The State of White America - 1960-2010 - Coming Apart

ByCharles Murray

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sarah giovanniello
Charles Murray takes the reader through the long term changes in American society. I have been noticing many of these changes for years. The book is full of interesting, occasionally surprising and always thought provoking information.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
As a non-aligned person struggling to understand the cultural predicament the nation finds itself in after the first decade of the 21st century, this was really helpful; an easy read.
keb, Fifty Lakes,MN
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
The entire book is anecdotal. Worse, Murray is constantly apologizing for lack of available data. While I agree with most of the conclusions in the book, it reads like dinner table conversation - full of trite sayings, conventional wisdom, and preachiness.

There is a subtle message here - that the US suffers from an inequality of class, not an inequality of race. However, the argument is made awkwardly, and is far from the most important topic in the book (notwithstanding the subtitle).

Probably not worth your time.
The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide - White Rage :: The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, Book 4) :: Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle) :: All the Crooked Saints :: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta - Dispatches from Pluto
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
rosemary macmaster
Interesting presentation. I wish that the solutions section was better developed. Chapter after chapter reveal the "problem" but there is little related "solution" dialogue that doesn't simply sound preachy.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
cris klika
The first two thirds of this books is excellent. It uses detailed survey information to paint a compelling picture of how America has changed in the past 60 years. However, the remaining third is short on real solutions and long on borderline right wing disdain for upper class urbanites and government programs. The authors view is basically get rid of all social support programs and people will magically learn to be American again.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
amy jones
A new, well-supported view on why inequality is increasing in America. The most intelligent go to college and graduate school and interbreed with each other. The least intelligent have high rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock marriage. So while a single highly motivated, intelligent person can rise to the top, on the whole, the upper class gains more wealth while the lower class is thrown into disarray.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Charles Murray, co-author of the controversial Bell Curve, examines the growing division between lower class and upper class whites in his latest book, Coming Apart. To set the stage for the incredible transformation that has occurred in the last five decades, he paints a charming picture of a largely homogeneous white culture on the eve of Kennedy's assassination. His focus on whites ensures that adequate attention is paid to our most significant cultural problem: class division. As he demonstrates in one of the books later chapters, lower class blacks, whites and Hispanics are faring roughly the same.

The first part of the book examines the new upper class. Contrary to fifty years ago, when a CEO for a company would probably live in, or at least near, the small town in which his business was based, more and more of the rich are living in neighborhoods which are comprised of other rich people. Not only are their neighbors wealthy, a significant number of them attended the same elite universities, which their children then attend. Think David Brook's Bobos in Paradise, which Murray recommends. The result is that the nation's elites, those who set government policy and exert considerable influence over the media, are now completely isolated from their fellow citizens in the lower class.

Murray turns to this lower class in the second part of his book. He argues that four qualities have made the American experiment successful: industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity. So long as its citizens practice what Murray calls "the founding virtues", the project can expect to continue; once these virtues are abandoned, we have no such assurances.

Like the first son in the Gospel parable, the upper class fails to offer support for the founding virtues, but nonetheless practices them. The picture is different in the lower class: industriousness is being replaced by television and sleep; social capital is diminishing, and crime is still a concern. Marriage has been replaced by cohabitation--which data suggests is "about the same as... single parenthood" as far as the children are concerned.

The results are troubling for religiosity, too: "Despite the common belief that the working class is the most religious group... the drift from religiosity was far greater" in the lower than upper class. Surveys that rely on mere profession of belief are apt to mislead; someone who attends church services once a year is de facto secular, and is highly unlikely to participate civically as do religious members who are regular church goers.

Somewhat curiously, Murray applauds the revolution in the status of women we have achieved since the 60's. I would have liked to see him examine the role feminism has played in the trends he documents, the most disturbing of which is the growing prevalence of single mothers. The welfare state, a concomitant of the feminist revolution, has replaced fathers with the State. It is disheartening that lower class men are refusing to help raise their children, but it's not exactly surprising. As an ardent critic of our welfare system, Murray no doubt appreciates the point. But the link with feminism is sadly unexplored.

Although far from being pollyannaish, Murray is more optimistic than I am about the prospect for a "civic great awakening." One of his arguments is that watching the implosion of the European model will offer a "powerful incentive to avoid going down the same road." This presupposes that the welfare state is not already so large as to ensure that we tread the same path as the Europeans--a dubious assertion.

I suspect that as America proceeds towards bankruptcy, the upper class is far more likely to cut off welfare payments than risk the diminishment of their own status--dependent as it is upon our system of crony capitalism. When Congress bailed out the banks, even though it would have been cheaper to pay off everyone's mortgage, they adumbrated the coming crisis rather nicely.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Contains a great deal of statistics and written more as a textbook format. Contains a fair amount of charts and tables, which if you chose to read it on your Kindle, you can forget it unless you have a large magnifying glass. The author makes a lot of interesting points which are certainly worth considering.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This book has been so widely review that I will assume the potential reader knows Charles Murray's analysis. I will just add a few comments.

A lot of the social history is very nicely narrated, with a fine sense of style and pacing. I do not find any of Murray's facts implausible. Like many readers, I do not believe Murray's conclusions are in the least justified by the analysis. Most important, Murray attributes the decline of morality in the working classes to the nefarious influence of the welfare state. "The simplest way in which the advanced welfare state will lose attractiveness is the looming bankruptcy of the European welfare state." (p.296)

In fact, there are just many European countries that have avoided the moral decay that Murray has described, including unambiguously the Nordic countries, France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. They are not all strong economic performers (e.g., France is not), but they have avoided social pathologies in their core "majoritarian" ethnic groups. The fact is, the high achievers in world set their sights much higher than the dole, and some societies seem quite capable of maintaining both a welfare state and a moral, high-achieving populace.

Moreover, as S. Maxwell notes in a comment on this review, "contrary to what Murray writes, EU counties are not on the verge of bankruptcy due to their generous social programs. Some of the EU nations that have the most generous social programs, like Sweden and Germany, are in much better economic shape than those with less generous programs. Prior to the recession, Ireland was praised by conservative commentators for low government debt and for prudent investments in education and infrastructure. Ireland's government debt exploded during the recession not because of social programs but because the government chose to guarantee the debt of private sector banks that had borrowed far more money than they could repay. Stupid decisions by Irish capitalists, not generous social programs, are responsible for the Irish sovereign debt problem."

Charles Murray's notion that the welfare state must be abandoned before morality can be found may be true, but there is no good evidence in favor of this view. Moreover, destroying the welfare state is more likely to lead to the unravelling of the social contract and a serious increase in social pathologies.

I suspect, however, that Murray is correct in saying that in the US today, one can simply refuse to play the middle-class game and still lead a rewarding life, if only hedonistically speaking. Drugs, music, television, safe sex, emergency rooms in hospitals, all contribute to simply becoming marginal yet having lots of fun. I think we will just have to live with that. No big deal, except the burden placed upon children of having deadbeat and ignorant parents. My own preferred solution to this problem is more state intervention in shoring up the quality of family life, not less, as Murray would suggest.

The liberal response to Murray's argument is also not plausible. The argument is that the state of the working class in America is not due to the welfare state, but the lack of high-paying low skill manufacturing jobs, which have fled to other countries. There are plenty of jobs out there for people who are willing to invest in education and skill training. Indeed, women have done very well in the new economy by following this strategy.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
angela pauly
Murray starts this study of white American society from the date of the assassination of JFK. I find this choice of date a silly distraction. The date as such has no relevance for the study. If the author needed a suitable cut off date for the definition of his study period, it would have been better to use an obviously arbitrary date, say Jan 1, 1960, rather than a date which suggests a mythical meaning.

Murray in his opening statements:
' evolution in American society that has taken place since November 21, 1963, leading to the formation of classes that are different in kind and in their degree of separation from anything that the nation has ever known. I will argue that the divergence into these separate classes, if it continues, will end what has made America America.'
I think, his observations are probably correct and his pessimism justified. I am not so sure about his explanations and his therapy.

Murray borrows the term 'secession of the successful' from another author. A new and homogeneous upper class has formed and has achieved huge gains in wealth, education, and status, leaving the rest of the country behind. Inequality like never before. Key trends are seen in expanding college education, concentration of top talents in top schools, huge rises in top payments. The root cause, in the author's opinion: the increased market value of high IQs.

Then he goes and slaps the 'new upper class' with the oh so funny term Overeducated Elite Snobs, OES. Another borrowed term. He concedes that some of these snobs have a status gap, their income doesn't quite justify their elite classification. I don't think I ever saw a less consistent sociological nomenclature.

Then he goes and says that the new upper class are actually mostly good people. Just wait till we look at the others, the underdogs! They are really sad cases! Murray seems to think that the degradation of the lower white strata is due to ideological straying off the righteous track of hard work and solid religion. Not the structural changes of the American economy and its position in the international market place has caused poverty and moral decay, but the liberal rot. The loss of the founding values: industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion. Clearly: without these, a docile flock of sheep can't be shepherded effectively.

Murray describes relevant social changes, but doesn't have the analytical tools to make sense of what he sees. This is sociology on yellow press level. Similarly, his belief in 'exceptionalism' has a dampening effect on foreign readers like me. His snide comments on European work ethics seem quite otherworldly to me too, by the way. This author needs his stereotypes, doesn't he. His insistence on the 'founding values' is an exercise in the standard American hypocrisy: slavery and genocide don't contradict them. They are anyway meant to be an instrument for the domination of the lower classes, not really an objective observation.

Many shortcomings, but still a book worth reading, despite its inability to make sense of its findings. It seems crystal clear to me, that the working class degradation as observed in this book is mainly due to globalization and the increased inequality among American classes. American companies may be able to benefit from globalization, but the American labor force obviously is not.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Very repetitive, the author has certain preconceptions about intelligence, many boring graphs and charts. Author seems very nostalgic for the "good old days" of WASP America. Don't feel I really learned anything. Wouldn't recommend.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
sherri gardner
While Charles Murray's exploration of class stratification in *Coming Apart* is interesting and provocative, I question his view that the educated elites he associates with "Belmont" have a highly developed sense of virtue. After years of observing those of this class in New England and New York City, I believe it is more likely that they have learned how to appear virtuous in order to protect their considerable social privilege.

On the one hand, these intelligent elites have embraced the virtue of self-discipline, which enables them to achieve a high level of academic and professional success. At the same time, self-discipline alone does not make one virtuous. Behind the image of virtue, there is a dark side to the upper middle class evident in their god-awful sense of entitlement: many learn early in life to flaunt their enviable privilege by flouting moral and social boundaries. From the time that many of them attend prestigious prep schools, they begin to experiment with the antisocial behaviors that are also common to the less fortunate youths from Murray's "Fishtown." In post millennial America, both upper and lower class teens engage in underage drinking, drug abuse, and sexual promiscuity. A main difference, however, is that the young Belmontians learn that their high status families provide them with safety nets that enable them (in most cases) to survive their youthful follies unscathed. Exclusive rehab clinics, overpriced psychiatrists, enlightening trips abroad, and the promise of useful academic and professional connections enable them to "straighten out" soon enough.

By the time they have graduated from good colleges and universities and have entered high status professions, these young people have learned that in order to preserve their status, they must act as if they are beyond reproach. Upper middle class styles of speech, body image, and conspicuous consumption help to promote this image to the rest of the world. While many members of this class do, indeed, try to live according to the high social standards set by their culture, others still cannot shake off the excesses of their youth. So when viewed more closely, many ostensibly upright "Belmontians" have still maintained a taste for alcohol abuse (DUI, anyone?), exotic drugs, and sexual excess (now in the mid-life form of rampant marital infidelity). Some, in fact, will occasionally visit neighboring "Fishtowns" in order to seek transgressive pleasures. (It's called "slumming").

There is another story to be told about the lengths "Belmontians" will go to preserve and promote their holier than thou image of social and moral perfection. Their desire to appear superior to others is motivated by a social competitiveness rooted in pride, vanity and greed -- human foibles far removed from the virtue that Murray associates with them.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
maribeth breen
This rant with graphs to illustrate preconceptions using loaded terminology, such as “enfeebled”, to describe all governmental programs is a laugh. His genetic determinism, has already been discredited. One virtue, it is swift reading when the same old saw is repeated and repeated..
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
lara torgesen
The author's premise is that America has self-sorted itself into haves and have-nots, and the characteristics of the have-nots are different than traditional American values that will doom that class to dysfunction. I argue that picking different traditional values would set the author's thesis on its head. For example, service to community. The have-nots become policemen and fireman and serve in the military, but haves do not. The have-nots also suffer deaths I these occupations while the haves benefit from them. The haves become politicians, while the have-nots generally don't rise above the local level, and we all know how most politicians at the state and federal level are self-serving. The have-nots pay higher taxes (federal, state, and FICA) with few tax breaks, while the haves enjoy tax breaks they sponsored themselves.
The book was also hard to read, with way too many charts and numbers and references to maintain a smooth reading pace. (And this is from a retired actuary!)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
persian godess
An important book with a very useful presentation of very complex data. This not an easy read a la Malcolm Gladwell.

One caveat, the book is difficult to read via Kindle on an iPad. Buy the paper book because the author presents graphs, charts
and useful appendices but jumping back and forth on the iPad is almost impossible.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This book provides statistical evidence that there is a wide range between the people of Belmont and the people of Fishtown.
The author could have provided a little information about the dwindling middle class.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Excellent work by the same social researcher behind The Bell Curve.

Murray was recently shouted down from presenting at Middlebury College in VT, in the process getting things thrown at him, causing injury to a Middlebury professor. I attribute this (generously) to non-Middlebury students since to be fair, most of them did not agree with this stupid behavior. It usually isn't the students at highly ranked schools attacking controversial guests like Murray and Anne Coulter. Disruptive and occasionally violent behavior occurs with regularity at the easy admission big state universities and/or from local mouth breathers who show up on campus just to cause trouble in between basket weaving classes at the YMCA.

Had they stopped to read this book, it's hard to imagine anything in it that's riot-worthy. Murray created an exhaustive volume of studies demonstrating social trends over the past several decades. It's simply a well researched volume illustrating the precipitous decline of the upper middle class of America, which happens to be mostly white. One would think the antifa crowd would love to read about this, but then again that requires literacy.

It's important to note Murray's research does not go past 2010 and in a few instances stops much earlier. One significant social (or maybe antisocial) driver, smartphones with constant internet access, were not ubiquitous until a few years later yet he was already witnessing the breakdowns of socialization skills - he was a bit ahead of his time. Combined with books like Bowling Alone, which Murray references in this book, it paints a bleak picture of what's happening to western civilization and America in particular. The upper class is smarter, richer, but significantly smaller and counts itself above - WELL above - the rest of society which it openly and fashionably disdains. This indirectly explains why the elitists from Silicon Valley to NYC were blindsided by the rise of Trump. They can dismiss it as populism, racism, etc. but facts are what they are and even when things go well for the elites, they don't have raw numbers on their side.

Murray's research shows that a Harvard attendee in the 1950s was not much smarter than the average college student of the period. The election process tightened gradually, however, until by the mid 1960s it was only the best and brightest admitted (he did not get into affirmative action programs brought about in subsequent decades). This had the effect of creating a society where the upper classes were more isolated than ever from the working classes not only in education, but work life, neighborhoods, social life, hobbies etc. His 21 question quiz should let you know, accurately, in which camp you belong. If you find the web site Stuff White People Like very funny, you will like that quiz. This part of the book was a deeper extension of Paul Fussel's book "Class," and written more authoritatively rather than whimsically.

One area where Murray did not tread in his research was the distinction between gentiles and jews, which were likely all counted together as white statistics. That comparison would have been beyond the scope of the book but it would have been an interesting addition.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
marcy jo
This book is a great litmus test for the underlying World View of the people that read it. The set of people that worship at the alter of "Humanism, Progressivism, Liberalism, PC Science", will hate and denigrate it, because to accept it would call their World View into a lot of question. The people that worship "God, Transcendence, Hard Science" will find it of extreme importance, sobering, but with some hints as to how the future of America (America as exceptional, not as "EuropeII") still has at least a small chance of being bright.

The thesis of the book is extremely simple and well stated. There are four key "Founding Virtues" 1). Industriousness 2). Honesty 3). Marriage 4). Religiosity. These virtues form the core of "American Exceptionalism". Prior to 1960, we were truly a "classless society" where a high percentage of people of all income, racial, religious, etc divisions shared these values. Since 1960, the "economic winners" have largely continued to PRACTICE these virtues, but they have stopped "PREACHING" them -- in fact, they often preach, or at least refuse to negatively evaluate the opposite of the values. Meanwhile, the botton levels of society have abandoned the values nearly entirely, which ends up meaning that they have a huge deficit of "social capital" and there is a good deal of question if the situation is recoverable.

This thesis is expertly proven (in the social science sense) with extensive statistical data and analysis, thus the severe discomfort it causes "Progressives". At the end of the book, two alternative visions are presented. The first, and I feel probably the most likely is that "trends continue and we become just like Europe" -- America is no longer exceptional. The outcome that the left seems to be intent in carrying out.

The second is the sort of thing to keep a rational man getting up in the AM. Hard science comes to the rescue and we realize that specialization in the sexes is built in and immutable. The most adaptive relationship between man and woman is lifetime marriage. We are also built to be religious -- there is a reason that every human culture developed religion, it works in the creation of social capitol. So too the other basic virtues. People are happier when they are industrious, honesty is such a foundation of human interaction that the only form of society that can operate at all without it (and in fact requires it's abolition) is the Dictatorship / Police State. The basic virtues turn out to be required for real humans, endowed or saddled with a basic nature honed over millions of years, to function, for sure to function well, definitely to be happy, probably to function at all without a Police State.

It's a great work. Read it and know more about your world view!
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
This book was intentionally provocative (one of the authors of The Bell Curve), but basically makes a few well-supported an inoffensive points.

However, the magazine article which summarizes the book is basically 95% of the content. [...] Unless you're going to be debating these issues, I'd just read the articles and skip the book -- there were no great insights in the book itself.

Essentially, the US is now segregated by class, largely due to education and intellectual capacity, and only due to race, ethnicity, geography, etc. as second order effects. This is basically due to the university system and changing nature of work (high rewards to intellectual activity). These workers are concentrated in a few clusters of zip codes, mainly in NYC, DC, and SFBA. Lots of trends (financial success, lasting marriage, etc.) are linked to this.

However, Murray has a pro-religion, pro-family agenda, and seems to try to link his pre-existing desires to support those institutions. This doesn't ring true, at least within the SFBA and NYC markets. He also paints the productive rich as being out of touch with the daily reality of everyone else, which is obviously true to some extent, but most of the productive people I know at least grew up in middle-class circumstances, or are exposed to that on a daily basis. Maybe in DC it is different, but in the Bay Area, smart people exist across a wider spectrum of income and activity than he assumes. And, he ignores the substantial role of new immigrants in SFBA (especially) and NYC -- his primarily population of successful people are those like himself; liberal arts baby boom white people, not the current creative class.

The big reveal (that this analysis doesn't really apply just to white people, and is in fact equally true of the US overall) is interesting. I assume white america was selected to be shocking, . However, his analysis of the white vs. non-white data only works if you assume Asians are grouped with white, and that hispanic/latinos bring up the averages in the disadvantaged areas as much as black americans bring it down. This seems like fitting the data to your premise after the fact.

It's evident that the US (and world) is coming apart along educational, intellectual, and productive lines -- I just don't buy his analysis of what this means,
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
kaitlin m
Murray spends the first part of his book detailing how America has stratified into "Elites" and basically everyone else, and how those Elites are in charge and yet utterly out of touch with everyone else. This is hazily presented as a bad thing, with Murray referring disparagingly to the Elites as "overeducated elitist snobs".

Then Murray goes on to detail his set of four "founding virtues"; the social traits that early Americans had, that out Founding Fathers recognized and that (according to Murray) enabled the rise of American exceptionalism. Lose those virtues, he asserts, and we are doomed.

Then the good stuff starts. Murray spends most of the rest of his book relating in objectively-measured and mind-numbing detail how the Elites are the very embodiment of the four founding virtues while everyone else has already slipped into a non-married, dishonest, unstable, unemployed, non-religious miasma. Murray complains that the ruling classes in America are out of touch with everyone else and then details that "everyone else" isn't really worth being in touch with. And honestly; who would want a country run by the kind of people that Murray describes as being in the bottom classes, anyway?

The crazy part is that this book will be used as a touchstone by the kind of people that rail against the smart, married, stable, educated and honest people who have risen to the top, when what it really does is shine klieg brightness on how bad the rest of the population has become.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
While many points are well taken in Murray's book, he uses statistics to make his point and we all know statistics can be used to promote the statistician's view. But I found his reasoning unsound to compare the culture of current America with the first 150 years of the US's existence. In the early years the US population had low longevity, poor or non-existent health care, less schooling, daily work was hard and labor intensive with little time for leisure or intellectual growth (except for the wealthier citizens). Therefore, in today's world we live much longer, have medical care available in various degrees of coverage, have much leisure time and better education for most every citizens. I did agree with his portrayal of the shallowness of the very wealthy, most of whom do not have a clue how the average citizen struggles and cares less. His libertarian views shine through in his off-hand treatment of federal and state government intervention in everyday life. Who wants to live without federal and state regulations of our food, drugs, medical care, educational standards, safety and protection of basic freedoms? No one I know!
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
tracy cutchlow
The book is a bit schizophrenic, although Murray tries to bring it full circle admirably. It starts out with a demographic analysis of the emergence of the “Overeducated Elitist Snobs” occupying “superzips”, having collected their Ivy League degrees, hoarding the elite IQ genes, breeding largely within their own circles, possessing the poshest housing and amenities, and occupying the most prominent economic and political positions. They are thereby becoming disconnected from the rest of America. (On a side note, I crushed the cultural knowledge test, only missing points on a couple of things like military service, but then again I’m kind of a hillbilly by heritage and most definitely do NOT occupy a super zip. Look, I have no problem with people striving, and if living in Chevy Chase is their life goal, they can have at. To each his own. They pursued elite status. I pursued vodka. But I’ve got friends in low places…..)
At that point, I honestly thought this book was going to be about how these (largely) left-leaning espresso suckers were screwing up America, but it really isn’t. At the end Murray laments that these industrious, temperate, civilly engaged, and even remarkably religious elites are *secluding* themselves, and not “preaching what they practice”. His hate-love configuration toward this population was an interesting surprise.
The biggest flaw here is the idea that the “founding virtues” of industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity” have decayed, and thus America is going to hell in a hand basket lest they be renewed.
But here’s the thing. If you want to work hard, that’s great. And please be honest. That helps a lot, too. But the implication is that because the institutions of marriage and religion have been correlated with the other two virtues, that their decay spells demise.
America might well be on a downward trajectory, but I just don’t buy Murray’s prescription. Maybe some people need religion and marriage to keep their act together, but I don’t. And nor do a lot of other people. Murray *seems* to be saying we need long term marriage and religiosity and civic engagement and so forth to get back to “where we were”. But why not just promote honesty and industry *whatever else you’re doing*. Be single. Be gay. Be an atheist. Get to the first two virtues in any way that works for you—in ways dead white 18th century males can be forgiven for not seeing. Sure we need to fix a lot of things about America, but it won’t be the America of *Leave it to Beaver*--sanitized of uncomfortable racial and ethnic tensions and hard examinations of gender relations. Religion can be a place of mind-crushing oppression and intolerance, marriage a means not just of overall social control but where an unenlightened spouse destroys another physically and/or emotionally. Surely getting everybody to the church on time and keeping them there isn’t the only way to maintain a civil, healthy society. Innovation is a big part of what America is all about, right?
I have absolutely no problem with Murray’s argument that these values and institutions have been instrumental in creating “American exceptionalism”, but as he acknowledges, your assessment of all this is highly contingent on your baseline values. Yes, we’ve been exceptional—culturally, economically, strategically—but we’ve also been exceptional at genocide, hypocrisy, and indifference to excluded groups. I’m still a patriot, so I have no problem with American exceptionalism as long as we’re being exceptional at the right things. But this “good old days” line of reasoning, despite Murray’s best efforts to write around the obvious challenge, really is superficial.
Finally, from a public policy perspective, it amazes me that Murray, a staunch libertarian, would not talk with any sophistication about the absurdities of American *drug policies*. His proxy measure of “honestly” is arrest and incarceration rates but he *never* disaggregates these statistics by drug vs non-drug crime. As a criminal justice scholar, I found this mind boggling. These people are very often being arrested for engaging in behavior that, by Murray’s own presumed philosophical posture, *should not even be illegal* in the first place. Many of the crushing social dysfunctions he identifies in “Fishtown” (non-superzip, working class Whiteville going to hell because of illegitimacy, lazy deadbeat dads, etc) are directly catalyzed and possibly even caused by the illegal status of popular recreational drugs. Murray never touches the subject, and it suggests something to me: Although he’s an avowed libertarian, he still advocates for what is certainly a worldview heavily conditioned by growing up in rural Iowa before being spotted as a Harvard caliber student. His lamentation that we’ve lost a sense of being repulsed at “unseemly” things is the dead giveaway. Druggies, I suspect for Murray, are “unseemly”. But they also exist, and we criminologists have been saying for decades that there are far more rational ways to address that social problem and its concomitant problems than through incarceration. A lot of the breakdown in Fishtown is directly attributable to our drug war. But at least in this volume, Murray ignores that; he doesn’t even give it a paragraph.
And that is at the crux of the trouble with this book—the semi-contradiction between being a libertarian and advocating for Righteous America. A libertarian proper would say, “Do whatever the hell you want as long you don’t create direct or indirect externalities on others. Wear tattoos. Live in sin. Dress like a floozy. Do lines of blow in the privacy of your own home. It’s between you and whatever God you do or don’t believe in. As long as you do your job, you’ll get paid. As long as you respect other peoples’ physical bodies and property you’ll have no trouble with the law.”
I’m skeptical of virtue cultivation as public policy. I’d rather have simple rules, and as few of them possible, but that’s a bigger subject than this review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sarah spearing
A data- and fact-driven courageous stare at America's biggest threat--the rending of "We, the people" into antagonistic social classes. One, at the bottom of education and income, suffers from a near-fatal collapse of foundational moral virtues. The other, at the top, hollows out from the inside, a victim of its own unseemly and unconfident stance about what virtues actually create a meaningful life for everyone. A must-read for patriots still in love with the American experiment and unwilling to watch it die.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I am an immigrant who came from a family with nothing monetarily but rich in love and values. My parents spoke no English, had a grammar school education and worked like dogs to provide for their children. They never made it rich but they were rich beyond compare to our former life in our native country. Today my siblings and I, through hard work, sacrifice, values and persistence graduated from high school, college and graduate school. We did not take a dime of welfare as a family nor as adults. We made it in America because this country used to get out of the way of those who had the temerity to dream, aspire, push and reach for the stars. We did and we love what America provided for us - opportunity to work, save and dream.

