Sociologist (Boston Univ.) and social critic par excellence, Wolfe (Marginalized in the Middle, not reviewed, etc.) scores...



Sociologist (Boston Univ.) and social critic par excellence, Wolfe (Marginalized in the Middle, not reviewed, etc.) scores again with this thorough, edifying, and engrossing study of the fabled but elusive American middle class. Based on his Middle Class Morality Project, a group of 200 interviews conducted by Wolfe himself in eight middle-class suburbs of four cities--Atlanta (DeKalb and Cobb counties), Boston (Brookline and Medford), San Diego (Eastlake and Rancho Bernardo), and Tulsa (Broken Arrow and Sand Springs)--this intimate study is a smooth read. Wolfe is master of his material, and his easy, levelheaded style keeps you reading to the end, even if only to hear the ""silent majority's"" thoughtful answers to his pointed questions about religion (""quiet faith"" is the rule), welfare (good in principle, but poorly executed), racism (""Whites are against affirmative action, blacks tend to be for it, and Hispanics are split down the middle""), patriotism (robust, but skeptical), and family (""let people make those decisions that best fit themselves""). Wolfe's bottom line is that ""there are strong divisions in middle-class America . . . people in Brookline clearly do not think the same way as people in Tulsa,"" He grants, therefore, that America is experiencing a culture war, but ""one that is being fought primarily by intellectuals, not by most Americans themselves."" Americans are far less polarized politically than pundits would have us believe, and lean instead, toward a ""sensible center,"" where compromise and tolerance guide public life. Americans share a strong libertarian streak, or as Wolfe couches it, ""respect for moral freedom and nonjudgmentalism cut so deep"" among middle-class Americans that they are willing to accept even the things they disapprove of most strongly (e.g., homosexuality, one of the most widely reviled). Wolfe's round-up is an absolute must for anyone who wants or, in every politician's case, needs to know how Americans think.

Pub Date: March 1, 1998


Page Count: 368

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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