An absorbing, solidly documented study of America's welfare system and the circumstances of five women and their children who are dependent upon it. Berrick (director of the Center for Research on Public Social Services at the School of Social Welfare at the University of California at Berkeley) focuses on five diverse families in her attempt to dispel stereotypical myths of welfare mothers. Too many Americans, contends Berrick, perceive welfare recipients as lazy, irresponsible, and conniving. Budget-cutting politicians, moreover, are quick to offer simple economic solutions to complex social problems. Three of the women portrayed here have temporarily fallen through the cracks and need some assistance to get back on their feet. The other two, products of highly unstable backgrounds, are not likely to walk even with society's crutches. Berrick is clearly sympathetic to the full range of her subjects. She argues that ``none of the women depicted here wanted to be on welfare, and few of them expected to use it for a long time.'' Long-term welfare users, comprised mainly of high school dropouts and women of color, are the exception rather than the rule. Berrick's statistics illustrate how welfare alone does not lift a family above the poverty level, and she elucidates how the system encourages mothers to cheat in order to make ends meet. The author feels that many condescending welfare officials also evoke hostility, and she is extremely critical of welfare workers, whom she describes as ``notoriously rude and unhelpful.'' One theme that emerges, though not addressed by Berrick, is these women's poor choices of matesmen who are mostly irresponsible and abusive alcoholics or drug addicts. A passionate, perceptive assessment of a complex and timely issue.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-509754-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1995

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.


New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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The name of C.S. Lewis will no doubt attract many readers to this volume, for he has won a splendid reputation by his brilliant writing. These sermons, however, are so abstruse, so involved and so dull that few of those who pick up the volume will finish it. There is none of the satire of the Screw Tape Letters, none of the practicality of some of his later radio addresses, none of the directness of some of his earlier theological books.

Pub Date: June 15, 1949

ISBN: 0060653205

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1949

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