties counterculture, we were the ones who rebelled against those moral values. Then we gradually realized that, well, they sort of make sense. Meanwhile, black people and the working classes picked up our dubious ideas and then their families and societies fell apart. Oops, no wonder we don’t like to talk about it.By the way, this is my thinking, not Murray’s writing. There is very little red meat of this nature in his book. To be honest, it is a bit of a number-heavy snooze fest, more like an academic paper than a popular book. I guess the racist IQ guy does not want to be accused of inflammatory rhetoric. Except that the people who are not afraid of numbers are afraid of anything that might be perceived of as racist. Only those few elites like me who are trying to peek outside of the bubble will want to read it.One can ask a lot of questions about the possible selection bias of all those statistics. Many do just that, and I have some questions myself. So what? Does that make the overall conclusion wrong? I doubt it. But conservative David Frum has this to say about libertarian solutions:“As I looked backward and forward in time, however, I had to face this awkward fact: America became more culturally stable between 1910 and 1960 as it became less economically and socially libertarian. As it became more economically and socially libertarian after 1970, America became culturally less stable.”After listening to my fellow elitist look at the state of flyover country from ten thousand feet, I switched to a former member of that underclass who managed to climb into our elite and learned to speak our language. (Graduating from Yale Law School makes him a lot more elite than me). Hillbilly Elegy is about the on-the-ground experience of one person’s life in that other world. Yes, of course it is selective, it is about one extended family in one part of the country. But it does give a real-life feel about how some real people actually live.J.D. Vance certainly experienced Murray’s claim about declining family values. He had so many “fathers” that even his own surname is arbitrarily chosen. He credits the relative stability provided by his grandparents for his ability to achieve the American Dream that is falling out of the reach of so many. And what has happened to that American Dream? He has a few thoughts about that:“As a culture, we had no heroes. Certainly not any politician. We loved the military but had no George S. Patton figure in the modern army. The space program, long a source of pride, had gone the way of the dodo, and with it the celebrity astronauts. Nothing united us with the core fabric of American society. To understand the significance of this cultural detachment, you must appreciate that much of our identity derives from our love of country. If our second God was the United States of America, then our community was losing something akin to a religion.”The result?“There is a deep skepticism of the very institutions of our society. And it is becoming more and more mainstream. We can’t trust the evening news. We can’t trust our politicians. Our universities, the gateway to a better life, are rigged against us. We can’t get jobs. You cannot believe these things and participate meaningfully in society.”While the liberal left has a bad habit of making excuses for the lack of achievement of its favorite minorities, the conservative right is just as good at it.“We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we are not working is some perceived unfairness.”The problem is deeper than a lack of money. Some of the people he describes earned six-figure salaries for a while. But,“We spend our way into the poorhouse. We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans. We purchase homes we don’t need, refinance them for more spending money, and declare bankruptcy, often leaving them full of garbage in our wake.”He is not afraid to point out the weaknesses of his culture. So when he downplays the role of racism, I am inclined to wonder our cultural bubble’s obsession about its central role as the cause of everything bad. Here is an example:“Many of my new friends blame racism for this perception of President Obama. But the president fells like an alien for reasons that have nothing to do with skin color. Recall that not a single one of my classmates attended an Ivy League school. Barack Obama attended two of them and excelled at both. He is brilliant, wealthy, and speaks like a constitutional law professor – which, of course, he is. Nothing about him bears any resemblance to the people I admired growing up. His accent – clean, perfect, neutral – is foreign; his credentials are so impressive that they are frightening. He conducts himself with a confidence that comes from knowing that the modern American meritocracy was built for him. President Obama came on the scene when so many people in my community began to believe that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them.”For what it is worth, I never really thought of him as black; he seemed more like one of my fellow elitists.After graduating from high school, Vance did not feel emotionally ready for university. So he joined the Marine Corps instead. He says it was the best decision he ever made. Here is why:“The Marine Corps assumes maximum ignorance from its enlisted folks. It assumes no one taught you about physical fitness, person hygiene, for personal finances. I took mandatory classes about balancing a checkbook, saving and investing.”Your entire life is supervised. When he went to buy himself a car, a marine went with him to ensure he made a sensible choice, and financed it properly. This was, for me, the most disturbing part of the book. Let us forget for a moment that the idea of the military is to kill people. Although Vance went to Iraq, he was fortunate to not experience much of that. I have to ask: is this the only way to be taught how to live? Forget about family when it is a multi-ring circus. School is to be endured; you don’t learn much in it. Church might help if anyone actually went. But does this conservative author really advocate complete state control over people’s lives for a while? There has to be a better way. But what?OK, this book is not great literature, but it is a literate window into a reality few of us know a lot about. Neither of these books provides much in the way of answers. But having some clue as to what is going on with a large part of the population is a start.

