Fierce but flimsy examination by Carey (In Defense of Marriage, 1984) of how incompetence, compared here to a contagious disease, is ruining the country. Alarmed by an explosion of shoddy service, performance, and product in more and more areas of personal and public life, Carey, deputy editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer magazine, wrote an angry article that garnered strong reader response. Thus encouraged, he has now expanded his thesis—that almost every ill plaguing America is a species of incompetence—to book length, without necessarily achieving analytic depth. Packed with biliously witty put-downs of popular villains (``A math teacher I met struck me as a genuine moron, only a few brain cells above lapsing into drooling imbecility''), the momentum of the book's anger, mowing down D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and Wall Street sharks alike, often precludes a study of causes. The five central chapters—on the respective declines of morals, family, education, the work ethic, and quality- -contain much stale material from news accounts in their attempt to show that all five spheres of crisis yield incompetence. For example, Batman (``dark and sinister, a movie that glorified violence and sadism in a creepy atmosphere of anarchy''), teenage pregnancy (``more children—largely uneducated and ignorant children—are having children''), and poor work attitudes (``work has become a four letter word'') will all spawn more ``enemies of effort, achievement and civilization.'' The concluding chapter, which tantalizes with a call for personal responsibility, could have served as the starting point for a better, but unwritten, book. Although writing with style and energy, Carey offers little new insight in what amounts to a compendium of every ill in the nation.
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