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The Transformation of the American Family

by Al Gore & Tipper Gore

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2002
ISBN: 0-8050-6893-7
Publisher: Henry Holt

The former veep and his wife examine the American family and its metamorphosis since 1960.

In the last two generations, the Gores write, the classic American nuclear family has undergone a number of changes. Families are forming later, they’re more diverse, the divorce rate has doubled, and a higher percentage of mothers are working outside the home. The Gores profile a different family at the opening of each chapter and cite complementary examples from existing scholarship. The study works best when they let the families reflect on their experiences. While creating a garden in an abandoned North Philadelphia lot, Lily Yeh gained a nontraditional “family” made up of artists and community activists, a mosaic of “the people that nobody wants, the disenfranchised,” she remarks. Other profiles include John Coon and Josh Tuerk, who have adopted two baby boys and define family as “Love. Sharing. Responsibility. Contentment.” In the section on “Play” (all the chapter titles are similarly broad), the Gores draw on their own history. During the 1992 presidential campaign, Al appeared on Larry King Live. Watching from her hotel room while campaigning in another city, Tipper called the show, disguising her voice, and told Al he “was really cute and would he go out on a date with her?” After Al’s jaw dropped and Larry began to stammer, Tipper told them who she was. This pleasant anecdote about the importance of play is swiftly overwhelmed with quotes from Plato, opinions from clinical psychologists, and advice from dozens of academics. The format quickly becomes wearying. We are offered a “history of family” that begins with the evolution of the species on the African savannah and ends approximately 20 pages later with American settlers. Perhaps The Spirit of Family, a collection of photographs they selected and that is being published simultaneously, has more personality.

Doesn’t add anything to the existing literature and feels like promotional material for the Gores’ annual Family Re-Union conference. (9 photos, not seen; resources list)