Social Sciences Book Reviews (page 625)

THE GOOD SOCIETY by Robert N. Bellah
HISTORY
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

"An often incisive treatise that debunks some age-old truisms and sounds a cautiously optimistic note for the future."
Five academics (Bellah, Richard Madsen, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler, Steven Tipton) follow up an earlier work (Habits of the Heart, 1985, which examined America's conflict between individualism and social commitment) with one that focuses on institutions. Read full book review >
WILD SWANS by Jung Chang
HISTORY
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

"Mostly, however, Chang offers an inspiring story of courage, sensitivity, intelligence, loyalty, and love, told objectively, without guilt or recrimination, in an unassuming and credible documentary style. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs—not seen.)"
An exceptional tribute to three generations of courageous and articulate Chinese women: the grandmother, born in 1909 into a still feudal society; the mother, a Communist official and then ``enemy of the people''; and the daughter, the author, raised during the reactionary Cultural Revolution, then sent abroad in 1978, when the story ends, to study in England, where she now, at age 39, serves as Director of Chinese Studies for External Services, Univ. of London. Read full book review >

RELIGION
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

"An odd hybrid in which the personal and political awkwardly jostle one another and tend to get hopelessly mixed up in the fray."
Expressly following the feminist dictum that ``the personal is political,'' Pogrebin (Among Friends, 1986; Family Politics, 1983, etc.), a founding editor of Ms. magazine, mixes memoir with reportage to chart her dual commitment to Judaism and feminism. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

"And for hapless New Yorkers who find themselves worn down by the present-day chaos of their city, Sante provides a strangely heartening reminder that nothing much has changed. (Nicely illustrated with rare photographs of the period- -some seen.)"
A guided tour through Manhattan's demimonde of the last century, conducted with exquisite relish by East Village journalist Sante (Esquire, The Village Voice, etc.), who speaks with all the authority of an eyewitness. Read full book review >
THE UNITED STATES OF INCOMPETENCE by Art Carey
SOCIAL SCIENCES
Released: Aug. 30, 1991

"Although writing with style and energy, Carey offers little new insight in what amounts to a compendium of every ill in the nation."
Fierce but flimsy examination by Carey (In Defense of Marriage, 1984) of how incompetence, compared here to a contagious disease, is ruining the country. Read full book review >

UNQUIET DAYS by Thomas Swick
SOCIAL SCIENCES
Released: Aug. 29, 1991

"Although beautifully written with loving detail, Swick's portrait contains more lush literary atmosphere than substance or insight."
Lovely but dull memoir of living and teaching English in Poland ten years ago, by the travel editor of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Read full book review >
PSYCHOLOGY
Released: Aug. 28, 1991

"Without power or spark, but nevertheless offering stretches of dialogue that offer a picture of male concerns and interaction in group therapy."
A therapy book with a different slant, and little else, written from inside a men's group by the therapist. ``No one understands men,'' says Baraff, setting the chatty tone. Read full book review >
THE RIVERKEEPER by Alec Wilkinson
HISTORY
Released: Aug. 26, 1991

"Overall, skillfully wrought, evocative insights into little- known arenas of American life."
In three portraits, two reprinted from The New Yorker, Wilkinson (Big Sugar, 1989; Moonshine, 1985, etc.) examines the lives of people who earn their living on the water. ``The Blessing of the Fleet'' finds Wilkinson traveling to Provincetown, where for generations Portuguese-Americans have fished the waters off Cape Cod. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Aug. 26, 1991

"While the women in question exert a pull on the popular imagination, Smith's rewarmed capsule bios and shallow psychological speculation provide neither insight nor entertainment. (Photographs.)"
What quality do women who've had multiple attachments to famous men share? ``Ordinariness,'' theorizes Smith (Doctor's Wives, 1980, etc.) in this flimsy study: They're ``the kind of women you pass pushing shopping carts to the market.'' Famous men are concentrating emotional energy on their work, Smith says, so a woman ``who wishes to please such a man must practice tremendous self-denial...Her importance to him becomes her sole source of self-satisfaction.'' Fifteen case histories follow, put together from secondary sources and an occasional interview; few of the profiles bear out Smith's thesis. Read full book review >
THE JAMESES by R.W.B. Lewis
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Aug. 23, 1991

"An astute family portrait, rendered in Jamesian style—by turns indirect, ironic, psychologically penetrating, and moving. (Thirty-two pages of photographs—not seen.)"
William James wrote that brother Henry was really ``a member of James family, and has no other country.'' The meaning of that remark becomes abundantly clear in this weighty group biography, which probes how the master novelist, the pioneering psychologist- philosopher, and their siblings were shaped by the formidable legacy of their ancestors. Read full book review >
SOCIAL SCIENCES
Released: Aug. 22, 1991

"Some hard thoughts about the future of life on this planet by one who clearly enjoys the thinking process but is uneasy about where those thoughts lead."
Philadelphia Inquirer staff-writer Hine, who looked back in his superb Populuxe (1986) at American life of the 50's and 60's, now looks ahead—tentatively—to the future. Read full book review >
TEMPEST, FLUTE, AND OZ by Frederick  Turner
SOCIAL SCIENCES
Released: Aug. 20, 1991

"As a collection of aphorisms, this has some merit, but there is insufficient focus for the sort of exposition that the author clearly intends."
A disappointing glimpse of things to come, from a poet and essayist (Spirit of Place; Of Chiles, Cacti, and Fighting Cocks- -both 1990, etc.) who ought to know better. Read full book review >
Kirkus Interview
Frank Bruni
March 31, 2015

Over the last few decades, Americans have turned college admissions into a terrifying and occasionally devastating process, preceded by test prep, tutors, all sorts of stratagems, all kinds of rankings, and a conviction among too many young people that their futures will be determined and their worth established by which schools say yes and which say no. In Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni explains why, giving students and their parents a new perspective on this brutal, deeply flawed competition and a path out of the anxiety that it provokes. “Written in a lively style but carrying a wallop, this is a book that family and educators cannot afford to overlook as they try to navigate the treacherous waters of college admissions,” our reviewer writes. View video >