Today the US Government is bound and determined to think for us, see us as victims and decide what we need and when. We fear the Government because we came from a nation where the Govt took away our freedoms to think, act, raise a family and live as we saw fit.

Read this book if you want to be inspired to greater heights and learn how today's culture is a threat to those who wish to rise above mediocrity .
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dallas shelby
When I came on the store I was confused as to why there were so many 1 star reviews for this book. The science and statistics are solid, and the recommendations and predictions are not radical or unreasonable.

The reason that this book receives negative press, is because it presents facts that are a threat to a certain worldview. The only way to hold onto a 'communistic' or 'socialistic' world view is to deny certain tenets of human nature discussed in this book. I would strongly reccomend this book to anyone who is looking for a thoughtful answer as to why we are seeing an increase in social inequality. For those of us who aren't satisfied with the answer "The rich are evil! We need to take the huge chests of gold they are hiding and give them back to the poor people who deserve it by birthright," this book provides a scientific and logical answer.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Under-whelming in its' delivery. An important message that would have benefited from a tighter delivery.

Maybe this has already been written elsewhere but I found very little new in this book.

The premise is that the educating and middle class-ing of the USA has created a "Yuppie Generation" (Young Urban People) who have reached a critical mass wherein they can affect societal change.
I often thought it quaint how if people ask for a product at a store that product appears on the shelf and soon a special section is devoted to that type of product. (witness the Hispanic Foods Section at your supermarket.)
Maybe I read too many of these type of books or have lived this phenomena first hand but I found the book not newsworthy.

If you are new to social issues and only now realizing how Mainstream America is changing from the lily White days of 1950's-1960's TV and movies then this book might be helpful.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
random frequent flyer
I am flummoxed that Murray's book comes as a surprise to anyone. He is a brilliant academic, but underlying his insights the Darwinian understanding of how the world progresses. There is an element of good fortune, but it all comes down to survival techniques. Money, intelligence, proper parenting, physical safety and access to medical services are all factors that aid in survival (except if they do not because of exceedingly bad luck). The nastiness of fatherless children, low functioning mothers, poor living conditions, norms that do not support achievement, etc. all combine to produce people who will not compete for the limited wealth our planet can produce. Every failure of an individual cements the success of a better positioned individual. This understanding can be extended even further. From Planned Parenthood to every consciously childless couple, low birthrate makes room for a higher birthrate among the wealthy. Among the wealthy, children represent a reflection of parental wealth. Upper middle-class life styles require two working parents, making child bearing a luxury. Only those who do not need to work, though they may choose to do so, can have children who will not be injured by lack of attention. Children who have not been attended to will not know how to pay attention to their own children who in turn will fail as parents. Survival of the fittest grinds on in spite of any revolution man can think of.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
seth walter
Charles Murray's Coming Apart deserves a wide audience. Unfortunately, it will accomplish little in the near future. I am very pessimistic. There is also the possibility wealth redistributionists will use it to cause further harm. They are influenced by Marxism and overly obsessed with economic class inequality. The permanent underclass citizens of Fishtown are not poor due to a lack of money, but their self destructive values and behavior. Giving these people more financial assistance will only add to the grief. Murray wishes to avoid the awkward subject of race as much as possible. It is hopeless. Any serious discussion concerning the troubles of white people will inevitably involve blacks living in similar circumstances. Politically correct ideologues will not hesitate to throw around the race card. The social disintegration of Fishtown began some forty years ago. The situation continues to deteriorate. Immature women and men know the government will provide support for the children they bring into the world. Why sweat it? Let the good times roll. The welfare state will continue paying the bills. This is especially true if the recipients are racial minorities other than Asian. Our guilt ridden society feels obligated to fund what Murray describes as the "custodial democracy." The author is an admitted agnostic, but still realizes that religion is indispensable to underpinning a viable society. A religious revival of some sort may present our only real chance to overcome these difficulties. Secularism acts, in my opinion, like battery acid applied to the skin. Do we even have ten years to reverse the decline? I think not and Murray seemingly disagrees. Let's hope he is right.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Professor Murray teaches and lectures at Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan. Calvin College is also the alma mater of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, just as a reference point. Coming Apart is little more than a right wing attack on the middle class. Murray’s “Science”was bent to fit his premise that AMERICA is coming apart because the middle class has lost its (religious)focus. As in many of his other books he divides society in to separate echelons than proceeds to blame the poor for being poor and praises the wealthy for all their hard work. Blah,blah,blah.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
christine mancini
The state of the American meritocracy and the resulting chasm between the haves and have-nots has been a very interesting topic debate post-2008 financial crash amongst pundits and talking heads. Twilight of the Elites by Hayes was an excellent book examining the same issue. That is why I was eager to read Murray's opinion on the subject. Unfortunately, this book has so much data and graphs that it is very challenging to get through. It even goes into great detail about how the data was compiled so that it will stand up to scrutiny from other academics. While I don't doubt that the Murray is intelligent and his methods sound, this book does not belong in the the store Kindle store, but rather some sort of academic publication.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
heath cabot
To listen to Murray, you would think that Ivy League Corporate Lawyers and Bankers were beacons of shining virtue! The basic assumption that somehow the lower classes have lower intelligence are of lower character, and upper middle class people are smarter and of higher character flies in the face of both experience and scientific study. In addition, Murray continues his assertion that intelligence is fixed, and that the "elite" have a lock on it.

Has Murray read the UCLA study that showed the people of higher incomes were more likely to cheat, drive aggressively, and show other types of unethical behavior than the Lower or Middle Classes? Why does he ignore that most "White Collar" crime has low penalties, and crime prevalent in "Fishtown" has high penalties? Also, if the elites are so intelligent, why did they drive the country over a cliff in 2008? Because they are so innately bright and ethical? In my 35 years in Aerospace, and at the same time working with the homeless, I have come in contact with people from both sides of the fence. The mostly sleazy underhanded monsters I have met are those from the "elite" communities. The poor know they when they are being sleazy. The rich are blind to their sin and criminality. That is the main difference.

If you want to deceive your readers (and maybe yourself), then throw in a lot of statistics to "prove" your point. As a person from "Fishtown" with an alcoholic mother, and parents with no degrees, I guess I should have gotten stuck there. Two Engineering degrees later, a successful career in Aerospace, and additional awards later, I have one comment.

So glad I didn't read this trash when I was young. I might not have bothered.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dona decker
In Coming Apart (2012), Charles Murray examines America’s increasing class division and contends it threatens what he calls the “American project.” The book avoids potentially distracting issues peripheral to the larger argument by focusing on non-hispanic white America, but, as Murray shows toward the end of the book, his findings regarding class stratification hold true with other groups as well. Murray acknowledges class divisions earlier in American history, but thinks that the current upper and lower classes are vastly different than what they used to be, and separated from each other as never before. Murray’s analysis is hardly all gloom and doom. The rise of the wealthy cognitive elite he examines bodes well for America’s continued prospects as a world power and has enriched American life in many ways. However, Murray warns that the “American project”-the country’s generally libertarian heritage and the once vibrant civic culture that maintained it-is under threat, especially for the increasingly dysfunctional lower class. Murray thinks the problems he articulates are too profound for silver bullet policy solutions; only serious cultural change might possibly enable the renewal of the American project. Murray seeks to do his part by helping to start a thousand conversations. His book is intended to win a hearing from the widest possible audience, and thus proceeds on the assumption that the nature of the problem is primary, while the causes and solutions-more controversial in nature-are secondary. So, one need not share all of Murray’s intellectual and political commitments in order to find this book extremely thought provoking and valuable.

Murray argues a new upper class has emerged that is qualitatively different than any America has known. As brainpower became more marketable and lucrative over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, and as elite colleges beginning in the 1950’s were transformed so as to become magnets for cognitive ability, educational and work environments arose in which a critical mass of smart people were able to spend time together, forge a common culture, amass great wealth, get married to one another, pass their advantages (including brainpower) to their children, and isolate themselves from the rest of the population to a degree unknown to previous generations. Robert Reich’s phrase “the secession of the successful” is an apt description Murray utilizes for what has occurred.

Of course, the new elite wields enormous influence over the country. Murray makes a distinction between the tiny “narrow elite”-which runs the country’s politics, economics and culture, largely from 4 centers, DC, NYC, LA, and SF-and the “broad elite” which is also very influential and more dispersed, basically the 1%. Murray thinks that though America is in some ways very well served by the meritocracy that has come into being, the current elites are increasingly out of touch with how others live. They know little about “fly over country,” and as the isolated elite perpetuates itself generationally in its enclaves, their ignorance about the rest of the country only deepens. Ironically, though in a real sense America has created a cognitive meritocracy, real social mobility has declined over time because of homogamy. The elite-largely liberal in orientation, of course- is profoundly stratified from the rest of society, considers itself inherently superior to other Americans, and feels greater affinity with elite counterparts from around the globe rather than with fellow citizens. All this is a result not of some sort of sinister plot or of monstrous greed, but of powerful social trends.

In order to help make sense of changes in lower class America, Murray extensively compares and contrasts working class Fishtown, comprising the bottom 30% of the population, with upper middle class Belmont, comprising roughly the top 20%.

Murray examines data relating to “virtues” such as marriage, religion, industriousness and honesty with the considered understanding that family, faith, vocation and community are the pillars out of which a “good life” is constructed. He finds that since 1960, Fishtown has taken a nosedive, becoming less flourishing and more dysfunctional. Upper class Belmont took a hit on many indices in the 60’s and 70’s, but has since rallied and stabilized. So the upper middle class is doing fine, but the lower class has fallen on hard times, and is struggling to maintain the ability to perpetuate its communities. (The 50% of the population sandwiched between Belmont and Fishtown demonstrates trend lines not as bad as Fishtown, but not as good as Belmont. Serious social deterioration is not limited to Fishtown.)

Though I have long had Coming Apart on my “to read” list, I actually took the plunge as I heard several commentators mention its relevance to thinking about the recent US Presidential election. Though Murray’s work is not really focused on conventional politics, his explanation of class trends obviously helps frame the 2016 election cycle, with working class whites (and those just a step above) who felt they had little to lose and that America was on the wrong track revolting against a globally oriented, self conscious elite represented by a political establishment in both parties out of touch with the lives and hardships of their countrymen.

Since the issues of trade and immigration resonated strongly with Trump supporters, it is worth mentioning that some of Murray’s findings seem to pour cold water on the notion that things would get a whole lot better in lower class white America even if Trump somehow managed to bring back jobs and drastically limit illegal immigration. Marriage statistics, which Murray points out show just how vital marriage is for raising kids, also show-says Murray-that marriage is a critical factor in ensuring male industriousness, and that the precipitous decline of marriage in Fishtown does more to explain the decline in lower class male participation in the labor force than do jobs that are outsourced or diminished wages brought about by a labor market flooded with foreigners. (Of course, even if Murray is right about this one might retort that plenty of workers and individuals are hurt by trade and immigration trends, regardless of whatever other dynamics might be depressing working class America.) Speaking of immigration, Murray also points to the social science findings of Robert Putnam showing how ethnic heterogeneity works against social trust in communities, not only between ethnic groups but within these groups. Though Murray is no enemy of ethnic heterogeneity, he uses these findings to suggest a possible added dimension to the breakdown of a sense of community in many American locales over the last several decades. In terms of the 2016 election, such social science arguments provide support for the view that the decades-long open borders orthodoxy of the Democrats and establishment Republicans was bound eventually to provoke a reaction. (Relatedly, Bill Galston has recently pointed out that the level of foreign born in the US at the time of Trump’s victory is about 14%, which is remarkably close to the 15% that existed at the time of the hardline 1924 Immigration Act. These numbers and the political reaction that accompanied them are for Galston hardly coincidental.)

Murray was no fan of Trump’s rise, and Coming Apart shows a libertarian distrust of big government not entirely shared by the President-elect of 2016. (It should be noted here that Murray himself thinks that liberal social policy was the biggest cause of the decline of Fishtown.) Toward the end of Coming Apart Murray articulates his dissatisfaction with a European style welfare model that “assumes that human needs can be disaggregated when it comes to choices about public policy.” He thinks the European welfare state provides a cautionary example America should avoid rather than emulate; he thinks the world of science is destroying many intellectual assumptions underpinning the welfare state; he thinks there is a viable alternative to the welfare state elaborated in another book of his entitled In Our Hands; and ultimately he hopes for a cultural shift, a 4th Great Awakening that may help Americans better focus on the conditions of human flourishing in order to identify and overcome current problems in a way that transcends political partisanship.

In terms of cultural observations, Murray thinks the current American upper class is in some ways acting like Toynbee’s “dominant minority,” having lost a certain amount of self confidence and self control as reflected by their taking fashion cues from below and their increasingly unseemly behavior that has implications for our civic culture. Murray is perhaps most focused on their unwillingness to impose norms. Murray doesn’t think much of what he calls the “ecumenical niceness” of the upper class, and thinks they should do a better job preaching what they practice.

He says this because Belmont is healthier than Fishtown when looking at faith, family, vocation, and community, and could do a lot of good by simply promoting the practices that clearly work for them. Fair enough. However, I think Murray’s cultural criticism fails to engage a very important issue. To begin with, Belmont is a larger population segment than the powerful narrow and broad elites that set the tone; these elites seem less religious than the Belmont crowd generally, and are often loudly anti-religious. The narrow and broad elite are also certainly willing to impose their progressive values on others through politically correct coercion, backed by the power of the institutions they control, which complicates Murray’s characterization of the upper class as ecumenically nice and unwilling to impose norms. Murray himself points out that the ecumenical niceness of the upper class does not extend to the white working class, religious traditionalists, and political opponents-since the narrow and broad elite is so liberal, political opponents largely means conservatives-but he does little with this information other than note it in passing. This is a serious omission. Murray is well aware that politics can bend culture, and it would seem obvious that a restoration of the American project necessarily involves standing up to and discrediting the politically correct elite crowd that is trying to socially engineer a globalized community of the “tolerant.” Returning to the recent election, I think Donald Trump’s victory cannot be adequately understood without taking into consideration a revolt against political correctness and the related fear of a liberal majority Supreme Court, a fear that has been especially heightened as defenders of religious liberty have put on the defensive in the aftermath of the Obergefell ruling. However, control of the Supreme Court just didn’t seem like a particularly salient issue for never-Trumpers like Murray (else they wouldn’t have remained never-Trumpers in the general election), and I’m not entirely sure why. If Trump’s victory eventually helps to undermine the power of the cultural left in a decisive way (admittedly a tall order), then perhaps one day Murray might come to see Trump’s victory on balance as helping rather than hindering the renewal of the American project.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
brian rubinton
"It is pleasant to lead a glossy life but ultimately more rewarding--and more fun--to live a `textured' life"

Our world has become a dangerous place. Look at news stories from the last few years, or from any point in the last century, and you'll see unsettling images: the Cold War, Vietnam, Riots, Dysfunctional Cities, Financial Meltdown, Crime. And everything seems more precarious today, doesn't it? As recent events show us, for example, we really are running out of government money; and we really do see people who wish to destroy us, and they've tried. How did we get here?

Charles Murray, a social scientist whose books always seem to start debates, sees two things that explain our dilemma, and one more that suggests a way out. First, America is run by a "cognitive elite" that is completely insulated from daily life in America. Second, a growing underclass in America has been produced by attacks on marriage and other civic virtues. To avoid charges of racial bias, Murray concentrates on white America, hence the subtitle of the book. The trends he describes, however, apply to all. Finally, and hopefully, it is religiosity that will lead us to yet another comeback, something we've done before in our national history.

The Division. Social science is a thicket of surveys and dense academic studies. Finding a way through this mass of material requires a worthy guide. Fortunately, Murray is as accurate as a GPS when it comes to data and its interpretation. We all know our society is divided, but how seriously? Murray clarifies the vastness of the split by looking at two actual places: Belmont (a tony suburb of Boston) and Fishtown (an old urban neighborhood in Philadelphia). Differences between the citizens of these two areas can be applied to all Americans, so that "Belmont" and "Fishtown" become handy organizing ideas for the entire country. People from the two cohorts might as well be living in different civilizations.

What force has split us so sharply? Simply put: college. Specifically, the process of qualifying for our elite schools, emphasizing as it does test scores and higher-level thinking, has sorted people by intelligence. Students in elite colleges a half century ago were similar in intelligence to the general college population. Family money and connections counted, and these students met and married one another; money married money. Today brains are marrying brains at the elite schools. And since people tend to live together with people who are similar, and since brainpower makes the big money, this cognitive elite has congregated in elite places like New York, San Francisco, Washington DC.

The Virtues. We didn't always live this way. As recently as the 1950s, Americans believed in four commonsense virtues: Marriage, Industriousness, Honesty, and Religiosity. Failure to practice these virtues wasn't unusual, but it was generally understood that such a failure was immoral, and was therefore frowned upon. Through ingenious use of available social scientific evidence, Murray demonstrates that the success of people in the "Belmont" group has depended on their continuing to practice the four virtues, especially marriage. As a corollary, "Fishtowners" have paid the price in chaotic lives and deteriorating neighborhoods of a loss of these virtues, and especially marriage.

So, as we noted at the beginning, the world is a dangerous place; following Charles Murray through the evidence tells us that it's getting even worse. At this point the reader pauses, expecting a description of things that will save us. In fact, Murray does suggest two possible scenarios for the future: either All is Lost (though it will take a while before civilization collapses completely) or America will re-assert herself in a new Great Awakening. That's it: there are no policy suggestions, no strategies, no to-do lists. This is a disappointment at first, since Murray has been so thorough in his diagnosis, we expect to hear about the cure. In fact, the author, a committed Libertarian, is following Libertarian principles. Renewal must come from within, and from the people. Government can be of now help in this crisis; in fact, Government has done much to make things as bad as they are.

In this Murray is very much an Old Testament prophet, and the two choices he describes are common in Judeo-Christian history: ignore impending doom until the enemy arrives, or come back to the true worship of God. Since the first option will only stall the disaster, we should look at the historical record of Great Awakenings in American History.

There have been three Great Awakenings, one in the 18th Century and two in the 19th. The American Revolution was a result of the first, Temperance and Women's Suffrage came from the second, the New Deal and Civil Rights from the third. These Awakenings were the result of the special place of religious practice American life. From the beginning, the American project was seen in biblical terms. God has chosen nations before to do his will, and America is such a chosen nation. Murray has treated Religiosity mainly as a set of behaviors, not as a source of principles for living. Attending worship services and otherwise practicing one's religion, is not like other activities, however. Religion, founded as it is on the principle that there is a God, and that this God is active in human affairs, speaks deeply about the dignity of people and the need for freedom in human life. Murray, wisely in this reviewer's view, does not discuss anything deeper about religious faith, except that that we should "preach what we practice" when it comes to the virtues.

Coming Apart ends with a statement by Murray that this will be his valedictory book. A prophet brings a message; people who hear the message must decide what to do next. Thanks to this serious book and its truthful author, the message is clear: "glossy" is out, "textured" is in.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The last chapter, entitled "Alternative Futures," sounds a note of optimism. All that we need is for America's elites to recognize the problem, come to their senses, and set things straight. Right. As if Murray has not been futilely expounding this message for the past 40 years. He cites Robert Fogel's "The Fourth Great Awakening" as an inspiration for his optimism. America has overcome crises of the spirit in the past, after we lost first the Puritan spirituality, then the secular sense of mission which fueled our independence, then the crisis of the depression which was answered by the New Deal and the welfare state. Fogel argues that today's crisis is a want of meaning in our lives. Murray believes we can reestablish it.

Murray says that there are only about four fundamental personal characteristics undergirding a happy life. The ones he names are two character traits: honesty and industry, and two societal connections: meaningful relationships with one's fellow man, and a satisfying marriage. He provides another, overlapping list of four elements that have historically defined American society which he calls the four founding virtues: industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity. He goes into some length presenting sociological surveys that demonstrate the importance and the interconnectedness of these characteristics to personal happiness, and their importance to the well-being of society. If only we could recover them, all would be well.

The backbone of his book is a comparison between two hypothetically constructed communities, Fishtown and Belmont. They are based on real places, predominantly white neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Boston respectively, with incomes at the 8th and 97th national percentiles. They exemplify the directions taken by subsets of white America as we are, in the words of his title, "Coming Apart." In constructing his abstract communities he excludes minorities and people outside the age range of 30-49. He goes on to describe how these communities have evolved over the past half-century.

Fortune has put me in a good position to judge the accuracy of his characterization. I am a few months older than Murray and spent my 25 year marriage in Bethesda, one of the Belmont like suburbs of Washington DC, not far from Murray himself, with a wife who was born in the actual Fishtown and some of whose family remained spiritually anchored there. That gave me time on both sides of the tracks. Moreover, I started out that way - in a blue-collar neighborhood close to Berkeley, where my classmates and intellectual peers were definitely Belmont types.

One of the things I enjoyed about the book was Murray's 20 questions to help an Overeducated Elitist Snob (OES) such as almost everybody who's going to be reading this book determine how well, if at all, they know the "real America" where 80 percent of white people live. By virtue of my blue-collar neighborhood and my Army service, experience is that younger men simply don't have, I scored a respectable 41 on his test, placing me well in the category of those with the most experience with the real America. The shock was how low you can go on his scale... how totally out of touch my Bethesda ex-neighbors could be with the country their governing. I knew this intellectually, but Murray brings it home.

Back to the story, in 1960 Fishtown was a very Catholic neighborhood in which the men worked, the women stayed home, and the kids went to Catholic school. My ex-wife was one of them. What they considered to be social problems were excess drinking, quite a bit of it, fistfights and a bit of philandering. Young people, however, knew what was expected of them. They got married, before or after becoming pregnant, and provided families for kids. It was a moral expectation that was generally observed. People had responsibilities and took them seriously. They did not accept welfare, they answered the call when they were drafted, and they participated in church and civic organizations.

Fishtown in 2010 is a very different place. People simply don't feel an obligation to either work or get married. There are many never married people, and many out of wedlock children. A lot of the guys are just bums - don't work, don't want to work, don't want to get married, and waste their time watching television. An inordinately large number have figured how to game the system by qualifying for Social Security disability. Their attitude is that work is for chumps. Quite a few of them have drinking and drug problems, but Murray does not consider these disabilities to be nearly as important as the lack of any of the four foundations in their lives. No more religion, no social connections with the community, either no marriage or an unsatisfactory marriage, and no vocation.

Murray, a longtime libertarian, claims that intrusive, European-style government has taken away the need for these four virtues and undermined the people who attempt to practice them. Kids don't need a father if the government provides money and social workers. Men don't need work if the government gives them handouts. Social connections aren't important if there's nothing really to be done improving the place.

Murray claims that the state of affairs in Belmont is much better. People work hard, get married, stay married, are resolutely and obsessively concerned with their children, and are involved in community. More than that, counterintuitively, they are more involved in church than are the people remaining in Fishtown. They may not believe the dogmas, but they understand the social value of belonging.

What has changed in Belmont is the conviction that the set of virtues they practice really ought to be preached. Belmont now believes totally in moral relativism. If somebody else doesn't want to remain married to his kids' mother, doesn't want to work, or spends all of his money on drink and drugs and all of his time watching TV, they're not going to be judgmental. That's somebody else's life.

Another thing that has changed in Belmont is their acceptance of lower-class culture. A Belmont mother will not prevent her daughter from dressing like a hooker, using gutter language picked up from rap music, or swearing like a sailor. There is not a sense that "Belmont girls don't do that." Also out the door are old-fashioned morality, the idea that you shouldn't seduce girls when they're drunk, cheat on tests, or tell the clerk at McDonald's if he gives you too much change. People just don't have a sense of seemliness anymore. Kids can wear the most outrageous clothes, and their parents can take the most outrageous bonuses from their companies, and rich people can take inappropriate and undeserved handouts from the government without blushing in the slightest.

Murray makes a few huge oversights. Race is one. White people are everybody's least favorite ethnicity. We get called anti-Semites and racists, and are constantly backpedaling in the face of accusations from Hispanics and overwhelmed by the sheer intellect and industry of the Asians. Even in the unlikely event we were to resist in the ways he advocates, society would still sweep us along its unfortunate path. Another oversight is education. All sectors of society are being worse educated year-by-year, Belmont, Fishtown, and most especially the black and Hispanic groups he doesn't mention. The educational system seems dedicated, whether by design or sheer ineptitude, to destroying religion, fostering dependence on government, and stultifying personal industry and ambition. Oh, and it goes out of its way to denigrate anything in American history of which white people might be proud.

My Puritan forefathers hoped to establish a country in which the four founding virtues - industry, honesty, religion and marriage - might flourish. It worked for a few centuries, but now appears to be hopelessly broken. I do not think it is possible within any country. Murray himself relates Toynbee's description of the way in which every great empire contains the seeds of its own destruction. I would advocate that each individual leave countries out of the equation as they seek the best future their family. Find a community - Mormons would be a good place to look - where civic virtues are still in evidence. Find a way to educate your family - homeschooling looks good - to shield them from the propaganda and the mediocrity of the public system. Find a religious community of like-minded people. And do not be afraid to look the world over to find these things - America may no longer be the place.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Several years ago I took a trip from Lawrence, Kansas to Dallas, Texas by bus. It was a grueling ride. But it was enlightening. I encountered a side of America very different from my everyday experience.

Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 is a book about class differences. Just as my bus ride was an immersion in another dimension of American life, Coming Apart is an excursion through two different Americas. Murray argues that the rift separating upper and lower classes is more pronounced and markedly different than ever before. Whereas America once may have been divided primarily among racial or economic lines, today there is a vast difference in cultural experience, outlook, values, and behavior. While Murray's presentation relies heavily on data, his message is communicated clearly through narrative illustrations rooted in the histories of two communities: Belmont and Fishtown. In Belmont, a strong majority is college educated. Fishtown, by contrast, is populated by highly skilled blue collar workers like plumbers and machinists, and low-skilled laborers, like security guards, delivery truck drivers, and people who work on the dock.

In Part II of this book, Murray moves beyond a robust definition of the new upper and lower classes and offers an analysis of specific virtues: Marriage, Industriousness, Honesty, and Religiosity. Murray selects these virtues for a historical reason. In 1825, a German academic named Francis Grund observed that America's form of government and a public adherence to common morals was the strength of the American experiment, and that the two were both interrelated and indivisible. In Grund's opinion, "no government could be established on the same principle as that of the United States, with a different code of morals." Murray believes "Grund's observation about the United States at the end of its first century would not have surprised the founders." Murray argues that marriage, industriousness, honesty, and religiosity are best referred to as "the founding virtues." These virtues permeated early American society, and thus constituted a firm social fabric.

Reading Murray's definition of these virtues and his application to Belmont and Fishtown is a strong example of social science that illumines, and the conclusions are of great concern. Through careful analysis of zip codes fitting the profiles of Belmont and Fishtown, Murray demonstrates how marriage, first, is in decline. A higher percentage of people in both Belmont and Fishtown have never married, but more disturbing is the gap between those in the upper and lower classes. Whereas in the 1960s, between 4% and 5% of those in Fishtown and approximately 8% in those in Belmont remained single (a difference of 4%), in 2010, 8% of those in Fishtown and nearly 24% of those in Belmost have never married, yielding a gap of 16%. Murray also analyzes relative happiness in marriage, birth rate, divorce rate, and family stability. The news isn't good. Applying similar analysis to the other Founding Virtues, Murray demonstrates that the growing divide in American culture and society should not only be a concern for those sympathetic to the political left, but should be of great concern for social conservatives.

Lastly, in his conclusion, Murray explains what difference the current social divide makes, arguing that American community is collapsing in places like Fishtown, evidenced, for example, by significant decreases in level of participation in public life (voting, decreased interest in children's public education, political involvement and knowledge of government, friendships with neighbors). He also argues that a decrease in the founding virtues correlates with an overall decrease in reported happiness, and concludes that the American project, as a whole, is in jeopardy.

As a pastor and a cultural observer, I found that Murray's analysis matched my own anecdotal experiences of interacting with the public. Religious institutions, in some pockets, have served as excellent places for those with different vocations, socio-economic backgrounds, and political affiliations to share in common worship and work together towards common objectives, for the common good. But in the communities I have served, I have seen increased polarization and fragmentation, at the same time. This means many things for public life, and poses a challenge for churches and other religious groups to transcend this divide, offering a common vocabulary for virtue and morality, the strengthening of marriage and the family, and cooperation across natural affinities arising from education and class.

I recommend this book. It is compelling social science, and the conclusions are deeply challenging. Thoughtful people should read what is here, and carefully consider both what Murray's argument means for public life, and also for daily personal and familial disciplines that might reverse, or at least stem, these disturbing trends.

Note: I received a copy of Coming Apart in exchange for a review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I've been trying to understand more clearly the various dimensions and aspects of poverty (and wealth) in the U.S. This book was very helpful. I had just finished J.D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy," which in many ways explores the same issue but using narrative rather (for the most part) economic and sociological analysis. This book is heavy on analysis and I found that helpful.

Chapter 6 on the Founding Virtues was quite intriguing to me. I'll use that material when I teach American history this year. It was helpful to reflect on this material--the importance of "Industriousness," "Honesty," "Marriage," and "Religiosity" as virtues in the eyes of the founders and in the nineteenth century Republic. And for us today.

To me this book is a good complement to "Hillbilly Elegy." Having read both, I have greater confidence in discussing these issues with others and talking about them with our local elected political leaders.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
brad gray
One of the more frequently discussed issues during the recent election was income inequality within the United States. While there is little dispute that the disparity between high income earners and low income earners is growing, there is also little agreement as to the causes behind that disparity and the solutions to resolve the situation. Into the debate wades Charles Murray with his book, Coming Apart. In the book, Murray argues that income inequality is symptomatic of larger changes that have transformed American society in a relatively short period of time. Murray contends that dependence on government social programs and a self-segregation tendency by highly-educated/high income individuals has led to a deterioration in American society that manifests itself (among other ways) though income inequality. Murray’s thesis is provocative. However, the research and methodology that he uses to back up his ideas is impeccable. Murray draws upon a wide variety of sources to clearly show that changes have occurred in the United States which have resulted in a society far different from that experienced by people just a couple of generations ago. The meticulous substantiation also provides credence to Murray’s speculations on the possible outcomes of these societal shifts.

Because of the long time span needed to identify societal trends, the tendency is not to notice the trend until its positive or detrimental effects are well underway. Due to his careful research and insightful analysis, Murray has brought into focus today what might have not been identified for several more years. The stunning level of scholarship on display within its pages makes Coming Apart a necessary resource in the national discussion on many of the societal issues facing the United States today.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
flint marko
The introduction gave me hope that Murray had written both a "very readable" book and one with a nice mix of statistics and decently-researched suppositions. However, after the first chapter where he readily admits that he "doesn't have much to add that Brooks and Florida haven't covered, I realized that I was in the midst of a big of a dissappointment.

While there are interesting points and comparisons for sure, the book seemed rather hastily written and edited. As a number geeks, I found the presentation of the data at times confusing and had to remember what again the author was comparing. After 70 pages, I just started skimming throughout - since as others have written - the data though relatively accurate and supporting provided too shallow of a story with the author's thesis. Did I miss who came up with the quiz? It was more funny than science - and believe me, there is much regional bias to whether or not people go to Applebee's or watch PBS.

From an overall perspective, what I thought an analysis of the impact of high income woman on the economic outcomes of lower income men. And he does play way too heavily into the "lazy people" thesis - which is actually often related to health/illness. The failure to address the rise of substance abuse among "Fishtown" residents is also very lacking - although I guess it fits his "immoral" ways thesis.

I will re-read some parts again - but for some reason it began to bore me surprisingly.
It did make me want to read David Brooks.

It continues to amaze me how many people lament the lack of morals and decline of the "hard-work" ethic among some american subpopulations while pretending that the decades they yearn for provided a different kind of compact - one that more readily provided a higher wage and higher status for males is they remained upstanding. G.B.Shaw reminded us 100 years ago that "a little money makes a more moral" - money and moraility interact as a bell curve - too much or too little - no morality - which is what the country currently is experiencing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
holly merrigan
So many parts of the books early chapters are riveting and supported by data selected to support the conundrum of our way of life. We can all see ourselves in this book even if we would like to be beyond its thesis. For once we do not blame our circumstances on racial profiling....however we do slip into a dissection that believes we control our future, we do not live a part of a global world and market, we can hope our way out of it, and that Americans are the ONLY exceptional people in the world. The book speaks to regaining our values without acknowledging that our values were built on colonialism, imperialism, acceptance of minority views if they were kept to themselves, and greed. The book seems to advocate Christian fundamentalism as the basis to American exceptionalism, when it was religious diversity and occasionally unfettered immigration that seems to have been more profound in the success of the American project. Fascinating read however .
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dries dries
Charles Murray's recent book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960 -- 2010" (2012) describes what he terms in a Wall Street Journal essay, "The New American Divide". The divide is an America based upon class. It has, for Murray, resulted in a nation which has forgotten itself. Murray believes that the United States was founded on a distinctive set of values, which he calls the "American project". He describes the project and the "exceptionalism" it created early in the book as follows:

"The American project... consists of the continuing effort, begun with the founding, to demonstrate that human beings can be left free as individuals and families to live their lives as they see fit, coming together voluntarily to solve their joint problems. The polity based on that idea led to a civic culture that was seen as exceptional by all the world. That culture was so widely shared among Americans that it amounted to a civil religion. To be an American was to be different from other nationalities, in ways that Americans treasured. That culture is unravelling."

Murray is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and an idiosyncratic and provocative writer who describes himself as a libertarian. The divide he sees is between a new American upper class of highly educated, intelligent, and influential individuals in the fields of law, science, medicine, executives, and shapers of opinion on the one hand and almost everyone else on the other hand. The dividing line for creation of class is, he argues, the early 1960s, or more precisely the date of the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22,1963. The assassination led to the "Great Society", the expansion of the role of government, and the transformation of American life in ways that, for Murray, were not always for the better.

With the transformation, Murray argues, the United States began to find a way to utilize its intellectual talent and to put smart people in high positions. But the elite members of the society have turned in upon themselves. They tend to socialize and work in a closed group, live in the same expensive communities, and separate themselves from everyone else. They have little understanding of or personal relationships with the majority of their fellow citizens.

Murray contrasts what he argues is an American elite with the people at the opposite end of the culture who have, at best, a high school education. The people in this group, high school graduates or below, were once a large majority but their numbers have dwindled. Murray claims that beyond the elite,most Americans suffer from a loss of the cardinal American virtues which he says are industriousness, marriage, religiosity, and honesty. His presentation makes great use of statistics together with argument and interpretation.

Murray takes two ideal types: a community called Belmont, consisting of the top twenty percent of Americans in terms of education and work (in the high prestige professions) an a community called Fishtown, consisting of people with a high school education or less who work in service jobs, either blue or white collar. While Belmont has retained a substantial degree of consistency from 1960 to the present in terms of the four American virtues, Fishtown has deteriorated markedly. The deterioration results in part from the breakdown of families, single parent households, lack of stable remunerative employment for the men, reduced community spirit and more. The factors Murray identifies apply outside of Fishtown to a greater or lesser degree, creating a continuuum between that community and the more elite community of Belmont. The deterioration of community, for Murray, is creating a divided, dispirited United States with an increasing number of lonely, unhappy, isolated people.

Murray's account draws on extensive statistical analysis and on writers ranging from Aristotle to de Tocqueville to Robert Putnam's book, "Bowling Alone". To some extent, the book also asks its readers, who are presumed to be from the highly educated class, to examine their own experiences. The limitation of the subtitle of the book to "white" Americans remains confusing. Murray claims that the limitation is intended to show that the determinative divisions in the United States are class rather than race based. In any event, in a late chapter of the book, Murray expands the statistical base of his book to cover Americans regardless of race. This broadening does not change Murray's statistics significantly or his conclusions.

Although Murray claims he is primarily interested in describing a serious problem rather than proposing a solution, in the final section of the book he offers some possibilities for change. He points out that his description of the problem could (and has) been accepted by people at different points of the political spectrum who would each see the possible solutions differently. Murray distinguishes between the possible approaches of social democrats, social conservatives, and libertarians. Murray's own brief comments are libertarian with what seems to me a substantial amount of social conservatism. Broadly speaking Murray argues that since the 1960's the growth of the welfare state has deprived individuals of the opportunity to make choices with their lives and to reap the rewards of their decisions. He is critical of the European welfare states and points to their current economic woes. For Murray, the solution to the growing problems of class and deterioration of values will require many decisions by individual people to reverse a trend, particularly among the educated class, rather than a large-scale government program.

Murray has written a lively, thoughtful, and troubling book. I found it valuable to engage with the problem he identifies. This book is highly worth reading even for those readers who do not share Murray's libertarian approach.

Robin Friedman
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
carrie blair
This is a fascinating report on the changes in white American society over the last few decades. Murray depicts two groups, the well-off, well-educated white Americans he refers to as living in "Belmont," and the less well-educated and less affluent "Fishtown" residents. He ruthlessly cites statistic after statistic, with careful qualifications on the various studies' limitations, indicating Fishtown residents are becoming more dependent on government benefits, have more broken families, more out of wedlock pregnancies, and less work ethic (especially the men), while Belmont families did well and continue to do well. His descriptions of the deterioration of Fishtowners are are detailed and interesting, though towards the end of the book, he does not provide many suggestions on how to improve things, how to get back to America's original values and ethics (though the implication is we should, he does not specifically come out and say so)

I "read" this as an audiobook (excellent reader) and will be getting a hard copy too as a back-up, for ease of mark-ups and cross-referencing. I recommend this for readers interested in non-fiction scholarly analysis of trends in American families and cultural values. This is much more complicated than a "one-percenters vs. the rest of us" analysis. I have heard Murray speak, and although a great intellect, he is understandably a controversial figure, which explains some of the negative reviews
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Crown Publishing recently furbished a complementary copy of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray in exchange for an honest book review. Murray takes a look using statistics at what has become of new upper class and the new lower class. It is not our imaginations that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; I am not referring just to economics. The new class divisions are shaping American culture without a shadow of a doubt. The striking polarity between the new upper class and new lower class is blatantly clear and increasingly further apart.

Before the 1960s class distinction was not a matter of life. Sure there were classes, but the lifestyle of those classes was not nearly so different as in modern times. Unless you were part of the old wealth, your next door neighbor though they may have earned a more handsome annual salary was not going to live a life that different from yours. So, why the change? What has been the catalyst to widening polarity? According to Murray, the upper new class has been born out of four factors: demand for brain power, wealth, the college sorting machine and homogamy- think "like attracts like" and then they breed.

The new lower class is suffering as more children are born out of wedlock, raised in single-parent homes and live in areas where the collapse of the American way of life is most predominantly seen. Murray then goes onto show how at the heart of the American way lies marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity. With a plethora of charts and graphs the readers will find the numbers disheartening and unfortunately a fairly clear picture of what is occurring in America will emerge. In the last part of Coming Apart he surmises what our future may hold as a nation.

Let me point out that the title Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 may be a tad misleading. It is not a racist or biased look at the American population. However, Murray looks at the statistics of the white population, as they are used as the reference point in other studies that compare white rates to those of other people groups. Later, he does add in other ethnicities and the numbers are startlingly almost identical in the charts.

From the very first page Murray had my attention. Every chapter stood alone as interesting and readable, piquing my curiosity and stimulating many questions. It is a rather long book in the sense that you cannot and should not gloss over the pages quickly. All 300-plus pages are chock full of information that is necessary to digest the gist of the book. With that said, my review certainly cannot do this volume justice. I realized there is a certain dichotomy we live with every day, though in our own bubbles it is easy and may be best to overlook it. Coming Apart points out the dichotomy and dissects it into understandable bits. Coming Apart is a book that can open your eyes to the divergence of the American population so that you may have a better understanding of what is happening in your own country and community at large.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
shelly lawter
This book is simply wonderful. Murray is a libertarian (quite different from a liberal, by the way), but he keeps his political persuasion out of the book until the last couple of chapters.

Don't be misled by the book's subtitle ("The State of White America, 1960-2010"): he focuses on that cross-section only because he refuses to look back at historical data that is too sketchy or unreliable. Demographics and survey information is credible for this cross-section, but not for Blacks or Hispanics. Toward the end of the book, however, he convincingly argues that his conclusions can be extended to the entire US population. Read the book, and you're very likely to agree with his reasoning.

He builds up his thesis methodically, backing up his points by meticulous attention to what demographic and survey data he deems credible. I don't agree with him on every point, but I am convinced that his bottom line assessment of what's gone wrong - and why - is right on the money. I hope liberals/progressives, conservatives and independents will read this book with open minds. I agree with Murray's contention that the American Project (as he calls it) is well on the way to failing. He argues that there are two main paths open to us - a status quo, "give-up" path (with catastrophic consequences), and a transformation of attitude path...which is primarily up to the thin cross-section of the most influential people in the nation: they are the only ones that are capable of leading the transformation, but to do so, they will have to become aware that it's in their own interest as well as the nation's interest.

I am persuaded by his careful reasoning: his conclusions resonate deeply within me, and I hope they will be with a critical mass of readers as well.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jenny zhi cheng
Murray's book summarizes the decline of the white American lower class. The statistics shared cannot be questioned and certainly appear prescient in the tea party/Trump era. However, his larger societal analysis seems to largely be fixated on a nuclear, religious, stay at home mother family and provide little relative comparison of the United States to rudderless, heathen states in Western Europe (my exaggeration of his characterization). The limitations of his stats and the nostalgia shown for an era where women could not meaningfully ascend professionally and blacks/latinos/asians among other non white groups could not always ensure their survival and safety is a blind spot too large to ignore. Why were nuclear families dismantled? Did the USA need to incarcerate exponentially more people and was it really a moral collapse? What impact did the persistence of unjust policies have on people's ability to trust one another and the system and contribute to society? His statistical display begs these questions, but his libertarian analysis largely avoids any meaningful resolution. He should have been vigorously ignored or repudiated and not turned into an academic campus free speech martyr, and I certainly don't condone the physical danger he was exposed to at Middlebury.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
marie botcher
I just read Charles Murray's "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010" so you don't have to. This book has gotten a lot of undeserved attention by the political cognoscenti. Murray takes a bunch of disparate data from the General Social Survey, combines it with anecdotal "field work" and his private "assumptions" -- wash, spin, dry -- and you get Belmont and Fishtown. Belmont consists of the "cognitive elite" who selectively breed in concentrated, isolated pockets of education, influence and commensurate affluence. Fishtown contains those indiscriminate, unmarried breeders and their good-fer-nothin' boyfriends who together live lives of impoverished and unenlightened desperation. According to Murray, back in the good old Happy Days, we all use to live in "FishMont" (I made up the name), where wealthy people drove used cars and smiled at the janitors who rejoiced in their work. This, my friends, is Murray's version of the "American Project," the virtues of which can be restored if the Belmonters would just humble on down to Fishtown and shake their collective fingers of shame at the exploding degradation. My recommendation: skip the book and buy tickets to "Bye Bye Birdie," "The Music Man," or "Guys and Dolls"; same story, better entertainment.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
bob foulkes
I know Mr. Murray didn't mean to be a downer with this book, but it sort of depressed me. I guess his most famous book, Losing Ground, isn't a ray of sunshine either, but man, his take on the state of the U.S. is bleak. In Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Murray traces the precipitous decline of the cultural values that made America what it is.

Murray identifies four founding virtues, based on his observations and writings from the first century of life in the U.S.: marriage, industriousness, honesty, and religiosity. These virtues provide the substance of community life and create an atmosphere in which the American way of life can continue. He then demonstrates, through a variety of surveys and secondary sources, that over the five decades from 1960 to 2010, these values have all been in decline. Further, he separates the data into two groups: college-educated, upper-income whites, and working class whites with a high-school education or less. (He does not include other races in his analysis; I think he wanted to avoid some of the flak he got from The Bell Curve.)

What troubles Murray is this: these two groups are more geographically separated than ever before. Not only that, but the separation in their exercise of the four virtues has grown tremendously. While in 1960 there may have been a little difference between the two, in most cases the differences are vast now. Furthermore, in an observation reminiscent of Theodore Dalrymple's theme in Life at the Bottom, Murray notes that, whereas in the past the lower classes looked to the upper classes for models of lifestyle and behavior, now, more and more, people from the upper classes take on the affectations and behaviors traditionally associated with lower classes.

Is there hope for America? Murray says, Of course! This is America, after all! We do have a major advantage: we are heading down the same road as Europe toward a total social welfare state. The advantage is that Europe is a at least a generation or two ahead of us, so as we watch their economic and social collapse in the coming decades (or maybe weeks!), we can attempt to avoid their mistakes. We also have a long tradition of civic involvement, which has never been seen to the same degree elsewhere. To the extent that we can keep that alive and expand it, we can turn things around.

I keep trying to buy into Murray's optimism, but I'm not so sure. I pray that my children will embrace the founding virtues. More specifically, I pray that I will live my life in such a way that they will see those virtues modeled. More broadly, I pray that our nation will again be a place where those virtues are seen among rich and poor alike. I mentioned that Losing Ground wasn't a ray of sunshine. However, it did serve as a spotlight, drawing attention to failed welfare policies, and was instrumental in the development of major, highly successful welfare reforms. Perhaps Coming Apart will likewise inspire a reformation of our culture.

Thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah for the free review copy of this book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
This was an interesting read with very good, maybe even outstanding, use of data mainly in the first 2/3rds of the volume. Regretably, the author switched from data-driven to dogma-driven mode toward the end, which is truly sad since he did hit many valid points before. Worth reading because of tge data-based part, but hold your nickers when his dogma kicks in. I borrowed this book from my public library, would recommend doing the same rather than spending money on it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
donna ludwig
Some people just can't seem to write badly, and Murray is one of those. He manages to sift through reams and reams of sociological statistics and data and, amazingly, make it all interesting. While I admit I occasionally skip over a few data-dense paragraphs, for the most part this is a highly readable book about a subject of great importance, i.e., the decline of what Murray calls America's "founding virtues"--industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion. Yes, the picture he paints is unpleasant--but he tries to keep an optimistic tone, and I applaud him for one of his statements near the end of the book: individually, the people who make messes of their lives may be reasonably decent people (and we all know some of them), but, collectively, they are doing immense harm to society, and I'm afraid I just can't be as optimistic as Murray is. Sadly, our love for "tolerance" and being "nonjudgmental" means that people who are lazy, dishonest, and incapable of personal commitment never meet with the disapproving stare that previous generations tried to avoid.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
"Coming Apart" sends up an intelligent analysis of America's contemporary culture. Focusing on the watershed shifts in American class since 1963, Murray outlines in excruciating detail the schism that American society has become. Although Murray's statistics only point to whites, his message may be archetypical for today’s American society at large.

Murray shows how the the top 20% of American white income earners share common traits: they generally hold college or graduate degrees and have jobs in knowledge-based occupations. Looking deeper, Murray shows how this group centers their lives around faith (specifically community worship), political and charitable community involvement, vocations (deriving meaning from hard work well done), and family (martial fidelity and the priority of raising children properly). Murray draws allusions of these four pillars back to the founding fathers' ideals for America. By contrast, the bottom 30% of income earners share the opposite traits: they most often have a high school diploma and a low wage job (or are unemployed). In this group, marriages are unstable, work ethic is weak, faith is unknown and children are not a priority for parents. This chasm between the two groups is reflected almost every aspect of their lives: the music each listens to, the politicians they elect, the movies and TV they watch, health of their bodies, even the types of beer they drink.

In the final chapters, Murray gives his prescription for healing this chasm. From his libertarian perspective, the fault lies in a well-meaning but over-obtrusive government. This entitlement state gives the lower class all basic needs: food, shelter, income. But these same actions strips citizens of the pride of providing it themselves. What Murray fails to recognize is that culture precedes politics....not the other way around. America has built a government to do this because the culture demands it. This makes the solution far more seismic than simply rolling back fifty years of political policies. A much more meaningful, and difficult cultural revival must take place first, and governmental policies will follow only afterwards.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jan farndale
If there was one thing that I took away from reading this book, it was the frightening statistic of the large percentage of people in the 18-49 age category who are not working and don't care they are not working. A perfect example of what happens when government is too generous with "free stuff". A few years ago I discussed welfare with a socialist friend and he defended it saying they are not getting rich on it and I responded they don't care, they are fine with what they are getting for free. 30 years ago I lost my job at age 35. I was scared to death of being out of the job market and wanted to find work as quick as I could. It shocks me to see many who just shrug off not having a job. Another point Charles Murray points out we do not criticize bad behavior, that is considered unacceptable as you hurt someone's feelings.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
rachel bobruff
Murray's Coming Apart examines a narrow subset, ethnic white Americans ( I suppose Canadians would fit here too), and examined how this particular culture has fractured over the last 50 years.

Being younger than 50, reading his statistical observations about life in America in 1960 are rather startling, if for no other reason than showing how things that seem normal now - the family break ups, the lack of mixing of people of different classes, the wide disparity in wealth and opportunity, were relatively rare then.

Murray's created definition's of the new and upper and lower classes breaks on reasons beyond economic opportunity and achievement, but also on cultural assumptions. For perhaps startlingly reasons that break contemporary prejudices, the fact that America's new upper class is more religious, has more intact families, and works harder, should be a wake up call to everyone who interacts with America's problems.

The first two sections of this book - the new Lower and Upper class are followed by a section on why these trends matter. I think this final section, after the very attention grabbing sections on this massive cultural divide, should cause a genuine starting point for interacting with this information. Though I do regard the third section as the weakest part of the book, because it does depart from Murray's analysis to more polemical suggestions about how America can change, with what he hopes would be a type of secular Great Awakening, though he doesn't really present a path forward for this to happen.

The audience for this book, for reasons that should seem self evident in the second section, are probably members of America's new upper class, and those that aspire to be. The vast mound of statistics, presented in a readable format, should help the reader see how the loss of real community and real interaction is actively hurting American life in some profound ways - from high government, foreign policy, to local neighborhoods.

As a starting point on where American (and Canadian) life is today, this book serves its purpose very well, and should be a serious wake up call.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
tess avelland
This is an uncomfortable and unsettling book. 90% descriptive and 10% prescriptive.

The descriptive part details exactly how and why the top 20% and the bottom 30% of white America have "come apart" - financially, educationally, culturally, geographically, recreationally (smoking, drinking and tv), even physically (in terms of average weight), etc. It is a sad tale, and much sadder for the 'bottom 30" than it is for the 'top 20."

It is a tale in which the US government is complicit because it has abetted the process whereby millions of Americans in the 'bottom 30' have been allowed and even encouraged to 'game' the system. becoming ever more adept accomplices in their government's willingness to make them more and more dependent on federal largesse.

In virtually every negative index, the 'bottom 30' has lost ground. They are less industrious, less educated, less ambitious, less married, less happy, less connected to their communities, less involved with their children. These are, of course, generalities, but the data is there for all to see.

As for the 'top 20%', they are increasingly segregated physically and psychologically into what Murray calls "the super zips," enclaves of high education, high income, and high ambition. As a generalization, these 'super zips' are populated by intelligent individuals, couples, and families whose daily lives diverge ever more sharply from those of the 'bottom 30.'

The book ends with a couple of chapters that pretend to be hopeful, but which are, in my opinion, barring a national catastrophe, unrealistic. Are the families that populate the 'super zips' going to change their ways of thinking and believing and acting? Hardly.

