How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense
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New York Times op-ed columnist Brooks, whose Bobos in Paradise (2000) anatomized “the new upper class,” now sends up and celebrates America’s middle class in all its vulgarity and yearning.

The war with Iraq, according to the author, revived foreign images of the American as the “Cosmic Blonde” of the international community—i.e., an infuriatingly blessed global bimbo. Yet Brooks finds that the nation is “infused with a utopian fire that redeems its people, despite the crass and cynical realities.” His account considers what life is like in the several varieties of suburbia; why Americans race so feverishly through life; and whether our purported shallowness is grounded in reality. At the root of American life from its beginnings, he finds, is a pursuit of perfection that can be seen in both large social movements (periodic moral crusades) and even individual creations of all manner of inventions, management procedures, and motivational mantras. Brooks surveys how middle-class Americans’ aspirations manifest themselves in child-rearing, college life, shopping, and working. All this ceaseless striving is not without cost: non-religious schools, for instance, come in for rueful criticism for not instilling a coherent moral system. Frequently using trade-association data as well as his own “comic sociology,” Brooks delights in overturning conventional wisdom. For example, far from the stereotype of clusters of conformity long derided by intellectuals, today’s suburbs, he observes, contain “lesbian dentists, Iranian McMansions, Korean megachurches, nuclear-free-zone subdevelopments, Orthodox shetls with Hasidic families walking past strip malls on their way to Saturday-morning shul.” Sandwiched between the cheeky one-liners (the alternative weekly, with their uniformity of format and point of view from one city to the next, “is the most conservative form of American journalism”) are astute readings of the contemporary scene (golf, he believes, is central to the middle-class American’s “definition of what life should be like in its highest and most pleasant state”).

From a cuddly conservative: a genial ode to America that only a snooty French deconstructionist could fail to find amusing and enlightening.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-7432-2738-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2004


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