Monday, January 9, 2012

New bestsellers can be found @ your library

That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

Kirkus Reviews -

A comprehensive but unoriginal look at the challenges America faces in 2011 and beyond.
New York Timescolumnist Friedman (Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Save America, 2008, etc.) and Mandelbaum (American Foreign Policy/Johns Hopkins Univ.; The Frugal Superpower: America's Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era, 2010, etc.) join forces to explain why they believe America's glory days are waning and what Americans should do to reverse the downward slide. The authors suggest that America's problems should be addressed through "stick-to-itiveness," political compromise and a renewed sense of national purpose. Americans must admit that global warming exists, impose saner environmental regulations, reform the immigration policy, demand more from teachers, principals and schools, lower government spending and break the addiction to oil. None of these recommendations are new, and all have been argued more cogently elsewhere. (For more incisive discussions of climate change, see Bill McKibben's Eaarth. Regarding oil, see Amanda Little's Power Trip.) Friedman and Mandelbaum's solutions to America's difficulties take the form of motivational slogans littered with clichés, and they delight in relating inspirational tales of average Americans who accomplished great things by being "just too dumb to quit." More than once, they write that Americans must be prepared to do "something big and hard together," to become "creative creators." The urgency of deficit reduction places "the future of the country" in our hands, "as it was for the GIs on the beaches of Normandy." High-skilled immigrants are "brainy risk takers;" low-skilled immigrants are "the brawny ones" (America needs both). Friedman and Mandelbaum are clearly attempting to make complicated concepts accessible to a general audience. However, in relying on Friedman's trademark blend of condescension, clumsy analogies and uninspiring centrism, they fail to break any new ground.

While the challenges described in the book are serious indeed, and most readers will agree with much of what the authors explore, the narrative execution is lacking. Disappointing.

Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? by Patrick J. Buchanan

Kirkus Reviews - 

Buchanan (Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, 2009, etc.)mourns the passing of the America of his youth.

The author laments the fading of the Christian religion from American life because he sees it as an indispensable underpinning of our common culture. He notes the social ramifications of the collapse of the family--birthrates below replacement levels, skyrocketing illegitimacy rates--as a result of which whites in American will become a minority by 2042 and entire nations in Europe and Asia are headed for extinction. He fears the nation has abandoned its historic commitment to liberty and equality of opportunity to pursue a chimerical utopia of diversity and equality of result. In short, "[w]e are trying to create a nation that has never before existed, of all the races, tribes, cultures and creeds of Earth, of which all are equal. In pursuit of the perfect society of our dreams we are killing the country we inherited--the best and greatest on earth." Despite the gloomy title, Buchanan does not really see America disappearing by 2025. He does see culture wars without end and a continuing self-segregation of Americans by ethnic group. While he offers some policy recommendations of uneven quality, many of the trends he deplores--the diminishing influence of Christianity, for example, and the vanishing fertile nuclear family--are prevalent throughout Western culture and all but immune to government influence.

Liberals may rightly dismiss this sprawling, often rambling book as nativist claptrap. Readers willing to excuse the nods to predictable right-wing shibboleths and bogeymen will find it a troubling analysis of how America has changed for the worse in the last half century, and how difficult it will be to pull it back from the loss of freedom and prosperity Buchanan sees not far ahead.

The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity by Jeffrey D. Sachs

Publishers Weekly -

Best known for advising postcommunist and impoverished countries on development strategies, economist Sachs (Common Wealth) takes on the cesspool of debt, backwardness, and corruption that is the United States in this hard-hitting brief for a humane economy. Sachs surveys an America where the rich get richer and the rest grow poorer, less secure, and less prepared for a modern economy; where a fixation by both parties on cutting taxes and coddling corporate donors—Sachs issues stinging rebukes of Obama's policies—creates insupportable federal deficits and stymies critical reforms and spending programs; and where an electorate stupefied by mass media and advertising ignores its better instincts and pursues a mindless consumerism. The author's straightforward exposition, buttressed by a wealth of revealing tables and charts, sharply rebuts reigning free market orthodoxies and makes a compelling case for an activist state that redistributes wealth and makes life fairer and more productive for everyone. Sachs's remedies are less focused than his critique, and his pinning of all hope on the 15- to 29-year-old "Millennial Generation," aka "the children of the Internet," feels naïve and ageist. Still, his stimulating, staunchly progressive take on America's dysfunctions is a must-read for every concerned citizen.

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