As a Bostonian transplanted here from my formative years in the Midwest (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota), I sense that the picture that Murray draws of America is more true of the Northeastern and Far Western states than it is of the midwest or south. But, at least in my opinion, he is dead right in his selection of the factors that increasingly divide America, namely, marriage, the family, industriousness, honestly, religiosity, etc.

A sad tale.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
alicia rambarran
Several thoughts come to mind-

First of all, Charles Murray was right to single out November 21st, 1963 as being the symbolic last day of the culture known as 'the nineteen fifties'. That date is an excellent jumping off point to examine all the social issues he wants to discuss.

He was also right to focus primarily on non-hispanic whites when zeroing in on widespread patterns trending towards social disorder and collapse.

This is because whites are still the demographic core of the nation, and they have no group history of institutional disadvantage - i.e., no racially based excuses for bad behavior. White people's problems can be more definitively understood as being of their own making.

Then too, because Mr. Murray has been for so long subjected to entirely unjustified calumny by perfidious white liberals as a result of his honest attempts to speak openly and accurately about domestic racial issues, he understandably wanted to present his important findings and ideas without giving his critics more of an excuse to blow their dog whistles.

Murray is on less solid ground when he declares that the True North for his argument is something he calls the `The American project'. The way he defines this project makes it sound like a neoconservative mythos of an earlier, simpler, America, one with a very small government and no discernable taxes.

It takes quite a stretch of the imagination to equate the good old days of `The American project' as he defines it with the actual era of the 1950's - a time when millions of living adult citizens had voted four times in a row for Franklin Delano Roosevelt for President, where a large majority of them chose to be represented by Democratic Congressmen, in an economy that was heavily unionized and boasted a top marginal federal income tax rate of 91% (1957)!

The author's core contention, however, needs to be given serious attention. Murray believes that the bottom 20 to 30 percent of the white population of the United States, as defined by educational levels attained and incomes earned, has basically slipped off the rails of civilization over the past fifty years.

He points to a vast array of convincing statistical evidence that a substantial part of this group of white Americans has experienced a collapse of marriage, work ethic, and civic-mindfulness, and a proliferation of illegitimacy, crime, and welfare dependency.

I'll have to say, from the perspective of my own observation post on American life, as a resident of the relatively unfashionable eastern suburbs of Portland, Oregon, and as someone who uses public transportation to commute to work, Murray's statistical abstract unfortunately comes vividly to life for me every day.

But what to do about it? Here Mr. Murray, and I suspect the rest of us as well, are at somewhat of a loss. The problems are too big, too intractable. Proffered solutions from both right and left seem to ring hollow.

Murray's stated preference leans towards the Libertarian wing of Republican philosophy. He thinks we should stop redistributing income (downward, at least), and that financially successful Americans should be more assertive in calling out the bums, criminals, welfare-addicted, and immoral poor for their stupid and bad behavior, and lead them to better lives by setting a good example and donating to private charities.

I don't see how this could possibly work.

The Democratic left, in contrast, holds desperately to the belief that no one should ever be held responsible for anything they have ever done, and furthermore, that there should be a generous government welfare program on hand to subsidize every conceivable vice any poor person or criminal could possibly imagine indulging.

This widespread impulse of the left is, if anything, even worse than Murray's stated solution.

Coming Apart is not a happy book. Nor is it optimistic in its going-forward outlook. And it doesn't really offer any convincing solutions to the problems it identifies. But it deserves a solid two thumbs up nonetheless, for boldly, forthrightly identifying and describing a stark set of huge social problems we face in the United States, which are increasingly self evident to most of us in the course of our daily lives.

Which is a step in the right direction.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
eddie duggan
WROTE COMING APART: "The American project consists of the continuing effort, begun with the founding, to demonstrate that human beings can be left free as individuals and families to live their lives as they see fit, coming together voluntarily to solve their joint problems. The polity based on that idea led to a civic culture that was seen as exceptional by all the world. To be an American was to be different from other nationalities, in ways that Americans treasured. That culture is unraveling.

I focus on what happened, not why. I discuss some of the whys, but most of them involve forces that cannot be changed. My primary goal is to induce recognition of the ways in which America is coming apart at the seams'not seams of race or ethnicity but of class.

As with all books on policy, this one will eventually discuss how we might change course. But discussing solutions is secondary in this book, just as understanding causes is secondary. The important thing is to look unblinkingly at the nature of the problem."
AUTHOR: Charles Murray is the W. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. he first came to national attention in 1984 with Losing Ground. His subsequent books include In Pursuit, The Bell Curve (with Richard J. Herrnstein), What It Means to Be a Libertarian, Human Accomplishment, In Our Hands, and Read Education. He received a bachelor's degree in history from Harvard and a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives with his wife in Burkittsville, Maryland.

MY REVIEW: This is a book I wish every American could and would read. I say it that way because I know there are some who cannot read and understand this book and there are others who will not read it. I read this book with great emotion and excitement because I have lived through what Charles Murray is describing and I agree that America is coming apart at the seams.

Bestselling author Jonah Goldberg has called Charles Murray, "Arguably the most consequential social scientist alive." Now that may or may not be true. I don't know! But I do know this: Charles Murray has done all of America a favor by writing this book. The evidence in Coming Apart is about white America. Its message is about all of America.

In my opinion the thirteen page prologue is worth the price of the book!

I love what Murray says about the founding virtues of America: Marriage, Industriousness, Honesty and Religiosity. Can we ever recapture these virtues? I don't know. I can only hope.

Read this book!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
arianne thompson
Charles Murray, who gained notoriety during the Clinton years by arguing that blacks were on the average,or on a bell curve graph, less intelligent or had lower IQ than whites do in his book "The Bell Jar" co written with the late Richard Hernstein, has a new book that was released recently. The Bell Curve was discussed in liberal pundit Eric Alterman's book "What Liberal Media?" because Alterman felt it created a media sensation in the 90s while being fraudulent,in Alterman's opinion.

In his new book Charles Murray examines whites only and instead of comparing blacks and whites he compares affluent whites with working class, lower middle class, blue collar whites. He reports that affluent whites are doing very well while poorer
whites are doing badly. Affluent whites are employed,industrious, in good mental health, have stable family systems, and have spiritual connections with others. The poorer whites are more often unemployed, suffer often from substance abuse especially alcoholism, have divorces more frequently, commit adultery more often, have mental health problems and don't observe religion more frequently. Further he thinks that the wealthy whites are more ethical and moral than lower middle class whites.

The two groups of whites are completely disconnected from one another, live in separate neighborhoods and different world.
For this,he actually blames the wealthy class, not the troubled one

In sum, this is the best book he has written, certainly better than The Bell Curve. My only problem with it is that it sees things in black and white terms. A lot of rich white people are unethical despite the conclusions of the book. A lot of poor
and working class white are good people. Perhaps though Mr Murray would not disagree with me about that.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I recently finished reading Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, which I received complimentary from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. Coming Apart is the culmination of several decades of Murray's work as a political scientist who has studied modern American society and culture. Murray explains that he uses white Americas as the reference point for the book because white America is used by everyone else as the reference point for how minorities fair in the United States in ares such as education, disposable income and job possession. This gets to the heart of Coming Apart, the reference point used by everyone is changing, and that means America is changing. In Coming Apart Murray argues that American culture is facing a crisis of two classes that exist on opposite extremes of one another and their increasing isolation and lack of common ground for understanding one another threatens to divide the political and social unity of America.

Murray says that on the one hand there is emerging a new elite class of the well-educated and affluent who possess at least one college degree, dominate positions of finance, industry and government, and are the principle culture makers in American society. While on the other there is a large class of American families who do not possess any college degrees, are trapped in cycles of poverty and poor decision-making and occupy low wage jobs or dead end careers, or find themselves living off government assistance. Murray suggests that part of the reason for success of those who are a part of the upper classes is that greater numbers of their members have followed the American founding virtues. Murray acknowledges that there are several virtues that could be considered American virtues, but those he addresses are marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity. Along with these two classes that exist at the extremes of American society there is also the large middle class. This middle class is composed of an upper-middle, those who make their living in white collar pursuits that involve an education and managing information, and a lower-middle, those who are the working class in blue collar jobs. Coming Apart is about the extremes, what the extremes tell us about America and what they mean for America that there exist classes that cannot relate to one another along common frames of reference.

Murray argues very well that the increased prosperity encountered by those who received an education, excelled in the financial and legal sectors, and took careers in the government and the creative world they became isolated from the culture of other Americans. They had different tastes in material goods, in luxuries and in living arrangements, and because of the economic boom experienced by the US after the 1950s, in part facilitated by these new elites, there was enough "mass," that is, enough people to purchase these goods and choose a life that was set apart. These people did not necessarily want to leave the culture of the other Americans behind, it is simply what happened as they selected those around them and the goods they consumed, which were in part produced by what made them an elite class anyways. Their education had introduced them to foreign goods, entertainment and ideas, which other Americans were slower to adopt, while their interests were generated as a byproduct of their affluence: more expensive (often foreign) automobiles, bigger homes, and more exotic vacations as just a few examples.

However, it was not just the success of those who formed the upper class that has resulted in a divide between the classes. Amongst those who are the poor and the working class there has been a remarkable shift in their culture over the last fifty years. Murray defines this shift in culture as the loss of the practice of the American founding virtues amongst the working class, marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity. These four virtues, contends Murray, are not being practiced by those who are among the working class, instead they are facing a life beset with the problems produced by this cultural shift. This includes rampant sexuality but no responsiblity to marry or care for children fathered out of wedlock, a disregard for honest work, even if it is lowly regarded (such as fast food, which pays the bills but certainly isn't glamorous), the increase in criminal or unethical behavior as a result of diminished respect for honesty, and a loss of religious sympathy. While these other three are perhaps understandable, or expected, it is the lack of religious amongst the American poor and working class that is most surprising. Long considered a bastion of American religious conservatism, Murray argues that instead the many in the working poor of America no longer exercise religious values or moral, and as a result have lost some of the class unity and cohesion that are experienced by other Americans.

Murray offers an analysis of two communities, Belmont and Fishtown, that are taken to be representative of the lives of upper and lower class Americans. It is an interesting exercise, and one that provides insight into how Murray's theories are truly being played out. Certainly Murray's assertions do not apply to everyone, there are many in the working poor who are happily and faithfully married, work hard, live honestly and are devout in the faith they practice. Yet, Murray has observed a concerning trend that the number do not, and this puts them at odds with the culture of those in the upper classes, which values strong and happy family relationships, hard work and productivity, just law-abiding and sincerely following metaphysical moral guidelines (religion, or religions, and tolerance expressed for those who are of a different kind, so long as they are religious). These differences are putting the two classes at odds, and this could very well prove disastrous for American culture.

Murray does not argued that American is imperiled by impending decline, but he does argue that the existence of two classes in America that do not have a common basis for understanding one another, a shared set of those founding virtues, will cause all manner of social and political problems. He also does not argue that the upper classes need to give up any wealth to change the situation. Being a libertarian, he would be appalled by such a solution. Instead he calls upon those who are in the upper classes to work to understand the culture of their fellow citizens. What can be done to encourage the adoption of stronger and better virtues among the working poor, a respect for marriage, hard work, and honesty, held together by the framework of religiosity that builds a community? Murray suggests welfare reform is one such way, while those in communities of the working poor who maintain these virtues should be encouraged, by their faith communities, and by concerned citizens. Coming Apart is highly critical of the poor, that is true, and Murray addresses the creation of a systemic and entrenched elite that keeps outsiders form joining the ranks of the upper classes as a problem, however he does not address other problems associated with affluence, such as white collar crimes. A major problem I noted is that one is left with the impression that the upper classes are not facing problems with a loss of the founding virtues. I would certainly say that rampant greed and workaholic attitudes are problems that on some level must be addressed by the virtue claims that the upper classes are supposed to possess, and a follow-up volume, or a second edition, would be greatly enhanced by such an analysis.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
If you think the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are getting poorer, according to Murray, you're right. His thesis: "Our nation is coming apart at the seams - not ethnic seams, but the seams of class." (269)
Murray identifies November 21, 1963 as a turning point in American history. This book is about the evolution of American society since that date, "leading to the formation of classes that are different in kind and in their degree of separation from anything that the nation has ever known." (11) He is convinced that if this divergence into separate classes continues, it will end what has made America America. His primary goal is to recognize the ways in which America is coming apart at the seams. He focuses on white America so this coming apart will be understood as not an issue of race or immigration.
There is a new upper class that is different from anything the country has seen. They are the people who run the nation's economic, political, and cultural institutions. Murray designates the top 5 percent working in managerial positions, in the professions, and in content-production jobs in the media as the "new upper class." (20) They have become increasingly isolated and that has been accompanied by a growing ignorance about the country over which they have great power.
Murray looks at the millionaires in 1963 and notes that there was not that much difference in their clothing, cars, houses, etc. from the middle class. Now the wealthy lifestyle is quite different from the middle class. He looks at the role of education in the emergence of the new upper class.
He notes that the new upper class consists of people born into upper-middle-class families and have never lived outside that experience. (100-1) The danger is that the people who have so much influence in the course of the nation have little experience with ordinary Americans. They make decisions based on their own lives, so much unlike that of the vast majority of Americans.
And everybody else? "In the years after 1960, America developed something new: a white lower class that did not consist of a fringe, but of a substantial part of what was formally the working class population." (125) The size of this new lower class is increasing.
He investigates what he calls the "founding virtues." He covers the changes in marriage and the breakdown of the family in the (white) working class. He notes the weakening of the work ethic. He reports on the changes in honesty, integrity, and increasing crime. He looks at the role of religion in society and the increase of nonbelievers.
In the final part of the book, Murray tells us why all this matters, reporting on the case for the ongoing collapse of American community, particularly in lower class white America. He relates this to deep satisfaction in life. (He is quick to point out the complexity of this issue.)
Murray also relates that adding in nonwhite information does not change the result. White America is not heading in one direction and nonwhite America in another. "The coming apart at the seams has not been confined to whites, not will its evil effects been confined to whites." (277) He ends by pondering the future of America, looking at the current state of Europe along the way.
He includes many charts and statistical results, as well as several appendices with supplemental material on several of his conclusions.

Being in my mid-sixties, I've lived through this period Murray has investigated. I knew that America today was not the America of my teens. Murray has helped me understand the change and what it might mean for the future. If you are at all interested in the current state of America, how we got here, and what it might mean for the future, you need to read this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 is a fascinating and thought-provoking book. In it, Charles Murray makes the case that there are diverging classes in America and that, rather than a division based on race, the division is most acutely indicated by trends in what he refers to as "white America".

Acknowledging at the outset that there are "lies, damned lies and statistics" Mr. Murray uses ample statistical analysis to paint a picture of two divergent worlds, existing simultaneously yet seldom-if-ever intersecting. Metaphorically existing in a "thick bubble," the "upper class" (his term for the top 5% in both education and income) have no concept of how the "lower class" lives. There is even a "quiz" in mid-book that allows the reader to determine how thick of a "bubble" they live in. With scores from 0-99, the quiz categorizes the expected results for various people/classes. He asserts that the main readership of the book will likely be "OES" ("Overeducated Elitist Snobs" -- a group to which he assigns himself), and judging by the two most "helpful" reviews on the (positive and negative) he is correct. Obviously, some people with good educational backgrounds have read and reviewed "Coming Apart".

He creates hypothetical communities to anthropomorphize his numerical arguments. The white, highly-educated, wealthy world is deemed "Belmont" while the world of high-school dropouts and ambition-less workers is "Fishtown".

The conclusion drawn is that there has been a decay in four areas causing an immense discrepancy between the "upper class" and the "lower class" in America. Those four areas are: marriage, industriousness, honesty and religion.

I would encourage people to read Coming Apart. While all the issues may not be as clear-cut as they might seem at first glance, there's little denying that that the fabric of American society has changed -- and not for the better.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lauren jones
Charles Murray's book is a very thought-provoking review of America's recent history and how it deteriorated. His examples of the decline in American society are factual and supported by research provided by many varied sources. The message is so important that I wish it were taught as a college course, along with other cultural studies. I firmly believe that family, a commonality of neighbors and community, civic and religious activities, and education are so important to the future of our next generations.

I've personally noticed what I considered the high class emulating the low class instead of vice versa. All people need to aspire to greatness to the best of their ability. The subject has been mocked by the movie Idiocracy, which is a humorous take on people's general slouchiness. If people gave this book serious consideration, I hope they'd realize the importance of values that are being degraded by TV, schools, and in people's personal lifestyle choices.

I highly recommend this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
alex dreas
Sometimes it feels like we're on the way out. Many scholars have provided tomes rich of evidence to that fact, which used to give me an extreme panic attack. How do we cope with the future of this once-great nation? Are we still great? Did we lose the shine? Where are we going?

If you're like me, those questions make you feel a little two-faced. Here I am, touting the greatness of the United States (I'm a military brat, after all), but then I go home and complain exasperatedly to my boyfriend about the present state of affairs. These are hard questions and no one has the clear-cut answer. Charles Murray does his best to address these issues in his own way with his own spin.

Coming Apart was illuminating. I said many quiet yeses to myself when he provided evidence to support my own observations. At other points, it was difficult to talk about the increasing gap between the highest of the high and the lowest of the low. Personally, I fit snugly between both of those classes and it was hard to find a side to root for.

I became giddy with some statistics, but with others, I'd cringe a little. How do I take these bitter-tasting facts and turn them into something I can internalize and use on a regular basis? How do I find a middle ground that sounds reasonable?

My politics do not match Murray's, but many of my thoughts about American culture and history fit neatly into his worldview. Honestly, it creeped me out a little bit when he discussed the influence of standardized textbooks, specifically McGuffey readers, as that is one of the few items besides rocks I collect and have since I was a child. He understands and misses the glittering past of yore, but he is also willing to look from the past to the future in a positive light.

In fact, he's even willing to come up with some real-world solutions to the problems he identifies, although many would find his political stance to be a little more severe than their own.

The research is deep and reach. The stories he tells will pull you in and help you understand the somewhat dense information in a personal way. I recommend this read to most people, even though I fully accept its flaws.

Regardless of politics, Coming Apart is one of few texts on this subject that are actually worth reading. His writing style is easy-to-follow, although the high concentration of statistics will make it dry for many readers. If you push through, you can really see where he's going, but many will stop before that point.

This text is a great read for people with a toe dipped in the political or historical pools. It will give anyone something interesting to think about and if you're looking for the best dinner party topics around, read a page or two from Murray's book and I'm sure the conversation will begin to buzz. I called several people multiple times while I read it just because I needed to talk it over. Isn't that what it's all about anyway?

Just so you know, I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
susan stangebye
This thoroughly researched analysis of the overwhelming changes in American society since 1960 is compelling reading. Murray compares a prototypical "New Elite Class" town (Belmont) with a "New Lower Class" town (Fishtown) and convincingly concludes that the growing division is not a function of race, but of class. Until the 1960s America had a homogeneous culture; people had 3 TV stations to watch, nearly universal employment, marriage, religious observance, and a low crime rate. The downside was the status of African Americans and women, who had severely constricted life choices. Elites and the working class used to live fairly similar lives in close proximity. Now, the New Lower Class is experiencing sharp deterioration and the New Elites have segregated themselves and pulled up the drawbridge.

The New Elite Class is based upon education and occupation; cognitive ability is assumed to be the key to accumulating wealth in connection with attendance at elite colleges, where the affluent predominate - even among minority students. [The average Harvard freshman in 1952 would have placed in the bottom 10% of later decades' incoming classes.] "Assortive marriage" of elite school classmates compounds the effect of self segregation, and many end up living in "SuperZips" (zip codes) around the country, primarily neighborhoods in Washington DC, New York City, Silicon Valley and Los Angeles.

The New Lower Class has experienced overwhelming change: decline of marriage, increased divorce, children living with single mothers, childhood delinquency and emotional disturbance. Murray declares the men to be "lazy", not only because of their low rate of employment but because they spend most of their time "goofing off", watching an average 37 hours per week of television. This new class is large; by its size alone it is changing national life. In earlier times the Elites would have been living nearby and providing local leadership in civic groups, schools and churches. This would have resulted in more overall community involvement.

Here is where I disagree with Murray. The New Elite's abdication of leadership and its escape to isolated enclaves are major factors in societal collapse. They prefer ostentatious mansions and a luxury lifestyle far away from the rest of Americans. The CEOs and top executives who comprise most of the elites have extracted outrageous gains in compensation - from an average $1 million in 1970 to $16 million in 2006! Among them are those who played a major role in the financial disasters that led to our current economy. Murray prefers less government involvement, but isn't our inadequate oversight the reason why so much corporate looting has succeeded? He calls for New Elites to "rediscover engagement" with the rest of America. We are apparently supposed to simply wait until they find a conscience, as he writes, "The New Upper Class will change only if its members decide it's in their best interest." That isn't good enough. We're already experiencing the third generation of New Elites, whose existence owes less to cognitive ability than to elites protecting their own.

It's a great compliment to Murray that even with substantial areas of disagreement, I enjoyed reading this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
marisa mcclellan
I picked up this book after seeing it on the NY Times 100 Notable Books of 2012. The book itself really reads like an analysis or college thesis or PhD thesis. The book is filled with charts and graphs that are all used to make the author's point that America has gone into a downward spiral since roughly 1960. He makes the point by studying the evolution of classes in America and using white people in two cities-Fishtown (lower class) and Belmont (upper class) to show certain trends. He makes the point that the people who live in Fishtown and Belmont have diverged so dramatically that they hardly even see the issues or problems of the other. It is almost like they live in different countries. The author uses very familiar topics like Marriage, Incarceration, Honesty, Work, and others to make his point. I found the book to move quite quickly, the graphs and charts to be quite helpful, and overall that he made his point well. I think that although he used Whites in America to make his point that they are quite relevant across classes as well (and in fact he does make that point towards the end of the book).
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The argument in this book makes a lot of sense. From 1960 to 2010 things have changed a lot. Those in the rich ruling class have no idea what a middle or lower class person lives like. The chasm between the two cultures becomes larger every year.

Murray follows two semi-fictional towns for 40 years and shows how each have changed. The rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer. The upper class has changed very little, but the lower class has changed a lot. We see much of it in the news; robbery, murder, school dropouts, etc.

Most of the book is spent proving the split exists. In the last few chapters, Murray gives his personal interpretation.

What I personally gleamed from this book was the ruling class, who make the laws for the rest of us, have no idea how most people live. They consider themselves higher than the rest of the country. The rich left speak down to those normal Americans who shop at Walmart and eat at Chilli's.

On the other side the middle and lower class give up on life and spend more time on entertainment than making a difference in the world.

I see in this book as a rebuke to both sides. One side to see what the normal person goes through and the other side to reach outside of their comfort zone and connect with others.

The only negative I see in this book is it needed more interpretation of the facts. We know there is a gap - what does it mean and how do we remedy it?

I recommend this book.

* This book was freely provided by WaterBrook Multnomah for the purpose of an honest review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
toby tottle
Based on five decades of research, Murray explores the the characteristics of America's upper and lower classes.

Murray attempts to show that these classes are not based on income inequality. He states this gap has grown during bad economies as well as good economies.

The main thrust isn't so much worried about the "whys" as to just describe and define the classes.

This is a very thick book full of stats and facts that might cause many of us to doze. However, this is a very interesting read. With the political climate the way it is and with the talking heads blaming each other for pushing class warfare, Coming Apart helps us step back and take a breath before we utter another pointless debate.

Murray uses the first part of this book to describe how the Upper Class of America was formed and what they contribute to the country. Part two is all about the formation of the Lower Class of America and what they provide.

He goes into some detail of the differences of the classes. He uses the example of going to Parents Open Night at an elementary school. It's quite the eye opener as to what each class will do and what to expect.

Part three of this book unveils a "what next" step. Murray sends us on an imagination trip as to what we can do with these classes.

This is not a book for everyone.

This book was provided for review, at no cost, by Crown Forum Publishing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
akd dupont
This book contained interesting insights into the minds of the Ivy League plutocrats that control much of what goes on in the USA and hazards an explanation for why they make decisions the way they do. It also speculates on how and why the rich continue to get richer while everyone else in this country continues to fall further and further behind. From the author's references to his previous books, I got the impression that this book rehashes a lot of the same subject matter that he has already touched on in older writings, but his ideas were all new to me.

I enjoyed this book, although there were some parts of it that I found myself skimming through because they read too much like a sociologist's doctoral dissertation.

Be forewarned that the author's libertarian views may lean a bit against some of the feminist and multicultural ideals that many people embrace nowadays.

All in all, I found this book to be very thought provoking.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kathryn blades
Coming Apart, The State of White America, 1960-2010 is a long read. Not so much because of its length, but because of the information it holds. Charles Murray did a thorough job of researching, and then relating how one segment of America changed from how they started, to how they are now.

Though whites are the focus, that is not meant in any way to elevate them, but to show that what he is talking about touches all people in America. The main point that he drives home is that America has gone from being Christ centered to me centered.

He explains that new classes have emerged, one that shields itself from, in a way, reality. Choosing not to see much of what is happening. The other that is struggling to deal with problems that have come from the culture shift, including changes in marriage, working, being religious, and even honesty.

Charles Murray goes on to tell why looking at these things matter, how they will affect the people of America, and how things could be different. He includes where he got his information, as well as some supplemental information for selected chapters.

This book has quite a bit of information in it. It was hard for me to just sit down and read because I had to take time to digest what I read. I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for this review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The author takes five decades of data and research to track and trend a new pattern, mainly focusing within white Americans. The primary focus in this book is on the new upper classes and the new lower classes. Looking into the new classes and how they came about, regarding their core behaviors and values. These behaviors and values are barely recognizable from behaviors and values let us say that would have been seen within the 1950 or prior. My first knee jerk reaction was this was this was caused by the financial differences but it was not. You will have to read the book to find the true reasons why these classes formed. Part of the book compares the cultural differences between the top and bottom of white American. The author goes into detail about how the upper class now lives in an isolated pocket. This pocket surrounds them with their own kind. This creates a lack of understanding about the mainstream America and the lower classes suffering from deteriorating family structures and community life. The book contains a great deal of data to support the findings of the author. If you are interested in what is happening in America today, this book will give you a view you may not have thought of before.

