Impassioned and eloquent, jazz historian Collier (Duke Ellington, 1987; Louis Armstrong: An American Genius, 1983, etc.) here turns a critical eye to the history of self-interest among Americans and its phenomenal growth in recent times. Tracing patterns of socialization back to the 18th century, Collier notes the transition from a rough-and-ready way of life to one in which gentility and morality came into play during the Victorian period. As a distinct, home-grown middle class emerged, it adopted the work ethic and views on temperance and sexual behavior that were among the hallmarks of Victorianism, using them as a shield against the flood of European immigrants with more relaxed attitudes. Propriety was the order of the day in spirit if not always in practice, but the winds of change swept away Victorian controls early in the 20th century as increases in leisure time and urbanization gave rise to a burgeoning entertainment industry. The invention of radio was a decisive moment in the transformation of America from a family and community-based society to a self-centered one, with TV, the Beats, hippies, drug and alcohol abuse, the rise of single parenting and dissolution of the traditional family, and a relaxation of sexual mores with media exploitation of the subject also perceived by Collier as instrumental in the relentless advance of selfishness. Using his jazz knowledge sparingly, the author draws on a wealth of other sources for his social history, marshalling reams of statistics and colorful examples with equal ease. A vibrant, sweeping analysis of the roots of American self- indulgence, even if largely familiar, and a valuable overview of the changes in social attitudes from the Puritans to the ``Me Generation.''