Two British journalists, following in distinguished footsteps, have produced a trenchant appraisal of the way we are--in Washington and on Wall St., on the farm and at the courthouse. Beyond noting that ""America no longer has its modernity to itself,"" and can no longer count on being best, Fawcett and Thomas eschew generalizations for description and interpretation. The great merit of their book, analogously, is not that they are markedly original, but that they strike so many nails on the head. Since both are with The Economist, their characterization of ""something called the American economic system""--i.e., free enterprise--has particular pith; and they go on to point out that the US suffers, vis-Ã -vis Western Europe and Japan, from having ""the habit but not the policy of chronic government intervention."" A deft side-step--from labor apathy to the still-low earnings of female workers--takes them into a sophisticated discussion of feminism (Houston '77), antifeminism (Phyllis Schlafly), and counterfeminism (Midge Decter, Marabelle Morgan). Next? Democracy and its Discontents--why today's presidents are vulnerable, why (say) Jimmy Carter should have named industrialist Michael Blumenthal to the Commerce department instead of the Treasury. On finance, Fawcett and Thomas are again outstanding--in explaining why Americans are now more risk-averse (hence, investing in real estate, not stocks); in depicting the cutthroat nature of the securities business (with devastating quotes); in making sense of American investment abroad and foreign investment here. The book's second half concerns itself with more specialized social and cultural matters, and makes adroit use of close-ups: William Levitt and Philip Johnson, re changes in housing and architecture (where due not is taken also of gentrification, public transport, etc.); Stanford and Texas law schools, and five diverse lawyers re the legal system (where thought is given to why, indeed, America has so many lawyers). Even the lesser sections have their attention-holders: concluding their wrap-up on psychiatry and pop psychology, Fawcett and Thomas remark that a British best-seller, Habits, did poorly in the US, while Passages did badly in Britain. ""Americans . . . try to change their habits."" There are omissions, noted (pop culture) and unnoted (industry as such), as well as subjects that get only the lightest going-over (the arts generally). But this is incisive, refreshing commentary--however stale the topic.