I received a free copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah in exchange for my honest review of the book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The funniest line in this book is, "If current patterns continue until 2020"... The unbelievable portrait of American class stratification the author has painted appears completely unsustainable. Average CEO pay doubling every 5 years, to a current all-time high of $16 million? A lower class so destitute that it can't even provide upkeep for its own churches? I am writing this in 2014, but I am not sure I want to be in the country in 2020 to see what happens next.

The book is everything the chattering classes have said it is; a curmudgeonly take on class divisions, not particularly clever or exciting in its choice of data (the big focus is on marriage and religion), but generally accurate and depressingly so. A better book might have talked about the disease rather than the symptoms. This one is still a rather serious and noteworthy summary.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I've shared my thoughts on this book with friends, and read a smattering of reviews written by others who've read this book. And in terms of criticism, it seems like there is much that is either ideological in nature or methodological. By ideological, I mean that readers state that either Charles Murray is advancing a certain ideological agenda, or that his arguments are antithetical to their own ideals. By methodological, there is some charges of misattribution of causes/effects, or misuse of the data outright.

I won't critique the book here on these grounds. I won't be assessing Murray's politics and how they align with my own, nor will I attacking his statistical methods.

I didn't take this book as one that was out to change my opinions. A book that changes your opinion is important. However, I think this book is something more - a book that changes the framework by which you use to form opinions. There are a few books in my memory that have done this for me, helping me to categorize and make sense of things I hadn't been able previously to make sense of and categorize, and form my own opinions in a better way. That is a rare book, and very high praise.

I wasn't brain-washed by this book. And I didn't agree with all of Murray's assertions. However, I'll be looking at class divides in the world around me (which I saw before, but thought of more casually) a little differently (and I think more intellectually) now.

I found this book fascinating. Chapter 1 alone is hard to put down, and it doesn't really even get into Murray's hypothesis. It is just a story of how America has changed, told in a compelling and relevant way. The remaining chapters were equally informative. Murray's data sources seem to have some serious gaps, but I found the assumptions that he made to overcome these gaps to be largely very reasonable. And I believe he uses plain language and clear literary devices to make his points. More-over, he also lays bare his methods for all to see and critique.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with even remote interests in sociological issues, which would include anyone who considers themselves a marketer. I believe that understanding the nature of the trends Murray describes in a nuanced and detailed way will be critical not just to the future of our nation (as Murray argues), but also to the success of marketing to the American public.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
oscar aguilar
Coming Apart shines an uncomfortable spotlight on the deep-rooted and often controversial problem of social class in 21st century America.

Contrasted here are two distinct lifestyles, the super-affluent and the impoverished under-class, and their differences are a lot more complicated than a simple widening of the income inequality gap. This disparity of social (and physical) separation is greater than ever. And note that the author specifically focuses on white Caucasians because the sample size from both groups is large enough for accurate statistical comparison.

The findings, illustrated through a series of charts and graphs, are disheartening, but should not be too surprising. Some would argue this is a result of not investing enough time and money into eradicating poverty, but I no longer believe that's the correct action. Fixing a problem like this will require something more--a fundamental shift in attitude and character of the citizenry. I'm not sure what this would look like or if it's even possible.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
samuel bell
Murray really put together a winner with this book. This book challenged my prevailing that of how the US exists today. He made me realize that there is really is a fracturing culture in America. Aside from that, Murray put some thoughts and original ideas into my head. He introduced me to some political philosophy that I had never thought of. What really leads to the most fundamental human satisfaction is so much more than monetary comfort. It is the feeling of satisfaction that comes from responsibility, challenges, and success. Great book, I think everyone should read it. It actually changed my thinking.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
conrad zero
Rarely do I find myself thinking, "I'll just read one more chapter before I go to sleep" when I'm reading a non-fiction, sociological study. However, I thought that several times while reading Coming Apart. As a 31 year old college professor, I missed out experientially on 20 years of what the cultural shift in the upper class that Murray describes. His descriptions of the self-isolating patterns of the elite resonated with observations that I've made during my education and in my career, and the interactive quiz that Murray gives in chapter 4 is thought provoking. One of the elements of this section that I appreciated most was Murray's perception of the audience that would read this book, an audience that still retains a healthy amount of what he describes as social capital. He argues that this social capital is mismanaged by the upper class, who choose to turn inward into self-isolating communities that embrace shallowly-held values and lose sight of the greater value of making a difference in the overall health of the country.

At the same time, Murray points to four interesting factors on the decline in the lower class: marriage, industriousness, honesty, and religiosity. Many potential readers of the book may be skeptical to read on when they see the list of factors that Murray isolates, but I encourage those readers to hear Murray out. He builds a convincing anecdotal and statistical case to argue that the erosion of these social pillars has stripped the lower class of the necessary stability to provide safer neighborhoods, growing economies, and grassroots community improvement initiatives. In this section, I appreciated how Murray handled statistics. I'm not a sociological researcher and don't have a background in statistics, but the statistical studies that Murray uses to present his case were contextualized well within the argument, making them interesting rather than a chore to read.

Finally, in the last section of the book, Murray outlines what his upper class audience, who he hopes is alarmed after reading parts one and two, should do to help contribute to the solution of the growing divide in our culture -- a divide producing ineffective policies to address the crime, unemployment, and failure to thrive in the lower class and a divide perpetuating media that continues to erode the social pillars that Murray argues are necessary for a healthy country. As a person on the fringes of what Murray describes at the upper class, I found his call to action personally challenging. My only complaint with the book is that Murray didn't make this call to action thorough. However, I believe he expands on the vision for action in his other books and provide plenty of additional resources for understanding the issues due to the well-researched nature of his own book. After reading 300 pages, my thinking on the topic wasn't exhausted. Rather, Murray, as good writers and researchers should do, made me desire to explore the issues further, using what social capital I have to contribute to solutions.

I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review of the book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
As a lifelong liberal democrat, I must confess I approached the book with great scepticism. But Murray's presentation of data, on the cognitive elites and the different trajectories of concentrations of upper class elites (Belmont) and members of 'lower class' workers (Fishtown) is compelling. I will henceforth certainly frame the complex issues of declining social participation and changes in family structure and what we can do about them differently. The last chapter drawing parallels in the current situation to Toynbee's 'Schisms in the Soul' is fascinating...and has ideas that I believe policy makers on all sides of complex issues need to think about. I am not sure of the value of elites needing to be confident in preaching what they practice but I the data clearly points to marriage, faith, vocation and community as the four key aspects to build upon for a resurgence of the American Project. While this book is about America, I can see that the basic principles have broader applicability to other societies such as India, the country I am from and that I know well.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
rachel pogson
A very satisfying book to read. Charles Murray introduces us to the concept of classes, a new (and at risk of being in a bubble) upper class, and a low class (which deteriorates the social capital of America). He then explains how the problems and threats to the American Project reside in this class breakage, not race, ethnicity, or gender.

In order to defend his tenets he contributes ample statistics that instead of being just data and numbers, come to live in a well constructed narrative. His research is oriented to explore the four founding principles that are at stake today and that were the pillars of the American Project: marriage, faith, vocation, integrity.

After all his research and explanation of all those numbers and graphs, it comes the rewarding part, his conclusions. Based on the changes and challenges to those four principles, and how we see upper class America and low class America regard them and are either sticking to them or abandoning them over time, he then leaves us with a foresee of our future as a nation, and calls us to do our part to keep this country and exceptional country in which we always cooperate, associate, innovate, work, have faith, live with integrity, respect and nurture our family life, and see ourselves as 'middle class' in the sense that we do not regard ourselves as more than our neighbor.

He also appeals to politicians regardless of their political orientation, to pay attention to these four aspects of the American Project that, according to Murray, should be taken care of if we all want to keep our freedom never abandoning our responsibilities.

I highly recommend this book.

I received the book from Blogging for Books in exchange of my personal review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
mike nowak
This book is very difficult to like, let along love, but there are parts of it which are useful for anyone concerned about the class structure in America. The good section of the book is the center bulk - the carefully structured data and their presentation. That part is simply fantastic. The data, for the most part, is presented in a neutral manner (not easy to do!). Interpretation of that data is more difficult, but that is always the case. Those chapters (2 through 16) are easily worth the price of the book. Where the book, in my opinion, flounders, is in Charles Murray's interpretation of the data. One issue is the time period chosen. I would argue that the period between (say) the 1950s through the early 60s was highly unusual in American history. There were no great economic crashes, unlike (say) 1873, 1893, 1920 and 1929. Except for the Korean war, there were no open wars conducted by America in that period, yet we had a large standing army, with the Veterans' bill behind it and an openly recognized foreign enemy to unify the country. I suspect many men in Fishtown benefited mightily from the military in that period. Just a little bit later, we had Vietnam, which changed the equation. A more typical American period might have been the 1920s and 1930s - boom, bust and considerable inequality. I wonder how the results would have looked then? Charles implies similarity with his period, but that would be surprising considering the history of the 1930s, when there were many rootless people and the (official) birth rate was very low. Having said all that, this book is valuable in that it identifies class as an issue in American life. When the poor were portrayed as members of (quite specific) minorities, it was easy to ignore them - after all, they weren't real Americans. Now that this is happening to native whites, all of a sudden people take notice. That recognition alone is important.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
chris doyle
Strong analysis. The other reviewers already said all that needs to be said. Where it fails, as others say, is in attention to the changed policies and trade polices and their effect on the white working class. For anyone of a certain age---- too young to have been able to understand 1965, the Vatican II changes to religious life, not just for catholics, but what has been imposed on older American churches, things like the Tobacco Acts, taking out a half million farms in the Bible Belt, the loss of the (now so unkindly called ) "rust belt," too young to really understand what you were seeing, and yet affected by it. Strangely, such books can bring a flood of memories of the "hippies" flooding the streets, the sense that a future was assured and having a nice home... then the ugliness, the drugs, the riots, and so on. For people still awake enough to process their own time, and what they were given to live through, it's an essential addition to the shelf, and to pass down.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jeff tigchelaar
This data-driven book defends American values and shows why it is important to keep our traditions. The author does not come from a political perspective, but his research has deep implications for public policy.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
In Coming Apart, Charles Murray presents, and defends through an amazing amount of statistics, that America is coming apart at the seams. We are coming apart because "the American project has been historically based on industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity" and the united culture in which the American project began is now a divided culture. Murray questions whether or not the American project can exist much longer in such a divided culture.

Coming Apart isolates the white culture of America to avoid the impact of race on the formation of values. Murray compares the culture of the 1960s to the culture of 2010 using a wide array of studies. At times, the amount of information is almost too much to take in. But the implications are hard to miss.
To make it easier on the reader, Murray created two fictional communities, Fishtown and Belmont. Fishtown represents those without a college education and who works in a blue collar jobw or low level white collar jobw. Belmont represents those withe a college degree and who work in high-prestige professions or management. These two fictional neighborhoods represent the top 20% of education and income (Belmont) and the bottom 30% of education and income (Fishtown). And the differences between the two are staggering.

On all four values of hard work, honesty, marriage, and religiosity, Belmont and Fishtown are night and day apart. Marriage is still a practiced value in Belmont, but not so much in Fishtown. A large number of children are born to single mothers in Fishtown, but not in Belmont. Unemployment is through the roof in Fishtown.Etc., etc., etc.

Murray's point is not that the two extremes are, well, the two extremes, but that they are the two extremes based upon the values they embrace. Because Belmont still values hard work and marriage, they are in the top 20%. Because Fishtown has abandoned the same, they are in the bottom 30%.
His larger point is that the divide between these two "cultures" is getting worse and problematic. The Belmonts of America are increasingly self-isolating from the Fishtowns, to the point that most Belmontians have no idea what life in Fishtown is like. And since the Belmontians are the influencers and decision makers of America, they have lost touch with the reality that most of Americans experience. His analysis of "super ZIPS," where these Belmont clusters have isolated from the rest of America is worth the price of the book alone.

Murray is careful not to say that Belmont is higher and mightier than Fishtown per say. In fact, Belmont is in real danger. Belmont itself is forsaking the convictions that what made Belmont is the values of hard work, marriage, and religion. If Belmont thinks it can reach the same end on a different path than the values that brought it there, Belmont may end up like Fishtown.

Coming Apart will make you think, and leave you thinking with a whole lot of "what do we do with this" kind of thoughts. But a good book is supposed to do that. But you will come away convinced that America is indeed, coming apart.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
don maxwell
Despite the subtitle, this is a book about class, not race. The author is looking at a lot of data that suggested the upper class that runs the country, which he calls the Narrow Elite and the Broad Elite, is increasingly wealthy, increasingly takes in both liberals and conservatives with high IQs and is increasingly isolated from the experience of the rest of America. He focuses on whites because that Narrow Elite is overwhelmingly white. He also focuses on the white lower class, so the comparison will not be between a white upper class and a minority lower class. He looks at a lot of data suggesting the white lower class is being destroyed by several trends: decreasing industriousness and ability to hold jobs among males, decreasing participation in civic organizations or churches, decreasing marriage rates, decreasing rates of trust and neighborliness, and sharply escalating non-marital birth rates, all trends that suggest the destruction of both happiness for these folks and what he calls the "American Project." Interestingly, after detailing the rolling disaster that is over-taking the white lower class, he presents data that suggest the minority lower class is not much different, contrary to what many might expect. This reinforces my long-held belief that race doesn't matter, culture matters a great deal. I do not think this is a "liberal" or a "Conservative" book. He says he is neither, but is a libertarian, rare among social scientists. He carefully points out in what I think is a balanced way how liberals or conservatives might draw differing interpretations from the data than he does. Most frightening for me is that the short book I published a year ago, "The Coming Collapse of the American Republic," does not include America coming apart along class lines--his title thesis--among the top four problems facing our country. Add this log to the staggering camel's back.

Robert A. Hall
Author: The Coming Collapse of the American Republic
(All royalties go to a charity to help wounded veterans)
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I've been a big fan of Charles Murray's since I read Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book) back in the '90's. He may not be very politically correct, but he thoroughly backs up his claims with solid research. "Coming Apart" is an especially timely read given all the class warfare rhetoric bandied about these days by the "Occupy Wall Street" supporters. Murray doesn't specifically address the OWS protests (presumably because the book was already in the publication process by the time the protests broke out) but it is very relevant to the discussion of the so-called "1%". Presumably most of the individuals in what Murray calls "the narrow elite" are part of the much-scapegoated 1%. The discussion of the reasons behind the rising economic inequality of recent decades forms the heart of Murray's book. OWS supporters almost certainly won't like what Murray has to say about it, however.

Murray does an excellent job discussing the differences between the white upper-middle-class (what he calls "Belmont") and the white working-class (what he calls "Fishtown") in industriousness, avoiding criminal behavior, getting and staying married, religiosity, and civic & social engagement. Belmont has maintained levels that are pretty similar to those prior to the social upheaval of the '60's and '70's, while Fishtown's numbers have fallen off a cliff.

Where I am disappointed in "Coming Apart" is that Murray doesn't really offer much in the way of solutions to the current dilemma. He optimistically calls for a "Civic Great Awakening" but no specifics on what can be done to help foster this societal renewal. It's not enough to merely describe a problem- there needs to be some sort of plan for how we might go about fixing it. That is decidedly lacking in Murray's book and why I cannot give it 5 stars.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
eugenia vlasova
I agree with NYTimes columnist David Brooks who called Coming Apart one of the most important books published recently about the "coming apart" of the upper 20% (upper and upper middle class) and lower 30% (lower or working class) of Americans according to what Murray sees as four essential values; education, industriousness, marriage and religiousity. I found it insightful and inarguable.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
colin winnette
Data based analysis of cultural change in America. The growing divide between upper and lower classes, our core values of marriage, honesty, religion and industriousness in decline, the rise of non-judgmentalism and crony capitalism portend the US emulating Europe. Will our society decline like the Roman Empire or face bankruptcy of the welfare state? Or can we protect and promote the exceptional is of America for future generations?
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
missy marriott
Whether you agree with his analysis and/or his conclusions, Charles Murray hits a raw nerve in "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2000."

Murray has deliberately chosen to exclude race in his analysis of class division. By doing so, he is able to avoid racial stereotyping and ties to past or still-prevailing racial prejudices which might otherwise cloud a cogent analysis of class.

Murray's two pseudo-communities "Fishtown" and "Belmont" are archetypes of communites at opposite ends of the income-and-class spectrum. There are two real communities in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, respectively, with these names. Murray's pseudo-communities with these names hold to many of the characteristics found in the two real communities but are molded to fit purer socio-economic data and behavioral patterns.

Murray has a primary focus on four attributes of community and class behavior: religion; marriage; industriousness; and morality. What has happened in Fishtown over the past 50 years has made it increasingly different from Belmont. It is not race division but class division that is pulling these communities further apart.

There is a laundry list of behaviors and differences that Murray can cite. In "Fishtown," a community with a classic working class identity, there has been a steady and increasingly rapid rise in illegitimate births matched to a significant decline in marriage. There are high rates of alcoholism and drug addiction. There has been a significant decline in employment among working-age men. Among all Fishtowners, there is increased dependence upon government, a dependence geared to all forms of benefits programs: Food Stamps; Medicaid; unemployment compensation; and Social Security Disability benefits.

In Belmont, however, there has been little change in these areas over the last 50 years.

Murray has chronicled a departure from the prevailing social order, attitudes and behaviors that were widely shared among communities, even those at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. What has changed in the last fifty years to create an increasingly sharp class divide has ominous signs for all Americans, not just for those living in "Fishtown." Fishtowners are disconnected from their neighbors, their community and from larger American society. They don't join civic organizations, churches, clubs and community associations as they did in the past. They are not voting. Belmonters, however, continue in their ways largely oblivious to what is happening in places like Fishtown.

Murray offers competing visions for the future: an optimistic one; a pessimistic one. As a self-professed libertarian he tries hard to hold with the optimistic view, though the serious reader of "Coming Apart" may not necessarily agree with so rosy a view.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The author uses extensive data from a wide variety of sources to demonstrate that the elite are increasingly isolated from the rest of the country: geographically, culturally, and morally. They have increased in freedom and wealth, while much of the rest of the country has been devastated by the sexual and cultural revolutions they have brought about.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
liz reed
Murray observes that our society is incredibly polarized through cognitive sorting. At the top individuals with more human capital are increasingly able to develop their full potential within an intensive knowledge based marketplace. As a result, the median family income at the 95th percentile and above has risen rapidly since 1960. Meanwhile, the individuals with lesser potential are stagnating. Blue collar unionized manufacturing jobs are gone. Without a college degree, these individuals standard of living is static. Consequently, at the 25th percentile income has remained flat since 1960 (Fig. 2.1 page 49).

Cognitive sorting has generated a new upper class as the market value of brains has accelerated (think Mark Zuckerberg). This has translated into new wealth channels that further enhance the prospective potential of high-human capital individuals. Additionally, college sorting has enhanced the identification of top talent. Colleges are increasingly tiered with the top ones becoming ever more selective and capturing a large share of the top youth cognitive talent. The perpetrating mechanism is cognitive homogamy. That is partners mating with similar education and IQ. In 1960, only 3% of couples had both college degrees. By 2010 that proportion had risen to 25%. An Ivy leaguer is increasingly likely to marry another one. The cognitive top tier transmit their high IQ from one generation to the next through both nature (inherited genes) and nurture (stimulating environment and supportive parenting) leading to successful achievements in schools and the workplace.

This intensified cognitive sorting has had two major impacts. First, society at large has hugely benefited through a tremendous boost in productivity, innovation, technology (think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc...). The second impact has been a commensurate rise in income inequality. Murray considers those two implications inevitable. You can't have one without the other. If a society rightfully facilitates individuals reaching their full potential, you will get a greater divergence of outcomes. Given that, Murray questions whether efforts to reduce income inequality are beneficial. Such efforts can stifle opportunity and innovation resulting in overall slower economic growth and a less advanced civilization for all.

The elite is ever more educated and wealthier. Between 1960 and 2000, the elite neighborhood in New York, Boston, DC, San Francisco, and LA saw the % of their residents with college degree rise from 26% to 67%. Meanwhile, their real median income doubled (table 3.1 pg. 77). The overall trend for the 95th percentile nationwide is nearly identical (percentiles are based on a combination of % of college graduates and median family income). Relative to the general population the related zip codes (SuperZips) are markedly more White and Asian and less Hispanic and Black (footnote 18, pg 368, Census Bureau data).

The elite is progressively more concentrated in few urban centers. The vast majority of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton graduates live in zip codes in the 95th percentile. They are also concentrated in very few cities: New York (25% of such graduates), Boston (10%), DC (8%), San Francisco (7%). Thus, those four cities account for 50% of such graduates. The same is true for top liberal arts colleges graduates.

Next, Murray categorizes two subcomponents within the white population that he wants to contrast. The first one is the upper-middle class that he calls Belmont (top 20% with college degrees and white collar occupations). The second one is the working class he calls Fishtown (bottom 30% with only high school degrees and blue collar).

Murray states that American society associated with a lesser level of government intrusion relies on four social characteristics he calls virtues: 1) marriage, 2) industriousness, 3) honesty, and 4) religiosity. If citizen marry, are gainfully employed, are honest and trust each other; a society will thrive. Otherwise, it will experience decline.

Next, Murray observes in detail related social trends in the four virtues from 1960 to 2010 for the white population in his Belmont vs Fishtown archetypes.

For Belmont (top 20%) social trends on three out of the four virtues have held up well since 1960s. All their marriage metrics have remained stable (marriage rate, % with very happy marriage, % single motherhood). Their industriousness measures have also remained stable (unemployment rate, labor participation rate, under-employment rate). Honesty measures have also remained constant (imprisonment rate, arrest rate, crime rate all at very low levels). Belmont's educational level is on an upswing with a rising % of college and grad school degrees. The only virtue that has changed for Belmont is religiosity as this social class has become more secular. Yet, one can observe that rising secularism has not hurt this social class, as it is thriving by living well.

For Fishtown (bottom 30%) all social trends related to the four virtues are alarming. Marriage rate and labor participation rate for males have plummeted. Divorce rate, single parenthood rate, unemployment rate, imprisonment rate, and crime rate have all skyrocketed. Self reported percentages as "very happy" has plummeted since 1960 down to only 15% by 2010. Within this group, he observes excessive reliance on government welfare associated with a genuine unwillingness to work characterized by working the minimum to qualify for and readily take unemployment benefits (the Sunshine Clubs). Additionally, disability fraud is rampant.

Next, Murray focuses on three specific socially symptomatic categories of individuals: 1) Men not making a living; 2) Single women with children; and 3) Isolates (individuals disconnected from the community). Since 1960, the percentages of all three such categories have risen rapidly within Fishtown. Meanwhile, for Belmont all those percentages have remained at very low levels.

Murray thinks this lower class (Fishtown) is close to disintegrating. He states on page 247: "The raw material that makes community even possible has diminished so much in Fishtown that the situation may be beyond retrieval... That raw material is social trust... The existence of social trust is a core explanation of why some cultures create wealth and others do not." On page 248, he refers to surveys that confirm that the % of Fishtown individuals who answered positively to the statements: people can be trusted, people are fair, people are helpful, has rapidly dwindled since the 1960s on all three statements. Meanwhile, all those percentages hold up at a high level for Belmont.

In one of the last chapters, Murray update his analysis to include all ethnic groups not just the whites (capturing the top 20% for Belmont and bottom 30% for Fishtown). Most trends are undistinguishable whether you look at whites or all ethnic groups (the exceptions are higher crime rate and imprisonment rate when including all ethnic groups as Blacks and Latinos incur much higher rate of both. Pg. 274). Murray concludes on page 276: "... White America is not headed in one direction and nonwhite America in another. We are divisible in terms of class... `Coming Apart' may have told the story of white America, but its message is about all of America."

In his concluding chapter, Murray contemplates whether the American Project (self-governance based on the four virtues) can recover or whether we will turn into a European welfare state with massive income redistribution to support a permanent lower class. He states the outcome is dependent on the elite. But, he is not sure the elite is up to it, as it is increasingly forgiving off Fishtown socially destructive behaviors. He advances that may be because the elite concentrated in just four cities (NY, DC, Boston, SF) is far more liberal than the rest of the country (Fig. 3.9 pg. 99).

Murray is a libertarian. Thus for him, the European welfare state is an aberration that takes initiative and entrepreneurship out of individuals. He has a point up to a point. But, he goes too far. He questions the merit of all social entitlements. Yet, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid fulfill specific missions at the foundation of the US safety net. They are critical given our aging society. They do represent a formidable fiscal challenge. But, this does not question their purpose. Between libertarianism and socialism, there are plenty of optimal alternatives. Murray does not believe so. Nevertheless, don't let Murray's dogmatic libertarian position distract you from an otherwise outstanding analysis on the deteriorating social trends within our lower class since 1960.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
abel c
Just as Murray's book came out, a new population statistic was published. And it has direct bearing on his thesis. Here it is: the majority of American children born to women under the age of 30 are now illegitimate. Yes, the majority.

Murray investigates the new class division in the US and it is a truly distressing picture.

The Baby Boomers who were "white college-educated men and women became enthusiastic recruits to the sexual revolution" (p 153). But they got married and stayed married and raised children together.
What happened after the sexual revolution to the population of Fishtown, the once flourishing lower class area, symbolic of all the poor in America, has been nothing short of a disaster.

Children raised by single parents "no matter what the outcome being examined--the quality of the mother-infant relationship, externalizing behavior in childhood (aggression, delinquency, and hyperactivity), delinquency in adolescence, criminality as adults, illness and injury in childhood, early morality, sexual decision making in adolescence, school problems and dropping out, emotional health, or any other measure of how well or poorly children do in life--the family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married...Never-married women produce the worst outcomes" (p 158).

Yet these findings remain the great unspoken event of the last few decades. Social scientists have overwhelming found permanent damage done to children by single parent families--and it's never discussed. Rarely mentioned in magazines or newspapers.

And yet the horrifying damage is being done to our children even as not a single network has even bothered to run a special on it.

