A comprehensive survey of the state of literacy and illiteracy in present-day America, including practical suggestions about how reading and writing can be taught more effectively. The premise of this discussion is that the US is in the midst of a literacy crisis whose roots lie deep in American culture and politics. The startling view here is that the existence of a large semiliterate American underclass may be an implicit effect of American public policy--if that is not the case, then the neglect of the question of literacy is very hard to explain, argues Winterowd. A truly literate society would be a different society, since literacy is not merely a mechanical skill like typing, but a complex cultural and political acquisition. In the course of his study, the author, a professor of English at the Univ. of Southern California at L.A., touches upon a variety of important issues familiar to students of linguistics or of literary criticism: the role of "dialect," social aspects of language, the notion of the "text," and reading, writing, and teaching. A wide range of linguistic commentary presented in clear, nontechnical language--and offering an enlightening study of an urgent problem with far-reaching implications for American society.