DECLINING FORTUNES by Katherine S. Newman


The Withering of the American Dream
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 Columbia anthropologist Newman (Falling from Grace, 1988) fords the Hudson River and discovers suburbia--as well as a shrieking discontent that will surprise few. ``In the decades that followed the Great Depression,'' according to Newman, ``Americans came to assume that prosperity was their birthright....The economic realities of the 1980s and 1990s have crushed these expectations.'' The younger residents of Pleasanton, New Jersey, have known this for some time: Despite their college educations and tenacious work habits, they are unable to give their children many of the advantages--large homes, full- time mothers, good schools--that they received as a matter of course from their own, far less privileged, parents. Most of them, in fact, can no longer afford to live in Pleasanton--a modest postwar commuter town whose property values went through the ceiling in the 1980's and never came down. The yuppie newcomers- -especially the ``wealthy Asians''--hold themselves aloof from the natives and are largely despised. Newman backs up her interviews with statistics confirming the decline in ``living standards'' that her subjects speak of--the rise in unemployment, the slow decline of real wages, the realignment of tax rates--but it's hard to see where she breaks any new ground or offers any substantial remedy. Even her methodology seems skewed--there is, for example, no consideration given to the theory that the postwar boom was an anomaly that could never have been sustained. The interviews themselves are interesting but hardly illustrative, especially since the complaints voiced in them have been a matter of public debate for years. Rambling oral history without much at the core.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1993
ISBN: 0-465-01593-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1993


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