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Twenty-two clear, winning, and original essays by an eclectic group of distinguished sociologists who provide an ""evaluative portrait,"" limited but provocative, of selected areas of American life in the closing decades of the 20th century. Using copious interviews and examples, focusing on ""real people living real lives,"" these essays, edited by Wolfe (Dean, Graduate School, New School for Social Research; America's Impasse, 1981, etc.) offer the best of contemporary sociological methods, along with a convincing analysis of the usual sociological topics, each with a special twist. Concentrating mainly on the past 40 years, they describe and interpret shifts in demography, politics, economics, education, religious institutions, urban life, working conditions, communications, culture (meaning entertainment), and attitudes toward time (the ""feminization of the time famine""). Individually, the pieces offer some interesting observations: the failure of the management/union model in industry (Ruth Milkman); the decline of competitiveness and changing attitudes toward money (Katherine S. Newman); the commodification of culture (J. William Gibson); the nationalization of news (Michael Schudson); the failure of progressive politics to overcome crime (Jack Katz); the declining authority of the medical profession (Jonathan B. Imber), and so on. From all of these, Wolfe concludes that America is in an age of transition, the pace of change exceeding the adaptive capacities of traditional institutions: ""We are no longer the society we once were, but neither are we the society we hoped to be."" Topical, contemporary, anecdotal, and of general appeal, but flawed by its lack of historical context, by its failure to relate properly the past 40 years of change to precedents and movements of earlier times.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
Page count: 567pp
Publisher: Univ. of California Press