Goodbye, America.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sara zaske
I guess it wasn't the goal to make the argument for this, but the American identity had been in jeopardy prior to 1960. In Our Virtuous Republic: The Forgotten Clause In The America Social Contract or the Kindle Our Virtuous Republic: The Forgotten Clause in the American Social Contract it is clear that the mainstream American Protestant ethic and identity had been under assault since the latter part of the 19th century. The critics in past reviews would not have much of a leg to stand on if they read that book. That would be my only critique: it is a bit short-sighted.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
bee hoon tee
A stark and disturbing picture of the growing class divide in the US -- between an affluent, educated elite and an increasingly dysfunctional and desperate underclass.

While Murray's analysis of the problem is compelling, his libertarian politics don't allow him to suggest any meaningful solutions. He shares this dilemma with the vast majority of his fellow Americans - rich and poor. As a nation, they prize individual freedom as a fundamental legacy of the pioneers and founding fathers. Their belief system continues to preclude the kind of social democracy and state intervention that has levelled the class playing field in western Europe.

Murray acknowledges the European alternative, but dismisses it as mere statism - godless and corrosive of the human spirit. His views are far too parochial for so complex a subject.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
maryalice duhme
This book could be considered political incorrect but it is carefully written. Is multiculturalism and diversity working in American? The rich white liberals would say yes. Yet they work at fascinating and interesting jobs and tend to live in only certain zip codes. It is a suppose a very controversial book but it is written very carefully. Places like Austin TX San-Francisco parts of NYC and Boston not just the whites but the cognitive elite hide from the regular people. This is perhaps not the main idea of this book but it is what I got out of it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
annie brock
I have to hand it to Dr. Murray: He and his co-author were skewered by the mainstream media after publication of THE BELL CURVE, so he writes this new sociological treatise about whites, to the marked exception of blacks. But his analysis brings us back around to where we started: Lower class whites have devolved into African-Americans as the result of class inbreeding and society's tolerance for failure. At the same time, the upper class whites have further distanced themselves from the devolving whites and are now a different species altogether, living both physically and mentally light years from their fellow whites.

Dr. Murray was, of course, too intimidated or too PC to state the obvious but its right there in his analysis and for us to see every day. Whereas life's losers used to struggle to lift themselves up, now a huge white underclass has joined the huge black underclass in living off government and blaming everyone but themselves for their predicament. This may be playing out in national politics as life's losers, white as well as black, turn to the socialist-inclined democratic party to take care of them. In time, the small white upper class will be forced to reject their liberalism and seek protection from the Republican Party.

This is a hard book to get through, with lots of graphs and statistics interrupting the commentary, but worth reading nonetheless. Murray fakes alarm that upper class whites have removed themselves from the mainstream but he and anyone who has been able to make serious money have been doing that for decades.
Attend a sporting event or a movie among the great unwashed and you never want to experience such things again. There is no ready solution short of socialist redistribution. And that brings us to the upcoming election.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Previous reviews have documented Murray's methodology and general findings. I would like to take up the question at the end of his book, "What are we going to do about it?" In particular, I would like to suggest that, for all the impressive research presented, particularly with respect to the population of Fishtown, he never answers the question, "Why?" Why is Fishtown (and the socioeconomic class it represents), falling apart in terms of marriage, religion, industriousness and honesty? Perhaps I missed it but all I saw were the results of his measurements and virtually no information on probable causes.

What follows, then, when one gets to his prescriptions, is a certain skepticism that his libertarian solutions are appropriate. He spends a worthwhile amount of time debunking European type solutions...and I suspect he is more right than wrong. But he fails in the critical task of drawing a line between his description of the problem and his own proposed solution.

Perhaps I am asking too much.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
comtesse despair
I had the opportunity to read "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010" and I must say that the book is a "must read" whether or not you agree with Charles Murray's political/social views. Murray gives his opinion of the historical state of whites in the US over the past 50 years. In summary, he believes that over that period, the cultural norms of upper and lower-income whites have become different (and divergent) over time. He argues that before (and during) the early 1960s, views on issues such as religion, politics and community involvement were pretty much similar. However, during the 1960s major events occurred in the US that led to changes in the cultural landscape; a few examples include the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the availability of oral contraceptives, civil rights, and the advent of social programs such as the "War on Poverty". In addition, there was a gradual segregation of whites in neighborhoods according to income and education. To prove his point, Murray takes a look at the dominance of upper-income people in the most selective universities over the past 50 years (Columbia, Harvard, Stanford and Yale are just a few). When Murray attended Harvard as an undergraduate (in the early 1960s), his classmates were from across the economic spectrum; he notes that he matriculated to Harvard from a small town in Iowa where the CEO of the Maytag Corporation lived in the same neighborhood as middle and lower-income residents-including a recluse nicknamed "Over the River Charlie" who lived in a shack and kept chickens in his back yard. Over time, selective universities began to admit students predominately from certain areas of the US (from "elite neighborhoods" concentrated in high-income enclaves in/close to cities such as San Francisco, New York, Washington DC, and Boston). He believes that this over time lead to generational economic and social segregation.

At the same time according to Murray, whites in lower-income neighborhoods began to struggle with issues such as unemployment and underemployment, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, decreasing numbers of people not completing high school (or pursuing post-secondary education) and the decrease importance of work in their daily lives. Murray briefly discusses lower-income white resentment when people of different races and nationalities began moving into "their" neighborhoods. Murray believes that the divergence of views between upper and lower-income whites often results in the lack of understanding of one population by the other. There are some issues I have with Murray's book-for example he rates "industriousness" (the importance of work) lower among lower-income white men (one woman interviewed in his book stated that men in her lower-income neighborhood are "sweethearts but don't have the ambition" to work). Additionally, I believe Murray infers that lower-income people are less happy in marriages than upper-income people. With the marriage example, perhaps more lower-income people may state that they are unhappy in their marriages due to issues such as economic stressors (underemployment or unemployment) rather than the decreasing importance of marriage in their lives. Also, Murray is much more careful when he discusses minorities (more so than in "The Bell Curve"). He acknowledges the harmful effects of slavery and segregation on black achievement throughout American history. Murray also made me laugh out loud at some of his (often witty and sometimes stereotypical) comments about different segments of society. At one point he laments that at upper-income elementary schools, the "overwhelming majority" of cars parked at schools during parent-teacher conferences are "foreign" (and expensive); that "upper-income people "tend to be thin and obesity is rare... they may work out at clubs and be attractively lean or run marathons and look emaciated". Murray also laments upper-income Hollywood as "liberal". When I went to Murray's notes at the end of his text to review the source(s) for his conclusion, it read "any Hollywood Awards Show"! He also provides a quiz for upper-income people to determine how well they understand lower-income individuals; questions include "have you ridden on a long-distance bus or hitchhiked 50 miles or more" and "Who is Jimmie Johnson" (of NASCAR fame, not to be confused with the famous NCAA and NFL football coach, Jimmy Johnson).

Murray does make some important points in "Coming Apart"; for instance, he discusses "unseemliness" among some very wealthy persons in the US (such as CEOs taking huge bonuses despite their companies losing money and/or eventually going bankrupt) and the decreasing number of people involved in the "business" of their communities. Examples include those not participating in local school board meetings and in decreased voting patterns in local/national elections. Additionally, Murray advocates for some sort of "code "or "chivalry" in American life that transcends race, class and economics; to be respectful of others; to participate in social groups that improve local communities (such as fraternal organizations and clubs); to contribute to non-profit organizations such as the United Way and local sports leagues; to encourage interaction among those in different classes and social groups; and to improve access to technology across all income levels. There are so many topics that "Coming Apart" covers and I have discussed a small portion of what Charles Murray has written. I believe that Murray has written an important book from a conservative/libertarian point of view (he is one of the conservative movement's most respected academicians). There may be questions (especially among political pundits) about what he writes, however, there is no doubt that Murray is deeply concerned about the further stratification of America and he discusses his opinions extremely well.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I just finished reading the best-selling Coming Apart by Charles Murray. I confess to not having heard of the book until I saw it in the store, but the cover of a champagne glass and a crumbled beer can instantly suggested to me that I was going to enjoy this new examination of the United States and its sociological disintegration of the past half-century.

I grew up in a middle-class household in the mid-1970s, and two general ideas were banged into my head: (1) if you work hard and apply yourself, you can get ahead in this country; (2) people who rely on welfare or unions are lazy bums. Having (hopefully) grown up a bit over the ensuing decades, my views on these matters is somewhat tempered, but upon reflection, it has eventually dawned on me that the nature of American society from those days wasn't that bad.

As a kid, I adopted what in retrospect could be dubbed a strict laissez-faire disposition toward business and the economy. If you took a time machine back and described to my young self the state of affairs that we have today (e.g. a tax system heavily in favor of the rich; massively disproportionate distribution of wealth; the rich getting richer; the poor getting poorer, etc.) I would have cheered it. This goes to show not to put much stock in the economic philosophy of a teenager.

Charles Murray - himself quite obviously a libertarian and supporter of free enterprise - bemoans the changes in the United States as well. His focus is on the likely failure of what he calls the "American project", which he describes as:

"the continuing effort, begun with the founding, to demonstrate that human beings can be left free as individuals and families to live their lives as they see fit, coming together voluntarily to solve their joint problems....To be an American was to be different from other nationalities, in ways that Americans treasured. That culture is unraveling."

Coming Apart starts off with an examination of "upper class" and "the cognitive elite" of the modern day. The author builds a convincing case of the exponentially-higher value placed on a smaller and smaller group of highly-educated, high-IQ individuals and the disparity in compensation between this group (basically the top 5% of the country) and everyone else. In the 1960s, Murray describes a country in which, yes, there were rich and poor, but the difference wasn't nearly as great, and the physical and cultural separations were much smaller. As he puts it, "...there just wasn't that much difference between the lifestyle of a highly influential atorney or senior executive of a corporation and people who were several rungs down the ladder."

I also enjoyed his examination of helicopter parents (believe me, as a father of young children in the increasingly-competitive Silicon Valley, this is an area where I have deep experience). I again quote: "The downside is that the new upper-class parents tend to overdo it. The children in elite families sometimes have schedules so full of ballet classes, swimming lessons, special tutoring, and visits to that therapists that they have no time to be children." This is a sentiment keenly expressed by the late George Carlin.

Mr. Murray cites four developments that created the new upper class in the first place:

1. The increasing market value of high IQ;

2. The physical and cultural separation of the top 5% and everyone else, best exemplified by the "Superzips"(one of which, Palo Alto's, I wasn't that shocked to see);

3. The "college sorting machine" - that is, it is exponentially more difficult to get into, say, Harvard or Stanford now than it was fifty years ago. If you were even a little smarter than the average college applicant in the 1950s, you wouldn't have had much trouble getting into an elite school. These days, you pretty much have to walk on water;

4. Homogamy: that is, the interbreeding of individuals with like characteristics, particularly with respect to IQ.

He also has an interesting discourse on what he considers to be the foundation of what American really is (or, should I say, was), which he calls the founding virtues: industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion.

Coming Apart is as much a philosophical treatise as a sociological examination. On the topic of happiness, Murray defines it as "lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole", drawn from four domains: family, vocation, community, and faith.

As he turns his eye toward Europe, it's clear he isn't going to win many friends overseas. He politely describes the continent as "a great place to visit" but....

..the view of life that has taken root in those same countries is problematic. It seems to go something like this: The purpose of life is to while away the time between birth and death as pleasantly as possible, and the purpose of government is to make it as easy as possible to while away the time as pleasantly as possible - the Europe Syndrome.

I can't say I disagree with his assessment. He goes on:

Europe's short workweeks and frequent vacations are one symptom of the syndrome. The idea of work as a means of self-actualization has faded. The view of work as a necessary evil, interfering with the higher good of leisure, dominates. To have to go out to look for a job or to have to risk being fired from a job are seen as terrible impositions. The precipitous decline of marraige, far greater in Europe than in the United States, is another symptom. What is the point of a lifetime commitment when the state will act as a surrogate spouse when it comes to paying the bills?

And, as for the secularization of Europe:

Europeans have broadly come to believe that humans are a collection of activated chemicals that, after a period of time, deactivate. If that's the case, saying that the purpose of life is to pass the time as pleasantly as possible is a reasonable position. Indeed, taking any other position is ultimately irrational.

Most germane to our interest in the world of finance and the distribution of wealth is the "unseemliness" of the modern upper class, such as Aaron Spelling's 56,500 square foot house with 123 rooms and Henry McKinnell's $99 million golden parachute and $82 million pension he enjoyed after presiding over an era of plunging share prices.

Murray describes the upper class as having "abdicated their responsbility to set and promulgate standards. In short, he seems that highest echelon of the United States happily gorging itself on all its wealth (while simultaneously, ever-so-politically-correctly, taking pains not to offend any class, creed, or other background so as to draw unwanted negative attention to itself) and, ultimately:

The new laws and regulations steadily accrete, and America's governing regime is soon indistinguishable from that of an advanced European welfare state. The American project is dead.

Murray does save a brief section at the end of this volume to describe the prospect of the United States actually saving itself from this fate. The author states that the only hope is for data from the social sciences to convince citizens and its government to reverse the welfare state and the notion that every person is equally gifted, equally skilled, and equally capable. And, finally, that a religion-driven "Great Awakening" will change the tide of events.

Fat chance.

In any case, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. If you're interested in the United States, where it's been, and where it might be going, you might want to take the time to read it. It may be depressing, but no one gave assurances that reality would always put a smile on the face of every citizen.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
khushboo singh
Any reader interested in the current state of American society will benefit from reading Charles Murray's controversial book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Murray's premise is that our society is divisible by class. There is a new upper class and a new lower class, and he explains why that matters. To eliminate the "noise" he focuses on white America, since some readers may see our class divide as racial. This book carves up a lot of numbers, and he draws conclusions with a libertarian point of view. His passion on this topic comes from the question about whether or not American exceptionalism can survive. Whether one agrees with Murray or not, his concerns about how we may be coming apart the seams are worth considering.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
marleen seckendorf
Despite the somewhat provocative title of the book, and the artificial controversy that follows it's author wherever he goes, this book speaks bluntly and factually about the state of American society, regardless of race, sex, gender, religion and social class.

Buy it and study it!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
shelly n
This book was one that opened my eyes to the different classes in America and what made these classes come to be. Being that I was somewhat isolated to the class system growing up I can say that I did not know much of what was in this book. Once I got into the book I found it hard to put the book down. While I say this, I was not 100% sold on all of the assertions that the author makes, but I will say that the author does an amazing job at making his points clear to his readers. His points were clear and informative and as a reader I found myself wanting to read more!

For anyone with any type of interest in sociology or in the idea of class, this is definitely a book that I would highly recommend to all. You may not agree with every point, but you will leave the reading of this book with many new ideas in your mind!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
mackenzie tennison
Maybe because I am very familiar with some "Fishtowns" I was not surprised to see Charle Murray's conclusions regarding the Fishtowns of white America. In fact, it affirmed some of my personal beliefs regarding the decline of certain areas of the country. For example and for some reason, many men no longer feel obligated to marry a woman once she becomes pregnant leaving the woman without a husband and the child without a father. The result is poverty, fatherless children and communities collapsing under the weight of the problems it causes. I don't think this is the only reason Fishtowns are declining, but it is an important one. Charles Murray's book provides some valuable insights into the perfect storm that is hitting many American communities today and helps to explain many of the social, political, and economic trends currently underway in the United States. I held back on giving the book five stars because I missed the analysis regading Why these changes are occurring. Until we understand why some of these changes are happening it will be difficult to comprehend any viable solutions.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
david borum
Coming Apart divides into two parts, Murray's sociological research and Murray's explanation of his findings. The first part was interesting and informative. I'm familiar enough personally with Murray's "Fishtown", his name for the economical distressed part of the country, to feel that his research is accurate. But his explanation, that the sad state of America's white working class is due to the damage to its moral fiber caused by the welfare state, is ludicrous. Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries all have more generous welfare provisions than ours, and their working class seems to be holding up pretty well. His thesis is that the poor aren't suffering enough. If only we took away Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Food Stamps, they'd roll up their sleeves and find a job. I think this is silly, hence my low rating.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
While I agree with Murray that the values of industriousness, honesty, love and commitment (he calls it marriage), and moral integrity (he calls it religion) are important ingredients that help hold the social fabric of our nation together, the book suffers because his selection and use of data is biased. For example, he contends that the "broken values" of poor, under-educated whites are bringing the country down to its lowest denominator. However, he purposely excludes a third or more of working, contributing Americans from his sample, which suggests that not only his data but his conclusions are skewed. Worse, if his conclusions were accurate, he offers no solutions. (A previous solution he offered in his book "In Our Hands" was to redistribute wealth, by offering everyone 21 years old and older $10,000 a year. Not only is this ludicrous, but utterly inconsistent with libertarian principles.) Like many readers, I thought his presentation was overly technical which made the book somewhat dry. There is some good, thought provoking ideas in the book, unfortunately I think it will appeal most to those who believe America is "going to hell in a hand-basket", as this book will reinforce that view.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
shannon 2003
At first glance, one might look at this title and believe that the author is going to lay this country's problems at the feet of racial tension. Charles Murray quickly and effectively make the point that our problems are not based on race discrimination but on difference between basic value differences between classes. He does a good job of showing the numbers to support his ideas. He also does not delve into the why.

Figuring out why these changes happened is a complicated task and would fill another volume. He certainly makes a compelling case for the importance of societal cohesiveness and trust to create a safe and responsible society with low crime.

One thing I disagree about is the low rank he puts on religiosity and it's contribution to happiness. He states at one point: "Christianity promises believers salvation and eternal life, and impressionable people buy into it. They're happy because they think they are saved and will go to heaven, but there's no substance to that happiness." He puts it down to self-delusion.

Perhaps it's my perspective as a believer that makes me bristle at this. I think there is some substance to the feeling one gets from worship of any kind.

You have to read slowly and carefully, this book is written like a college textbook at times. However, the author leaves room for you to draw your own conclusions at many points and provides room for thought. I will be looking out for his other books in the future.

NB: I received this book free of charge and reviewed it for Waterbrook Multnomah's site. All opinions expressed are my own and I received no payment of any kind for this review.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mike o
Charles has succinctly articulated the state of white America and I whole-heartedly believe in having a family structure (and dual parent household) essential for developing high achieving adults. Having grown up in India, I was always taught that how a kid turns out solely depends upon what happens within the four walls of his/her home. I've seen girls raised by single moms without father figure being emotionally kidnapped by guys at a very young age, and these girls then find father figures in their so called boyfriends at age 18-22. Some guys might be fine with good intentions, but most other use them to their advantage and these innocent girls have no way to figure this.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
david jenkins
Coming Apart, by Charles Murray, is a statistical survey of the years 1960 to 2000 with some variations in years when considering a few of the statistical phenomenon. Murray's thesis is there has developed within America a "ruling" upper class that is isolated to such an extent that the members do not know what the rest of the USA is like. This upper class thinks everyone is just like them when people out of that class are actually nothing like them. Coming Apart follows the USA, statistically, from an era where the upper class and other classes thought and acted alike, lived in the same neighborhoods, and interacted to such an extent that everyone pretty much knew how the other half lived and thought. Since 1960 the class distinctions have become a major gap, and the upper and other classes simply do not have any idea how the other thinks and lives.

OK, but so what? Why does it matter? Mr. Murray tracks the disintegration of key values, especially in the "lower" class, and reaches the conclusion that the American project has all but crashed and burned. If, he states, the trends continue the exceptional America as we knew it from the Revolution to 1960 will be lost. In the final chapter he recounts several reasons why the American project is not completely lost and he thinks these enumerated factors will reverse the trends that look so bad now and save the old exceptional American values, thus restoring the foundations of what made America great.

Some of the key values considered by Coming Apart are: marriage, industriousness, honesty, religiosity, community, crime and a few others. For example, marriage has collapsed. The numbered married in the lower classes has fallen from about 90 percent in 1960 to 50 percent in 2000. The never married jumped from less than 10 percent to 25 percent. Divorced has gone from 5 percent to 35 percent. Children living with a single parent went from about 2 percent to more than 20 percent. Non-married births went from almost zero to 30 percent. And on and on. The stats are clear. Marriage as an institution where children could be reared and family members could feel secure is gone. It is the same for the other categories.

Near the end of the book Mr. Murray tells us why he thinks these value disasters have happened, and they are all based on libertarian thinking. Part of his summation of why things have gone wrong includes an attack on liberal points of view, and in my opinion he nails the difference between conservative values and liberal values. He states that "The advocates of the welfare state in both Europe and the United States reject this view (human nature is set), substituting instead the belief that human nature can be changed." This is the key gap between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives think that human nature is set and cannot be changed by government. It can be constrained or encouraged but it cannot be changed. Liberals think the human being is changeable, and government can effect these changes through its policies. We have spent trillions trying to direct human nature and, in my opinion, have utterly failed. Liberal programs have been tried in urban areas since Rome and Victorian England, but nothing has changed the plight of the urban areas. Nothing has worked because human nature does not change.

I have to reject Mr. Murray's optimistic final chapter. The liberals have destroyed the greatest nation the world has ever seen in 60 years. During the Johnson administration the US went through the looking glass into a world of dreams, and that was the end of it. Reagan defeated Communism, but he failed to remake the government as he wanted. The liberals controlling Congress would not allow even a small retreat from the welfare state that was, and is, destroying us.

Mr. Murray thinks new findings in science and economics, plus the example of Europe descending into a nightmare of economic chaos, will convince our liberals that the welfare state does not work and in fact destroys families and people in numerous ways. He is wrong. The liberals know their programs do not work and they do not care. The point of the programs is not to make lives better, it is to buy votes. All the liberals have been doing since 1933 is buying votes. Since the Johnson era no one with a mind could have denied the harm these programs cause, but liberals are not concerned with the progress of America. They were then and are now only concerned with obtaining and maintaining power. In fact, modern liberals despise America, its values, and its history. The sooner we are gone, as a conservative Constitutional Republic, the better. They believe, of course, that they will survive any transition to a near tyrannical social welfare state, so buying votes is not a problem for them no matter how much the system changes below them.

In short, the battle for America has already been lost. No chaos in Europe, no scientific finding, no sociological findings will convince the liberals to change anything. As long as they can buy votes with other people's money they will do so. The voters in Greece have just ousted a government that insisted on reasonable economic reform. Just what the liberals count on. So many people are so dependent on the government giving them money that they cannot be voted out of office. Even if they are ousted from power for a short time they know the programs they have started cannot be stopped or even significantly curtailed. We have been destroyed by the liberals in a remarkably short period of time.

So much for the Republic. We have not kept it. First socialism then tyranny. It is inevitable.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Charles Murray's book pinpoints the unraveling of America's community over the last 50 years and shares a plan for its restoration. It's one of the few books that I purchased and read within the week. Truthfully, it was hard to put down!

Although many believe that the complex challenges facing us today cannot be solved through the lens of the American founder's virtues, Murray writes:

I take another view: The founders were right. The success of America depended on virtue in the people when the country began and it still does in the twenty-first century. America will remain exceptional only to the extent that its people embody the same qualities that made it work for the first two centuries of its existence. The founding virtues are central to that that kind of citizenry.

Murray found that people with satisfying work; a happy marriage; a high social trust community; and a strong religious foundation are more likely to be happy than people without these four attributes. Of the four, in fact, a happy marriage is the factor that generates the biggest improvement in someone's happiness score. I can speak on marriage and happiness both personally, experiencing first-hand the changes in happiness when Laurie and I improved our own marriage, and professionally, witnessing many couples improve their marriage and subsequently, their happiness over the years.

Coming Apart reveals that only 10% of respondents who are unmarried, unhappy in jobs, profess no religion, and have low social trust describe themselves as genuinely happy. When a good job is added, the number of respondents stating they were happy increased to 20%. A happy marriage, however, jumped the total to 60% sharing they were happy. The final two attributes - high social trust communities and strong religious faith increased the respondents scores an additional 10% each. Thus, from a baseline of 10% of respondents being happy, over 80% of the people who had all four attributes stated they were sincerely happy. That's an eight times improvement! This is a significant increase and enough to make even the most skeptical of people pause and ponder.

If America desires to restore its degenerating culture, Murray has just provided the blueprint. Hopefully, it isn't too late.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sara samiee
The book describes the development path of the lower and upper classes in US in the past 50 years. It shows how the degradation in family and religious/community values has created a huge gap in life styles. The conclusions are based on census and poll data. In my view it misses to include some other historical events, such as integration of schools that also played a role in class separation. A good work overall.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
gon alo
The pivotal month of American's collapse began on April, 1968 not J.F.K's death. That month, countless parts of 127 American cities went up in flames set by street gangs and looters of white owned businesses in neighborhoods recently taken over by African-Americans. Read the book, "American Burning". "Is Marriage For White People?" outlines the reasons for the collapse of the African-American family. All of our wars and the War On Poverty have ballooned the control and expense of of our federal government until bankruptcy is inevitable. "Common Sense" outlines how government regulation went wrong. "Treasure Islands" explains how G.E. can get government projects and escape taxes. The Chinese became capitalists and we began flirting with socialism--a dead end. They will inherit our lifestyle and it is our own fault for becoming more regulated than Russia was.
I do not agree that we need religion for success because several countries like Singapore do well without it. They use common sense. When Europe had the most religious fervor, they burned witches, killed Jews and darkening the Dark Ages. Reason and religious reform broke us out of religion's grip into the grip of big government.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Charles Murray is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of books like Losing Ground, What It Means to Be a Libertarian, and The Bell Curve. In this book, he looks at the growing class division in America. The subtitle of Coming Apart is The State of White America, 1960-2010. Murray's purpose in only looking at "white" America is to assert that America's growing inequality is based on class, not race.

The book comes in three parts. In the first, Murray describes the formation of a new upper class. In the second, he describes the formation of a new lower class. In the third part, he makes a case for a return to what he calls "the founders' conception of limited government."

Coming Apart is quite an interesting read. There is some statistical analysis, as is the case with all sociology books, but Murray is adept at finding and using anecdotal evidence in support of his arguments. Instead of talking about the "upper class" and "lower class" merely as abstractions, he creates the fictional (but based on real places) "Belmont" and "Fishtown," respectively. When he examines the decline of Fishtown, he views it in terms of the decline of four virtues all readers will recognize: marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity. While an entertaining writer, Murray frequently comes across as a curmudgeon, prone to nostalgia and generalization.