  • Andrea
    2018-10-27 17:30

    This book describes in detail the state of American families at the turn of the current century. There is a big divide between rich and poor and their families are worlds apart. As a basis for the discussion and the statistics, he describes the four characteristics of the founding colonists that made America great which are thrift, religiosity, marriage and industry and how those characteristics are losing ground in American culture. He warns that the disintegration of America will affect both rich and poor and he gives his recommendations as to what needs to change. I'm sure that the controversial aspect of this book is due to his recommendations because no one can argue with the statistics. In fact, much of what he describes is a recognizable fact unless you live an insulated life. (He has a self-quiz for determining how insulated you are.) The statistics he presents might cause the reader to worry that America is on a linear path downward but if you read "The Fourth Turning" with this book you might be able to believe that America's path is cyclical and that this book describes just one aspect of the cycle and that we're headed around to the next cycle. Definitely is food for thought.

  • thewanderingjew
    2018-10-29 14:34

    In the early part of the decade of the sixties, hope abounded, the class distinctions were small, poverty had decreased steadily, the moral code was totally different, promiscuity was frowned upon, the sanctity of marriage was primary, honesty was a virtue to be extolled, hard work was honored. Gratuitous sex in books, TV and movies was forbidden or frowned upon. TV was wholesome as in Father Knows Best. The best movies were clean; they were about our way of life and our lives were wholesome. We identified with certain virtues and values. Most people believed in some sort of religious affiliation even though they weren't religious. They associated with others: in organizations, at church, with neighbors. Social capital was at a high. Women raised their own children and stayed home to nurture hearth and home. Marriage was sought after in and of itself for a person's happy and successful future. If the couple did not marry, children born out of wedlock were given up for adoption. Abortion was uncommon and illegal. Divorce was rare. People worked hard and were proud of their effort. Honesty was a prized value and crime was at a low. Differences in class did not differentiate these statistics. Across class lines there was less crime. We left our doors open. We were unafraid. Crime did not pay. Drugs were a non issue, but smoking and alcohol were rampant. People got along. They had boundaries and discipline. They followed rules of behavior.Charles Murray’s book exposes the decline of adherence to the four virtues of the Founding Fathers, industry, faith, honesty and marriage. He does not attempt to explain why it happened or how to fix it. He merely exposes the decline of the American Project as we march lock step toward the welfare state of the European Dream, which is failing in Europe. He contends that it isn’t divergence in class that has harmed us and changed our values, but rather a divergence in values and behavior. Today, anything goes. We do not judge anyone and we do not have any expectations. We do not lead by example, but rather by apathy. We have lost our sense of community.The civil rights movement, the woman’s rights movement, Woodstock, and the Beatles, among others, came to the forefront in the mid sixties. Suddenly, the face of America changed. In this book, the date of change is placed at November 21, 1963, the day before Kennedy's assassination. Charles Murray examines the decline of values taking place in America using a sample which, for the most part, only includes the white population, ages 30-49. Using the fictional towns of Fishtown and Belmont, representing the lower and upper class of society, Murray attempts to show how the gap between the classes has widened. In the sixties, we all shared similar values, even though we were separated by economy and education. The fictional towns of Fishtown and Belmont also shared the same values, had low crime rates, high marriage rates, worked hard and were tied to their faith. Our communities were diverse and heterogeneous.Today, the upper class lives in a super zip, in a bubble, isolated from the population of the fictional town of Fishtown. Murray compares the people, their desires, their values, their work ethic and their faith, among other things, and attempts to track the changes that have taken place, causing the huge divide between the upper and lower classes, as the upper class in super zip codes, stays in a homogenous group, in a bubble, and remain isolated from anyone unlike themselves.Murray raises the issue of the upper class becoming over-educated snobs. We are forced to examine that idea. Americans used to believe charity was shameful, they believed in self reliance. Promiscuity was frowned upon. There was a time when parents gave the teachers the benefit of the doubt, they expected their children to adhere to rules. Today, they give the children the edge and criticize the authority meant to teach them. Upper and lower classes no longer meet at the PTA, in organizations or in church, and the values of both have diverged completely. Hard work has reached excessive levels in the upper class and levels of bottom feeders in the lower. There is no sense of honor for someone who works hard in Fishtown, but rather the goal is to work the system and get the most from the government, for the least amount of effort expended, so that they can simply get by and lead the most pleasant life available. The lack of a strong foundation for marriage in that community means that there is also a lack of responsibility toward the children arising out of the non-marital unions. Crime has risen in Fishtown but remains pretty much absent from Belmont.Social capital has all but disappeared. The government is supposed to provide for the things that responsible adults used to provide, by way of their organizations and participation in volunteer work or by being good neighbors. In the upper class, there is still a strong devotion to the virtues of marriage, industry and honesty. In the lower class, the devotion has waned to low levels.Charles has devised a short questionnaire which attempts to illuminate the difference between growing up in the decades prior to the 60's and growing up today.Can America survive without regaining values? This book attempts to tell you what has happened over the last six decades; it is up to the reader to try and figure out if it is a good thing, a bad thing, or even something that we can do anything about.Can America come back or will we keep marching toward the European way and ultimate failure?