The postwar golden age of America, to which conservatives fondly advert, is a historical anomaly that will not likely be repeated: So writes Newsweek International editor Elliott in this well-conceived, thoughtful exercise in political punditry. A Briton, Elliott brings a helpful distance to his analysis of lost glories and current crises. ``Americans whine,'' he says bluntly. ``They live in the most prosperous society that the world has ever seen. . . . And yet they are convinced that their life is miserable.'' We are miserable, he suggests, because we pine for an unrecoverable time, a blip on the screen of history's radar, an era we celebrate for its economic growth, small-town virtues, security, and cultural homogeneity. That moment, which ran from 1945 to 1970, was, Elliott writes, ``a massive freak,'' a false yardstick that fuels a nostalgia verging on heartache. Attuned to such matters, Elliott explores the myth of America as a classless society of equal opportunity, looking at cities like Detroit to show that a huge gulf divides American society: ``For mindboggling contrasts in the quality of life, the Mexican-American border is rivaled by the line that separates the horror of Detroit from a suburb like Grosse Pointe, with its faux chÉteaus and country clubs.'' Yet, Elliott continues, this gulf is an old one, bridged only for a short time by the boom that accompanied the first half of the Cold War--a conflict that is misnamed, Elliott insists, inasmuch as more than 100,000 Americans died on battlefields between 1945 and 1989. The costs of that war and the resulting inflation, he writes persuasively, effectively destroyed the economic boom. Strolling in a leisurely fashion through postwar history, Elliott shows that the reigning bitter class divisions and current furor over international trade and immigration are, in fact, normal conditions in our history. While he stops short of telling Americans to cheer up and shape up, Elliott effectively shows that yearning for our past is unlikely to improve our future.