Written with a strong historical matrix and considerable outreach, this complex, provoking work firmly respects the family as a socializing force and scrutinizes its 20th-century interpreters, who most often relegated this function to the sidelines or ignored it altogether. ""As the chief agency of socialization, the family reproduces cultural patterns in the individual,"" and it is this crucial task, long undervalued and lately entrusted to experts, which is examined--in writings from the past and in contemporary practice. Lasch analyzes influential theories about the family by psychiatrists (Freud, Sullivan, Fromm, Horney), anthropologists (Malinowski, Benedict, Mead), and sociologists (the Chicago school, Parsons), pointing out original observations but also offering numerous examples of distortion, professional bias, or conceptual flaw. Early misinterpretations of Freud have been compounded in recent years and Lasch, more sympathetic, tries to set the record straight for he finds in the application of such misconstructions serious threats to individual development--and implications for society in general. And contrary to parsons' assumption, he contends that family functions are an integrated system: abandoning some (such as overt conflicts between father and son) significantly weakens others, endangering personality formation instead of facilitating it. Today's counterculture adherents reflect this masked distress and self-help no-fault philosophies are further evidence of a basically fearful orientation--an argument Lasch skillfully propounded in the New York Review of Books last year. Modulated by psychoanalytic precepts, cautionary rather than prescriptive, this looks responsibly at the loosening of family ties and its long-term consequences.