Murray is a libertarian, and a small fraction of Americans describe themselves as libertarians. This means that not many people will agree with all of Murray's prescriptions, or even all of Murray's analysis. I, for one, possess gobs of the religiosity that Murray lauds, and yet I don't think encouraging people to be religious because religiosity benefits society is a terribly good idea. People hold religious beliefs because they believe them to be true and accurately account for the world as they experience it, not because they think holding those beliefs will be beneficial to society. I don't think encouraging people to be religious (or even honest, industrious, or devoted to marriage) for the purpose of benefiting society has the power to shape behavior. The benefit to society is only a byproduct of sincerely held beliefs. So the end of the book, when Murray talks hopefully of a "civic Great Awakening," in which the members of the new upper class begin to preach what they practice, rang hollow for me. There is no possibility of a future Great Awakening without the beliefs that gave rise to the previous Great Awakenings. Murray wants the effect without concerning himself with the cause.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Listened on CD: very sobering account of how the country's population (focused solely on whites) is devolving into two divergent classes. Makes sense by focusing on challenges on family formation and education.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kagaaz ke
A book about the new classes developing in America. I disagree with the author politically and in social beliefs, so I disagree with him about much of what he says. He believes that the old standards are the best, and that we should return to our old beliefs and practices to succeed as a society. I disagree with this as I believe we are starting to develop new standards and practices and will be able to survive with these.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
My goodness. I read this book on a kindle (loaned) flying back to the U.S. after a wedding in Croatia. That makes me part of the elite bubble that the author describes.

And he is exactly right. The point of this book is not "who is to blame" (what a great number of reviewers harp on) but that the ruling class (for you leftists the 1%) are completely isolated from the other 99%. This is not ideology, it a fact. And the future is getting worse, unless you think the rich and products of the Ivy League should rule all the rest who have no rights. Be honest about that! Disclosure: I am a Bernie Sanders Democrat.

On the other hand, his hope that the working class might begin to imitate the traditional moral values that the 1% practice but actually discourage for the other 99% is laughable. He never admits that a degenerate consumerist proletariat is exactly what the clean living 1% want. Example Holywood: the rich convincing the poor that self-destructive behavior (promiscuous sex, drug use, violent behavior, etc.) is liberating. And they collect the rent. He does not understand how vicious the 1% is in its need to cannibalize the rest of us. The "elite" is more evil and vicious than he imagines. Probably because he is part of it; as he admits.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I received a copy of this book at no charge from the publisher for the purpose of review.

This book was interesting to me because I have always been interested in human behavior. This book takes a statistical look at class diversion among white people from 1960 - 2010 in America. It is a very interesting read if you like that sort of thing like I do.

I was a bit surprised at some of the reasons for this huge gap that happened through history. It was very informative. I don't want to say what was all involved because I want you to read this yourself. Besides the complexities there are would not even give the book justice if I were to summarize them.

There were a few things that stood out to me, importance of education, solid family life, and Christian principles. The data shows when these things are strong in culture and class things are better but when they decline culture declines. These plus many other factors have helped create a divide.

Though religion was discussed in the book I cannot see how this book can be classified "Christian" that is one pet peeve I have with books that are considered "Christian." It is also important to note that the author describes himself as libertarian.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Although I consider myself a liberal, this book could almost convince me to become a raging small-government conservative.


The problem is that while Murray may be correct in pointing out what the denizens of Fishtown have lost--industriousness, marriage, religiosity, respect for the law--he doesn't say WHY. And in order to know how to retrieve those values (if indeed such a thing is possible), one has to know why they were lost. What Murray fails to recognize are the unstoppable forces of globalism, capital flight, and the rise of the internet. And his libertarian hatred of government blinds him to the potential evils of corporations.

The group that has pushed for globalism the hardest is the elite. Only recently, Apple executives dismissed that company's responsibility to return jobs to American workers. Does anyone remember the 60 Minutes interview with Nike's Phil Knight? His justification for outsourcing shoe production is that Americans don't want to make shoes anyway. At least he doesn't. The unrelenting math of globalization has hollowed out middle-class American jobs across the country, from furniture factories in the Carolinas to textile workers in the Northeast to steelworkers in the Midwest. Indeed, these are the very same problems facing Europeans: the West simply cannot compete with Asians in too many industries. Even Japanese production has moved to China. What would happen if Nike or Apple built a plant in Fishtown, one that relied on blue-collar workers? Would the supposedly lazy men of Fishtown still prefer government handouts? I doubt it. The fact is, working-class America has lost its work. One puzzling omission in Murray's discussion about the Maytag Corporation in Newton, Iowa is that fact that the factory was shut down and moved offshore. Forget the civic disengagement of its CEO--what about the jobs? But of course, Murray would prefer to blame the laid-off workers of Newton for their idle and dissipated ways. Murray only need look at East Cleveland as an prime example of what losing blue-collar jobs has meant: gone are the steel companies, gone are the locomotive shops, gone are the machine shops. What's left are the twin mega-hospitals of the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital, devouring all around them in their incessant growth, and with jobs only for the highly-trained and educated.

Unlike the elites of the 19th century, the modern elite feel no need to keep their money in the US, and instead prefer to chase the higher returns of the emerging economies. It makes sense, of course--capital moves to where returns are the highest, and growth has been highest in all of those countries to where American and European jobs have gone.

Murry fails to acknowledge how technology and the internet have limited the kinds of jobs that Westerners once had. Only a relatively small cadre of brainiacs are needed in the US, with the rest of the work going offshore. Gone are the small machine shops and supply line of manufacturers that could have supported entire cities and neighborhoods, with their multiple branches and interdependencies. Now it's a campus in Silicon Valley and a mega-factory in China.

Contrary to what Murray believes, the elite cannot reverse the moral decay he sees by preaching about it. They have to bring back jobs, and if they're as smart as Murry thinks they are, they should be able to find a way to do it. But don't expect them to want to. The flight of middle-class jobs is one of the true crises of the West.

It would not be out of place to question Murry's assertions about religion and European socialism. For one thing, the rise of both the Japanese and Scandinavian societies were accomplished without any Great Awakenings (although Lutheranism was responsible for educating Scandinavian peasants). And for another, many of the social ills he describes, especially early marriage, divorce, and broken homes, tend to occur more in America's bible belt. Is European socialism doomed? It's hard to say. The Scandinavian welfare states, instead of producing lazy mooches, have long topped lists for good governance, efficiency, wealth, health, and happiness.

Finally, is Murray correct in wanting small government? Be careful what you wish for. For the (hopefully well-armed) citizens of Josephine County in Oregon who just rejected a tax increase, it means the almost complete elimination of Sheriff and emergency services. But more ominously, the government is the only counter weight to the corporation. In my town of Ashland, Oregon, is a testament to what large corporations will do when they can: the middle of the city is a toxic wasteland left behind by Union Pacific. They are in no hurry to clean it up.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
With a clever and measured approach to de-politicize his analysis, the author presents a striking division in America that will seem familiar to anyone, but that is growing more damaging than we knew. He falls short on his prescriptions for what to do about it, but it's an illuminating picture drawn from convincing demographic data that the classes in America are growing apart and that it threatens what makes us great. Even though the book doesn't offer answers, it should provoke thought as to what you can do to stop the decline. An enjoyable read that stays clear of political bents that would weaken the argument.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
marilyn mann
In his latest book, Mr. Murray, a libertarian, argues (based on his statistical interpretation & analysis) on the decline of the white "American Community". He brings together 4 basic themes.

1. Divergence of the American classes resulting from a conflict in the cultural & social values of those from the "New" upper class ("Belmont") opposed to those of the "new" lower class ("Fishtown").

2. Decline in marriage, religion, industriousness & traditional values of the "American Culture"

3. Income inequalities leading to some form of an advanced European welfare state in the US.

4. Isolation or geographic separation of the "new" classes and the resultant loss of civic and social responsibility between them.

To keep the race card out this time, he writes in the book "This book uses evidence based overwhelmingly on "whites" in the new upper & lower class." In part one, it begins with his discussion about the "new" upper class which he calls the people living in "Belmont", the "qualifying" 20% represented by the 5% narrow elite (avg. Household income of $287K - 2010 census data), who have isolated themselves into their own neighborhoods and "cultural" groups from the rest of us. He describes them as the ones with the top educations, jobs and living conditions. They pass their wealth, "brains" and cultural values onto their children who continue to maintain this lifestyle into the future.

In Part II, he describes the new lower class which he calls the people living in "Fishtown" - the bottom 20% of the "white" (non-Hispanic) population. He describes them as the ones, who have loss the "work ethic", who are raising families out of wedlock and have disengaged from the "American Community" at large. As he states, it is this collapse of the "Founding Virtues" of America: family, vocation, faith and community that is leading to the decline of America.

His solutions are many. Reduce the "welfare state" and bring back responsibility for oneself and family. As Mr. Murray states, "it is easier (for "Belmonters") to let the government deal with problems in your community that you and your neighbors formerly had to take care of". But, he writes this is the wrong approach. He writes the "Belmonters" need to "engage themselves" with the rest and "preach what they practice" to the "Fishtowners".

However, I think it is somewhat unrealistic to believe that the top 5% are going to drive from their "gated communities" in "Belmont" to meet in the "Waffle House" of "Fishtown" and "preach" their values to this group. There are many obvious problems in "Americas Classless" society, but these problems are a lot more complicated to solve than what he argues as his solutions in this book. However, it is a good effort to "wake" people up again to some of the sociological problems facing America today.

Expect in this election year to see more books published on - What is wrong with America and Why.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
bridget vitelli
Things are usually always changing one way or the other. The statistics don't lie. We have created a culture where some can sit on the sidelines and rely on the others to provide for them.

Ultimately, our biggest American asset - freedom - may lead to our downfall as many people milk the system and others at the top end empower them to do so.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sue pitzer
It could be subtitled the state of America. The decline of the individual and the principles to live by are spelled out in a simple and shocking manner which answers the question: what happened to people?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
As a boomer having been raised in 1950's fishtown and ending up otherwise, the truths reported here are self-evident but rarely put forth into our society. Murray's writing wonderfully combines factual objectivity with emotional engagement. The desperation a millionth of an inch below his words speaks well of him. But what can break our nation away from the downward path of entropy? Sad as it is Thomas Paine probably got it right.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
anna hiller
The book provides data which is of interest and Mr. Murray does a somewhat reasonable job of not editorializing. That said, after reading the chapter titled "How Thick Is Your Bubble?", in which those who might be labeled "elite" were asked 25 questions to determine their knowledge of fellow (non-elite) citizens, I have to ask: Why is it incumbent upon the elites to know what the life of non-elites is about, but not vice versa? Why is there no set of questions for non-elites asking things like "Have you ever listened to a piece of classical music?"; "Have you ever driven a Lexus (which can cost less than a fancy pick-up truck)?", "Have you ever eaten (inexpensive) Thai food?" "Have you ever lived in a large, urban area?" Is he saying non-elites are too intellectually limited to handle this?

So, is one economic group fully responsible for what is going on now while the other sits idly by? Is the lower economic group held back due to lower IQ's, which you can't change? It's a 2-way street, my friend, but not if you follow Mr. Murray.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Charles Murray is one of the United States' most important social analysts . Here he provides a quite troubling portrait of an increasingly polarized white America. In the past thirty years a society where most people once- prided themselves on being 'middle-class' has become one divided into two extremes, the very poor and the very rich. What divides these groups is not simply income, but also social capital, most significantly perhaps , Intelligence. In this book Murray calls the two divides, Fishtown and Belmost. In Fishtown there are high- rates of unemployment, high- rates of divorce, high- rates of single parenthood, decreasing social and religious commitment. In Belmont where the elite live 'old values' still persist. People work hard, parents are devoted to giving their children the best opportunities they can, there is far greater social and religious commitment.
Murray nonetheless faults the Belmont people for having become cowed and timid in regard to presenting their own life- style as an ideal. Rather they do one thing for themselves but have adopted the morally neutral attitude of super- tolerance in which they believe they have no right to put forward their own way- of- life as an example.. Murray believes they thus broadcast the wrong message to those who live in Fishtown those who need the industry, family devotion, social and religious connectedness which would help them back to lives of greater dignity.
As one who strongly believes in the unique and guiding role the United States plays in the world I am troubled by this picture of such a large share of Americans who are not sharing in the American Dream.
Usually it is analysts from the Left who worry about Inequality as a major issue but here someone regarded as a Social Conservative is underlining how serious this issue is.
As commentators as diverse as David Brooks and Niall Ferguson have said this is a 'must read' for those who would understand American Social Reality today.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
james bingham
The arguments made in Coming Apart are extremely simple and likely to be controversial. I summarize the book's three parts below and offer concluding remarks in the final paragraph.

Murray's account begins with describing the rise of the new upper class in Part I (pp. 23-126) and how its members have become concentrated academically at the best colleges and then geographically into America's wealthiest zip codes. The significance of this cultural sorting is that the most influential members of society have had little to no intimate contact with people whose lives are very different from their own. This fact has political significance because in the four largest geographic clusters of the new upper class, 65% identify themselves as liberals, and 19% as conservatives. The first implicit conclusion of Part I is that the nation's most wealthy, successful, and intelligent people are committed to using government to help less well off people even though the upper class has so little contact with those people that their problems can not be truly understood or appreciated. The second implicit conclusion is that cultural segregation has isolated the new lower class from would be cultural role models whose cultural choices are correlated with high levels of self-reported happiness. Murray anticipates aggravating many readers with these conclusions, and he uses the majority of the remaining book to bolster his case with data and a few brief anecdotes.

Part II (pp. 127-235) is the heart of the book and where Murray lays the foundation for the data analysis by arguing that there are four founding virtues that observers of early America agreed set our country apart from others: marriage, industriousness, honesty, and religiosity. The next four chapters use data to show how members of Belmont (the town Murray uses to represent the new upper class) and Fishtown (the representative lower class town) have made diverging use of these four virtues since the 1960s. The data Murray presents show that Fishtown has suffered large declines in marriage rates and labor force participation, and very high increases in non-marital births, crime rates, and divorce. The religious data is less extreme, but shows a rise in secularism in both Belmont and Fishtown while members of Belmont are still more likely to attend worship services on a weekly basis.

Part III (pp. 234-306) discusses why the data is important. In sum, the data show a collapse of community in Fishtown which is reflected in social and civic disengagement, a lack of social trust, and ultimately declining rates of self-reported happiness. The data also demonstrate that the chances of self-reporting "very happy" are positively correlated with satisfying work, happy marriage, high social trust, and strong religion. These factors neatly align with Murray's four founding virtues (industriousness, marriage, honesty, religiosity) to complete the story: the cultural collapse has left Fishtown a much less happy place to live than it was in 1970. The same applies to Belmont, but the drop in self-reported happiness was much less extreme.

Overall, the book is engaging and a very easy read. Other reviewers have criticized Murray for being overly nostalgic, but the data suggest that Americans themselves are nostalgic since the self-reported happiness rates were higher in the past than today. In any event, Murray might readily admit to being nostalgic since the trends he reports are extremely unsettling for those who believe that a healthy, prosperous, exceptional America depends on strong communities filled with self-respecting, happy people. If you disagree with Murray about what makes America successful, then this book will make for a very frustrating read. Other reviewers have complained that the book is too political or that Murray has an ideological ax to grind. I do not agree with these reviews because Murray spends little time casting blame on policymakers or on ideological worldviews. There is a brief section in which Murray argues that the trend lines suggest that America is increasingly culturally mirroring the society of a European welfare state, but that is hardly an offensive observation. I agree readily that this book will spark political arguments among readers, but Murray does not engage in that debate within Coming Apart, so criticizing the book for being politically-charged is unfair. If you are unsure of whether to purchase this book, I recommend watching Murray's recent Bradley Lecture on the AEI website in which he summarizes many of his arguments. If the lecture sparks curiosity, then the book will prove enjoyable.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
marita anderson
After laying out solid facts on the deterioration of "Americanism" Charles takes a deep breath and provides his view that the advance scientific human self-knowledge will be the foundation of a renaissance. While I would wish this to be, I suspect that this cultural reversal cannot happen founded on such a benign basis. Something more radical will be needed to propel a return to the four pillars of our greatness.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
ismail zahirovic
My thoughts- This book was interesting, but I think that 300 pages for the main text was too long. It could have been shorter and gotten to the point faster.

I have never thought that the census was that important and asked a lot of personal questions that it didn't need to. This book showed me how important the census is and what kind of information can be gotten from it. Without this information there would be no book.

I thought the last chapter was the best, because it was no longer about numbers and it talked about Charles Murray's opinion and where the United States will be in the future. We can already see in Europe what happens when heritage is forgotten. As a country we need to get back to our founding fathers' virtues, so that we can have a strong future without such a strong separation between classes.

I recommend this book to those who want to learn how America is coming apart culturally.

Disclosure of Material Connection- I received Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray for free from the WaterBrook Multnomah "Blogging For Books" program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Interesting statistics on changes in America. Authors approach is positive and worth reading. Progress always brings change. The danger is that not everyone recognizes the need to adjust to the changes. The author shows that adjustments need to be understood by both those who have benefitted and those who have been slow or non-responsive'
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
katherine ross
An appropriate read for our current times. I enjoyed this book although I found parts somewhat repetitive and a bit long. That being said, it did provide an interesting look into how American has changed in the last 50 years and why American culture is a force of our own destruction. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone to read, it's educational and interesting.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
lauren jones
Slog through this book - it's a must read.

Keep in mind, however, that this is an infuriating book in many ways, because it's got a deep pro-libertarian political agenda that is awkwardly melded with evidence that shows how libertarian policies and politics can tear apart the very society the author describes as "ideal" - the honorable but poor nuclear family living in a community of racial, social and religious uniformity.

While it was at times disturbing to see how accurately he was able to describe the "bubble" that I increasingly live in (his 25 question "test" of the thickness of your middle class bubble was very interesting), what surprised me was how myopic his views on the influence of globalization on society's lowest-paid workers are. Like most libertarians, the role of externalities is often downplayed, leaving the fault of economic failure and the praise for economic success exclusively with the individual, and all other factors are nearly irrelevant.

Much of the statistical evidence he cites in the book is based on a few surveys, and where there's no data, he just invents information that supports his thesis, and then backs in the "evidence" to fit his views. That can be frustrating at times, because it leads to "trending" a data item even where there is no valid data longitudinally over the periods of time in which he's citing a trend.

In many ways, those are nitpicks, because the real core of the book is an interesting, and by my own experience, accurate view of the United States today. This is despite his juvenile certainty that the individual's motivation is all that matters to success or being able to survive economically (basically a classic position of Libertarian politics, which are roughly identical to those of a 15 year old boy).

He correctly identifies the huge differences between the people from "Belmont" (a fictional place where white people have jobs, a stable home life, go to good schools, stay married, don't watch much TV and never smoke) and "Fishtown" (another fictional place where they smoke, watch lots of TV, know who's who in NASCAR and are likely to wear a jacket with a Budweiser logo on it when they go to a smoky bar with friends). Living, as I do, in a place where Belmont and Fishtown overlap, it was extremely revealing to me to see just how different my "Baby Belmont" lifestyle is from my Fishtown neighbors. He's absolutely right when he suggests that the people in Belmont are capturing all of the good jobs, and maintaining a lifestyle of privilege and stability that is gone from the Fishtown world. I see it every day, like when at work we "can't find the right people" for open jobs, while I know of plenty of underemployed people who wish they could get a job paying 1/4 of what my company pays for almost any position. We'd never be able to hire from Fishtown.

But this is where, from my perspective, the book goes way wide of the mark. He actually refers to the white males of Fishtown who don't have enough or any work as "goofing off" - those are the actual words he uses.

He makes arguments that any work is better than no work - and while at some level, that's true, what he completely ignores is that the "Atlas Shrugged" crowd running American business these days has actually stripped hope of improvement of your situation from low-wage work. The "worked your way up from the mailroom" stories that abound in libertarian mythology are based on a world where the bottom of the workforce in America was competing with itself to rise up within the American Experiment.

[11 April 2012 NOTE: I've edited the part below to clarify my statements about the "Atlas Shrugged crowd" above in response to several of the comments below.]

The author is an avowed libertarian. There's no model in the Libertarian worldview for dealing with the idea that the guy living in Fishtown in a trailer alongside the highway and making $8.25 an hour needs only to "work smarter" to enjoy the benefit of the American Dream when company he's working for is about to hire someone who was living in a dirt floor hut near Xinghuy last year.

In a global economy, companies have little motivation to think nationally, they just look at median wages paid by geography and move labor to where it's cheapest and automate whatever's left behind, resorting only to paying a living wage to human beings where there's no other option. Fishtown is learning what the "Global Citizen" has for a standard of living. To the worker in China or Mexico who didn't have running water in their home, being offered a job with a bed and a shared bathroom in a dormitory next to a factory and earning $220 a month for a 60 hour workweek is a massive improvement in living standards. To the guy in the trailer in Fishtown, it will be a massive downgrade of living standards.

But it's not just the fact that Fishtowns are the result of a huge pull downward for America's working class that results when the median wage is evaluated on a global scale. If you're an Ayn Rand acolyte, you don't really care about national borders or the people downstream of your decisions, you care about your own self-interest. You then build companies aligned with your own economic interests accordingly and that's supposed to either "lift all boats" or "trickle down" or whatever you want to say about it. While I am not anti-capitalist by any means, I think that the author unfairly places the blame for economic failure to thrive among Fishtown residents on the members of the Fishtown community itself who have been "coddled" by the government and social policies that don't force people to take whatever work they can, regardless of what it is.

In the author's view, the residents of Fishtown are "lazy" (to use just one of the pejorative terms he uses throughout the book). In reality, I think that the residents of Fishtown realize that if they work hard, and do the right thing, they are still playing in a game they can't really win. This is because the companies led by people acting in their own self-interest have become incredibly adept at reducing current costs to themselves while ignoring, to the greatest extent possible, the external effects of their decisions.

For Fishtown residents who do work hard, their rewards seems to be a 29 hour work week, carefully managed to avoid payment of any overtime, with no ability to buy health insurance because their pay is too low, and no ability to enter the "ownership economy" because they are priced out of the market. In short, it's a sucker's bet to bother to try. Now in the author's defense, he does suggest that a broad and deep social safety net does not do much to encourage the white males of Fishtown to get off the couch and get out to work at some menial job because that's the honorable thing to do. The emotional side of me disagrees with the author on this point, but the pragmatic side of me (and the memories of taking on menial work when my own career derailed for a while) does give his argument some validity.

I do wonder if we're experiencing the results of people who spent years of being told in school that "you can be anything you want" and getting prizes for participation, not victory. Has this has left us with a culture that's simply unable to accept that sometimes you just have to work hard and lower your standards, and not every door is open to everyone? For the Fishtown residents, I don't accept his conclusion that they are just "goofing off" - I think that a complex confluence of globalization and the effects on wages and a society that seems to be breeding out competitiveness in Americans have resulted in the Fishtown culture. The issues he describes are the symptoms of hopelessness and anger that comes when reality doesn't match the stories we were told growing up.

His view of the Belmont residents is more charitable, but he decries their willingness to tax themselves at what he feels is an excessive rate in order to placate and calm the residents of Fishtown with deep and broad social safety nets.

His view is that the second and third generation Belmont residents don't understand the Fishtown world at all (I'll concede that) but they also feel a need to "do something" to help them - so they willingly decide to accept what are (in the authors view) excessive tax burdens, just to keep the folks in Fishtown from becoming a social problem in the Belmont neighborhoods.

In other words, he has a distain for economic empathy, and I think he's concerned that real empathy and a connection between these cultures is lost. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that his argument for dismantling the social safety nets and convincing the Belmont folks to stop paying for it is actually based on some form of empathy for the Fishtown residents - I think that while the author is horrified by what he sees in Fishtown, he thinks that Belmont is making Fishtown possible by funding a system that discourages the kinds of "good behaviors" that the author sees as mandatory for the American Experiment to continue.

Regardless of what you think about your own situation, this is a good read, and slog through it to the end. It's not always well written, but there are many little gems of insight that are really good in it, and if you're making your living as a "knowledge worker" it is a good way to get a look at a world you may be ignoring.

(Edit: Fixed some typos and added a word or two for clarity, updated last section heavily on April 12th)
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
fateme ahmadi
I disagree with a lot of Murray's arguments. However, I always think he is worth reading and I find his insights engaging. This book is no different; Murray provides significant information on key elements of modern American life with wide-ranging statistics. A lot of what he turns his attention to hasn't been covered nearly as effectively in other places.

That said, there is one inherent weakness with the work: it covers too much (at times it feels belabored) while also being selective in its approach. As other reviewers have noted elsewhere, had he shifted the years he looked at the story might look a bit different. Moreover, by isolating the parts of American life that he explores, he misses the opportunity to unite the book into a more coherent whole.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
jan petrozzi

Dear Bill,

I was motivated to read Charles Murray’s 2012 book “Coming Apart: the state of White America, 1960-2010 by the shabby way he was treated at Middlebury on March 2, 2017. Sad that such a worthy scholar who amassed such cogent data got attacked and the weak kneed administration failed to respond with any discipline for the right of free speech!
I am in awe of Murray's deep scholarship in presenting this troubling picture of America's deep class divisions.
While Murray tells us perfectly how we got to the sad, untenable place we are today, he fails to tells us WHY! Since 1965 we added over 100 million aliens, legal and illegal to our population, while automating low skill jobs out of existence. In short, between immigration and automation we have created an over population just as the planet has. Problems ahead will not be solved with words or Murray's concepts. Thus I give his effort ONE STAR with regret..
BTW, he addresses white America, not because he is a racist but because he chooses one data set for clarity about how bad things have gotten for poor Americans.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
katherine watkins
The basic problem is that most "social conservatives" don't understand how we got to the point of domestic disintegration discussed by Charles Murray in is new book, Coming Apart, which examines the process without attending to some of the most important factors.

