THE NEW BETTER OFF by Courtney E. Martin


Reinventing the American Dream
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An exploration of how success in the United States is being redefined.

“When the economy crashed,” writes On Being weekly columnist Martin (Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, 2010, etc.), “the air was let out of the overinflated ego of the so-called American Dream.” The author questions the popular notion that the next generation will not be as well off as their parents. For her, the expression “better off” does not refer to a powerful job or a big salary but rather a better life—i.e., a life lived in a supportive, creative community. Her basic message is that community is everything. Success is measured not in money but in relationships, by economic and social ties in the places where you live and where you work. Martin, who lives with her husband and young daughter in Temescal Commons, a co-housing community in Oakland, California, is enthusiastic about the benefits of living in such a community, arguing that when people’s lives become rooted in communities, they focus less on themselves and put more of their energy into creative ways to help a group make everyone’s lives easier, healthier, and more fun. In such a setting, with its built-in safety net, Martin sees how the lost art of neighborliness is recovered and new rituals marking life events are created. As a feminist, she welcomes the breaking down of traditional gender roles that communal living can generate. Through profiles of participants, stories of her personal experiences, and reports on her research, the author creates a vivid portrait of the new “better off” that she believes is happening now and has the potential for further growth in the future. Though the author’s premise is not necessarily new, she makes it sound undoubtedly appealing.

Martin writes with conviction and enthusiasm; whether social scientists concur with her remains to be seen.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-58005-579-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Seal Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2016


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