There are two main causes of familial decline: material prosperity and automation. The simple fact is that for most people virtues do not advance amidst abundance. They decline, and like the proverbial rotten apple, once the decline sets in the process can accelerate. Only a few people become more virtuous without economic pressure, and families tend to fall apart when they don't need one another to survive.

Now that alone doesn't explain the decline among the poor, but there another factor is operating: automation of most unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, putting the virtue-building influence of work out of reach of those who lack extensive, and expensive, education, for which most of them lack the aptitude.

Frustrated at this situation, too many people seize on things that can have nothing to do with slowing the decline, such as school prayer, denial of same-sex marriage, making divorce more difficult, or prevention of abortions. Whatever the merits of such things might be, none of them will reduce the rate of breakups or the rise of out-of-wedlock births.

Some have touted the detrimental effects of government subsidies, and that is valid. However, people need to face the fact that the main way elimination of those subsidies would benefit virtuous behavior is by causing so much suffering that only the virtuous would survive. That has been the historical remedy, but no one can advocate for that, especially to voters who would be among those who would likely wind up dying in a ditch.

Everyone needs to face the brutal truth, that there are no gentle, humane solutions. Until the human species evolves to become virtuous without deprivation, only deprivation can reduce vice.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
keri grabiec
The book starts off talking about how the lives of the elites and the rest of the population have diverged. This analysis is thought provoking and appears robust. Then he gets into his 4 defining American qualities and the data there is lacking. It seems like an author could pick anything he wanted and back up his claims at least as robustly as Murray does.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sandy lauer
Outstanding research on the social and economic changes in last 50 years.

In the last chapter, the author discredited the European model with an inaccurate view of what it really is, disregarded the significant differences in northern and southern Europe countries and didn't sufficiently cover his view that libertarianism will be the solution to the loss of social and civic participation in our communities and in some respects is counter to increased religious participation.

Walt Schymik
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
There is one huge flaw at the center of this otherwise excellent book. Murray missed the impact of the Opioid Crisis. The Coming Apart which he alludes to, the decline of marriage, of the work ethic, of respect for the law and of religious observance, can all be directly attributed to the rise in opioid addiction, an enormous corporate crime which has ravaged our nation.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
laura jimenez
I would recommend Coming Apart to others, but with a word of caution. I felt that Murray tended to rely too heavily on his opinions towards the end of the book; especially in the final two chapters. I did not feel that he made a compelling case for religion as a keystone to the "American project." I actually felt like the final chapter was unnecessary all together. That said, a very interesting read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
t j day
Charles Murray effectively argues and supports each of his claims with data... lots of data, something that I appreciate, since most books just state a claim and then build from there.

Whether you agree that declining morals are at fault or not, it is full of interesting statistics that will better inform your own opinions, perhaps even change them.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Great use of statistics! It's scary to see where our society and our cultural are going even if his interpretation of the data isn't 100% correct.

He does get a little repetitive in the points he is making.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
tara renee breitenbucher
Charles Murray's book demonstrates that today's upper and lower classes have much less in common than their predecessors. Though his data come from white America (usually used for studies between races), Murray's focus allows us to see how the baseline has changed. The analysis begins with 11/21/1963 - the day President Kennedy was shot.

At the time, the white illegitimacy rate was only 3%, about where it had been for 100-some years. Divorced persons headed just 3.5% of households, separated persons only another 1.6%. This was a time when over 80% of married women with young children did not work outside the home. Most TV shows supported American values of the time, with their selection of language, situations, and scenes carried. Over half of Gallup respondents said they had attended a 'church' within the last seven days, and there were only 18 arrests for drug abuse per 100,000 citizens, compared to 1,284 for drunkenness. Poverty (calculated retroactively) had fallen from 41% in 1949 to less than 20% - good reason for it to NOT be a major topic. Ninety-five percent identified themselves as working class (50%) or middle-class (45%), and only 8% of adults had college degrees. Median family income for people in managerial occupations and the professions was only $62,000 (Murray reports all data in 2010 dollars); less than 1% had incomes exceeding $200,000. The average price of new homes built in 1963 was $129,000, and classy Chevy Chase homes (wealthy D.C. suburb) advertised at the time averaged $227,000. Thus, wealth disparity wasn't a big issue either.

In 1960, the 100th-ranked Fortune corporation had sales of $3.2 billion, $24.5 billion in 2010. Thus, contends Murray, good managers had the opportunity to make a greater financial impact for a firm and were worth more. Murray's position, however, implicitly and mistakenly assumes their greater pay was attributable to providing greater value for their firms. Turns out that foreign managers at much larger and more innovative firms were paid far less, that American managers' pay has climbed without regard to performance, and their contributions to society, and ultimately their own firms, have mostly turned negative via destructive off-shoring, outsourcing, hiring hordes of illegals, creative accounting, financial engineering, and taxation strategies. The main remaining task - setting strategy, is often also delegated away to consultants. Their short-term self-centered decision-making and lobbying have decimated the economy, made America vulnerable to greatly reduced manufacturing capabilities, created horrendous deficits, created financial upheaval (the 2008 'Great Recession'), dodged responsibility for the environment (especially Global Warming), contributed to an undemocratic and paralyzed government, shrunk the middle-class, AND pulled the rug out of the hopes of millions of youngsters. Sorry, Mr. Murray - any fool could have accomplished these same or better results, and been paid far less.

In 1961, 25% of Yale's entering class had SAT verbal scores of less than 600; five years later, only 9% did. College selectivity was rising, marriages became more homogeneous (IQ and education), and the rise of the upper-middle-class had begun. Amazingly, average IQ levels for various levels of education have changed very little since 1963; not surprisingly, getting into a good college has also increasingly become associated with being the offspring of graduates of those same colleges.

Today, fewer are marrying and more are having illegitimate children, more men work part-time or not at all. (Sociologist Murray knows quite well that financial stress is the #1 source of marriage problems, but ignores this and pretends the 'real' cause is lower-class laziness.) Strangely, Murray also contends that personal bankruptcy has lost its stigma and become more prevalent - a socially acceptable way to steal. I'm rather conservative and have never even thought of bankruptcy, but I take major offense at Murray's allegation, made without reference to the declining ability of families to support themselves, the hoodwinking underlying the 2008 Great Recession, the major public bailouts afforded large firms that created much of the problems for everyone else, or even capitalist maven Steve Forbes' ability to have his very large indebtedness modified (so the banks would not be holding a bankrupt's note)! Another major cause of personal bankruptcy - our having the world's most expensive (free-reign capitalist self-serving) health care system that charges the uninsured about three-times the rates charged insurance companies? Further, our 18% GDP expenditures for health care are about twice those of competitor Japan, with poorer societal outcomes. Businesses don't care - more reason to offshore, etc. - yet, clearly health-care is making our economy sick. What is the morality in these abuses, Mr. Murray?

Adding insult to injury, Murray childishly blames the government for much of today's ills - 'only a government could spend so much money so inefficiently.' Please, it's hard to be efficient when you're trying to put out (economic) fires while multiple arsonists (businesses abusing their fellow Americans via Free Trade and hiring millions of illegals) are still at work.

Bottom-Line: Mr. Murray has previously produced works that I found very admirable. Not this one - here he confuses cause and effect on a massive and deliberate scale. Perhaps this 'confusion' was caused by shilling for his new employer - the incredibly biased and demagogic American Enterprise Institute. Let there be no misunderstanding - Mr. Murray is not trying to inform readers or help solve problems. He's simply profiting by regurgitating excreta lapped up from other conservative demagogues and media muckrakers.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
keanna daniels
I've followed Charles Murray's career starting with the infamous Bell Curve in 1996, I would just like to say that his dream (implicit as it may be) will come true. A new group of beings will be made public, and possibly a new group of immigrants may be discovered. They will advance the human race by 100s if not 1000s of years, they have IQ's far higher than any ever tested and are far more advanced, they are beyond studious, and beyond industrious. They will help us in ways never before imagined.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
waylon flinn
I generally like Murray's books, especially Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book), so this is not the standard negative review of the author. I just don't like this book very much. The theme is not new; the top 20% of population are having a better life than even. The bottom 50% have not improved their lot much in recent years. Murray proceeds in his standard way, i.e. bases his arguments heavily on statistics. In this case he kind of creates something we might call virtual statistic. I am pretty sure the picture the author paints is correct, but I don't like the approach. A much richer book focusing on the top 20% is The Paradise Suite: Bobos in Paradise and On Paradise Drive. That is more of an ethnographic study than a statistical study, but given the I don't content the phenomena Murray is describing, I prefer the richer discussion in this alternative book
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
alecia dennis
Great summary of statistics backing up his argument....'Facts are stubborn things' as John Adams once said and Charles Murray is the King of Stats and Facts so everyone needs to read them first before making arguments later.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
corrina lawson
The book has three parts. The first one is a shorter explanation of the "Bell Curve", a book co-authored by Mr. Murray which I read and liked. The second one is a more "practical" explanation using two cities as examples: Fishtown (working-class) and Belmont (elite). So far, so good.

The third part is a whacky American Exceptionalism / fundamentalist-libertarian acid trip of opinion piece where, using induction rather than facts, the author makes some remarkable claims:

* That the United States was an exceptional (of course) and even utopian place until the 1960s, where communities self-regulate without government intervention and all social problems were taken care of by the community itself. Rich and poor lived together in harmony. Lion and lamb slept side by side in harmony;

* Then starting in 1960s, family and religious values went down the drain *only for the working class*. The elite kept the virtuous ways (that is, to marry and go to church);

* After 20 years later when kids born under this "immoral environment" became adults all sort of social problems started popping up in the 1980s to this day.


* Everything would be all right again if the working poor just kept their families together, stopped having kids out of wedlock and went back to church

* The poor have only themselves to blame for their problems

* The benevolent elite tries to help, but there's only so much they can do - and it harms itself in the process

BTW, all this with white people, the rest don't really matter. Of course, the author makes no serious comparison with other societies like Australia, an otherwise quite similar country. No comment on the predatory practices of Wall Street that started in the 1970s, the wholesale export of jobs or the capture of the US government by lobbies. Why ruin a good argument with uncomfortable facts?
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
allison sutherland
Upon hearing about this book on NPR, I thought it would be much more a study about the growing class divisions... and it is, but that's not it's central theme. Libertarian Charles Murray begins with the premise that the United States was designed as a limited government democracy in which most of the day-to-day work of society is organized, managed, and overseen at a local level. This local civic involvement has always been fueled by a few core values: integrity, industriousness, marriage, and religiosity. (These values may, at first glance, make a liberal reader like me cringe because they seem to tread awfully close to the "family values" platform of social conservative-cum-fascist politicians, but Murray provides historical examples that clarify that he's not talking about people's private sexual behavior, but the benefits that these social institutions confer upon society.)

Murray's analysis slogs through reams of data (and yes, sometimes it is a slogging read) to show how these core values have remained more or less static among the white upper class over the last fifty years, but have seriously eroded among the growing lower classes. People in crime-riddled poor neighborhoods don't trust each other (integrity). Marriage rates are falling, especially among the working and lower-middle classes, leading to poorer outcomes for children of single parents (marriage). Fewer working and lower-middle class men are working full time, or even working at all, despite a booming economy in the 80s-90s (Murray's data controls for the increased unemployment rate caused by the 2008 recession)(industriousness). And religious observance is on the decline, as anyone who pays attention to shrinking church congregations can readily tell you (religiosity).

Why does this matter? Because in a limited government such as ours, if things don't happen on a local level, they don't happen. -And all of these historical core values are the reason that people get involved in their communities and get stuff done. Maybe most of us don't care that people aren't getting married or going to church anymore, but Murray's data shows us that the downward spiral doesn't stop there. People aren't joining unions or the PTA anymore, either. They're not getting involved in local politics or civic organizations such as the Elks or the Odd Fellows. Volunteerism and philanthropy are way down. Most of them are not even showing up to vote, that most basic responsibility of democratic citizenry. Instead, they're withdrawing from society, from democracy, into the isolation of their own homes, where they watch more hours of television per week than most people devote to paid employment.

Murray doesn't tell us how to fix it. He's not advocating a redistribution of wealth or government policies aimed at encouraging marriage and "traditional" family values. Instead, his role is that of the canary in the coal mine: to provide starkly irrefutable proof that we're all in danger, and it may or may not be too late to do anything about it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Charles Murray has never been one to shy away from a volatile subject. As a result, he has been able to make startling arguments on topics that are rather taboo in the modern intellectual climate. With the Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book), he argued that intelligence, which is partly innate, is more important to social success than socioeconomic status. In Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, he ranks the cultural value of different civilizations and assesses the west as by far the greatest. It's clear from his work that Murray does not suffer from delusion--he is no quack. And the content of his arguments is engaging for anyone who is open-minded and willing to consider arguments from new perspectives.

Here, Murray explains that white America has grown increasingly divided along class lines. There is a clear moral case being made here. The lower class is falling into illegitimacy, crime, and poverty while the upper class is excelling in education, career, and family. The main cause is simple: primarily, a devaluation of white middle class values brought on by increased intervention by the government. This intervention takes the form of welfare support, in which the government gives incentive for people to break apart families and avoid work. Meanwhile, the upper class is left alone to prosper in its highly technical fields.

This argument will challenge the reader, whether you agree with the central premise or not. At the very least, it is worth an in-depth discussion. Reflect upon it with regard to George Gilder's Men and Marriageargument, and Eric Robert Morse's argument in Juggernaut: Why the System Crushes the Only People Who Can Save It.

Definitely a five-star book for the provocative ideas alone.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
phyllis vitale
There are few who would deny that white america is increasingly losing its 'connective tissue', but this the argument over the WHY is overcomplicated, and has, "too many notes".

There is only one reason that america itself is coming apart and that is an illusion that somehow, but for a very brief era, that the United States was all that cohesive to begin with.

At best our united efforts---being more dedicated to the society at large, and sacrificing our individual desires for the good of the whole--- were transitory, unsustainable, and short-lived. The natural state of things is chaotic, and our superimposition of order on top of this chaos, has proven to be a futile one, exploited beyond imagining by financiers.

It will always be thus, particularly for the democratic republican experiment that was begun in Philadelphia in the 1700s, and now lies in ashes, its Constitution, Amendments, Declaration, and Bill of Rights set afire by a few thousand lobbyists, corporations, and corrupt governmental officials in league with the investment banks, rendering our votes utterly useless. They have contributed mightily to our, "Coming Apart".

Murray says a lot that is factual, true and provocative, but the one thing that he misses entirely is that a nation of 320,000,000 (counted and not counted) individuals, growing year by year to 350,000,000 then on to 400,000,000 then to 500,000,000 becomes ever more ungovernable (this state of things materializing almost as soon as Ben Franklin warned us, "if we could keep it") as a single entity. For certain, not by even the most intelligent, moral, benevolent and standup people among us who would run for office. And will anyone deny that we are so far from that 'best of things', as to be an hallucination, a mirage that will never come to pass.

The time is long past for the people of this nation to recognize that the assembly of 50 states and Israel as our 51st, has not been in the last 40 years and never will be as we grow larger, a 'governable entity'. It needs to be 'disassembled'. Murray avoids this potential cure but that is the only prescription that will work for the masses, instead of as it is now, for the top 10%.

A minmum of 12 regions, all with new, similar, divergent forms of government, on this part of North America, whatever those new citizens of those new entities want in the form rule, needs to be the direction we strive towards, not avoid, or attempt to re-glue, because "Coming Apart", is precisely what we need to do formally, with vigor, purpose, and a recognition that a Clone, a single form of anything carries within it always the fatal flaw of extreme vulnerability to a single destructive invader that will summarily kill all the clones off.

I revel in the fact of, "Coming Apart", but fear that it will be used to try and re-mend us together whether we approve of it or not, whether it is fatal, debilitory or not, ONLY to benefit the status quo, the powers that be, our current rulers, who will not give up their influence, control, and ability to manipulate us to bend to their will, making us little more than wage slaves.

Nice work, Mr.Murray, but you are avoiding the easy choice that needs to be made because of the difficulty, the nearly impossible ability to get our current governement to acquiesce and proceed with all possible haste to rid us of one Federal Government that has sought to dominate us no less than a despotic tyrant would do, a hydra-headed monster that needs to be destroyed, rather than nourished. From those ashes our best chance for a Phoenix-like resurrection would then be possible.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
hana schuck
It is fascinating to read some of the the store reviews that precede mine. The differences between various reviewers are stark - like night and day, darkness and light.

Murray has done us a service not a disservice as some profess with his important publication, "Coming Apart." In this excellent book, Murray brings a new light on a subject that has been emphasized by liberal politicians - "The Class Divide." Their answer is and has always been to throw more money at the problem, whether through investments in education or income redistribution.

Murray argues, however, that the greatest source of inequality in America now is not economic but cultural. We have two classes - one that is educated, stays married, does not produce children out of wedlock, and earns a good living. The other side of the divide is much less educated, suffers from high divorce rates, has rising out-of-wedlock births (which leads to non-marital child rearing), and is less able to achieve economic independence. Those who have liberal inclinations will find Murray's analysis hard to accept while those will have a more conservative perspective will find much they agree with.

This book comes on the heels of the publication of Mitch Pearlstein's From Family Collapse to America's Decline: The Educational, Economic, and Social Costs of Family Fragmentation (New Frontiers in Education)in which the author does not restrict himself to white America as Murray does. Pearlstein connects the dots and highlights how the breakdown of the family is the root cause of our "class divide"... And no amount of investment into our schools nor schemes to redistribute wealth will ever fulfill the promises of politicians seeking simple populist solutions. The root cause of our most serious societal problems is the collapse of the family...and while a very difficult problem to solve, this is where America's focus needs to be.

Murray is not to be castigated but to be congratulated. More Americans need to read this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Charles Murray is on target. It is sad that free speech even though true is subject to restriction in our Country.
I noted that Murray avoided race as it is the fastest way to be discredited. Also, the avoidance of comments by academia as their jobs could be at risk.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
julie balazs
It's an interesting read but there is very little to support Murray's hypothesis, that these virtues are what enables the elite to be the elite. It could be argued that the elite have the ability to enjoy these virtues because they are the elite, of which there is more historical data to support that fact. The elite (rich) are not necessarily a pillar of virtue, look at the behaviour of many of the worlds elite, from white collar crime, alcoholism, addiction and adultery, poor behaviour isn't confined to the poor. The major difference is that some of the poor's behaviour is based on survival. Interesting topic and one that needs to be discussed, but this is hardly a definitive look at this topic. I suggest if he truly believes this he needs a follow up some actual data that point to a true cause and effect.

I guess the interesting thing is seeing as I read it I guess that makes me part of the cognitive elite.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I saw the author on PBS today and I agree with his description of America. I (and my husband} have a bit of college, shop at Macy's, Kmart and Target and shop at Walmart, Wholefoods and Trader Joes weekly for my groceries, so I am a cross class person, although financially I am middle class and, thanks to Obama, Congress and the Fed (and their cohorts), I am having troubles. A few things to note:

Government is corrupt so it has made things worse when it comes to social engineering and just about everything else.

What he calls "goofing off" in "Fishtown" may be clinical depression.

Change has to come from the media, all media outlets, among other things.

I would live a different life, if: I could have afforded a good ("vetted") babysitter when my kids were younger, I had money over the years to help with house work - cleaning, repair, etc: Nannies or regular babysitters and house cleaners, reliable cars, good food, and non-cramped living spaces, good neighbors, good schools, make a big difference in how a family behaves and fares.

Charity is the answer. Paul wrote "he who stole, steal no more, but rather work with your hands, that thing which is good, so that you have (what you need) to give to those that have need.

To add to his comment about the rich pay taxes so they, personally, don't have to deal with "Fishtown", I say it is so they don't have to get dirty and GIVE. Here's an idea - how about they raise the pay of all workers under them (also way, way under them and their housekeepers, nannies, etc.) by 15% and hire more people so that they are not working 55 hours a week.

John Adams said a lot about all of this. "An avarious people will never keep this Republic", paraphased.

The "elite" and the "establishment" should try hiring those who don't fit the "college" mold - maybe they will learn something, (for example: I have only a two year degree, in biblical studies, which gives a good overview of life, I think. But with my 2 year degree when friends (even church friends) were flipping houses, I said "this is like throwing gasoline on a fire - a law needs to pass that a deed has the restriction of no sales, unless there is illness or job change, for 3 years (they do this in higher priced tourist areas in England) until this market settles down". (NOTE: I'm against corrupt government, not against local government writing laws and ordianances and then implementing them when it is needed)

I wasn't paid a million a year like some (actually I wasn't paid anything, I was a stay at home mom), in 2006-2007, but I think I nailed it with that comment. Of course my friend looked shocked when I said it to her.

Last comment: I would say mothering and fathering needs to be elevated just like marriage. We also need to get porn off of the web (or on it's own net).
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
j jorge
Just finished reading through page 60 and am perplexed about reference, found on page 26, to the average price of a house in 1963. I checked the author's reference and it does not appear to support $129,000; rather, it shows $18,000 as the price. Apparently, Mr Murray adjusted the average $18,000 without advising the reader - or did I miss an explanation earlier in the book? Some of the other quoted amounts are referred to as current dollars, but the average house price is not so referenced.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
I had higher hopes for this book, but I was disappointed.

First of all, if you haven't already read Robert Putnam's book "Bowling Alone," go read that. Putnam succeeds where Murray fails: demonstrating that, no matter how you look at it, something has changed in this country and it's not been for the better (Putnam is referenced many times in this book).

It's no secret that upper class America is drifting away into new atmospheric strata of isolation and affluence, but there are better books than this one for following that. For a lighthearted quasi-ethnographic take, read one of David Brooks works (also referenced by Murray). You could read Shipler's "The Working Poor" if you wanted to see what life is like for many of the people that make up Murray's new lower class. There are of course countless books on the divergence in income in this country, many of which are recent and take an economic view of the "split" that Murray seeks to blame mostly on "declining morals." Having not read any of these yet, I can't vouch for any in particular.

My greatest disappointment with this book was a perceived lack of necessary connection between the data presented by the author and his thesis. For example, Murray is happy to talk about the lack of industriousness of the new lower class and the reduction of organizational ties (see:Putnam), but is somehow unwilling to consider the reduced power of unions and the declining real value of the minimum wage in discouraging work. Does welfare make work relatively less attractive? I'm willing to accept that it does to a point, but Murray seems to be much more concerned with making the data fit his story than using the data to help him ask the right questions. In many places, the data show problems that could be the result of many factors, yet Murray seems unwilling to go digging. The later chapters in particular feature many opinionated assertions on contentious topics with few footnotes in sight.

I will agree with Andrew Haring's review (New York Review of Books) that Murray should have noted where the other 50% of America his book doesn't cover fits into his thesis.

If you are really interested in the topic, go ahead and read the book; it won't be a big investment in either time or money. If, however, you have a reading list that grows by two books for every one you read, your time will be better spent elsewhere.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
amy mcmullen
"Coming Apart" offers a very effective analysis of the diverging economic prospects and social values of American society since 1963. I should say first off that many people seem biased against this book because of the controversy surrounding Murray's prior book, "The Bell Curve." Murray has taken great pains in this new book to avoid the issue of race, focusing specifically on white Americans. I could find nothing offensive or even politically incorrect regarding race in this book.

The author's main premise is that over the past 4+ decades, America has divided strongly into two classes, that he illustrates with fictional town names. "Belmont" refers to the cognitive elite: The top 20% with college or graduate degrees, who hold jobs in knowledge-based occupations. And "Fishtown" refers to the working class: The bottom 30% with at most a high school diploma and (if employed) working in blue collar or low wage service jobs. Murray demonstrates quite effectively (using statistics) that the people who make up "Belmont" have become more industrious and more traditional in their attitudes toward marriage, family and community, while the people in "Fishtown" are living in communities that are basically falling apart and where traditional nuclear families are becoming harder and harder to find.

While the book bases its arguments on solid statistics, I have two primary complaints. First, it does not always do a good job of distinguishing cause and effect. For example, the author points out the working class men now choose to engage in much more "leisure" and less work. He then conjures up a vision of a typical male, who all bent out of shape because he doesn't have the opportunity has grandfather had at the GM factory, turns down a $12 per hour job driving a delivery truck. I find it VERY hard to believe that $12/hr delivery jobs are going begging. If, in fact, a lot of working class men are not actively pounding the pavement looking for these jobs, there could be reasons: Maybe competition is so intense it is hopeless. Or maybe the jobs get given out based on networking or cronyism, so someone out of the loop has little chance. But I fail to see how "laziness" is the primary cause here.

The second thing is that the book does not anticipate the future very well. Just about everyone will agree that technology and globalization have hit "Fishtown" hard. What fewer people seem to see is that BELMONT IS NEXT. If you doubt this, consider how IBM's Watson computer won at Jeopardy. Or consider the number of information technology and software engineering jobs getting offshored. Or look at what the internet is doing to journalism. These are all jobs that Murray puts in the "Belmont" category. But in the future, a lot of these people are not going to be able to afford to stay in Belmont. Of course, Belmont will still be around; it will just be occupied by fewer and fewer people.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
kate kerrigan
Coming Apart by Charles Murray explores the formation of American economic classes and how the values in each socioeconomic class have changed so much that the different groups barely seem as if they're from the same culture. Although Murray focuses on whites, he goes on to argue that the same is true for blacks, Hispanics and other ethnicities.

This book spends 95% of the time writing about problems and about 5% of the time writing about possible solutions to those problems. It is a conservative / libertarian viewpoint, with the author explicitly stating that one of the four fundamental things to living a happy life is a "satisfying marriage". I know plenty of people who are living happy lives without being married. But I digress.

The failure of this book is the construction of pretend communities with only white people. That's not what America is, so how can he write about what America's real problems are and devise solutions by making up what is essentially fiction?

I will admit to enjoying the part about the Overeducated Elitist Snob problem! Having attended Northwestern University, I had the (opportunity? unfortunate experience??) of meeting many people in the process of becoming this person. I also appreciated Murray's insight that certain government programs take away the responsibility for parents to provide for their children.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinion here is my own.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
penny toews
Murry assumes that because the percentage of men unemployed in poor areas is greater than the national unemployment, then they must be lazy. This is a huge assumption and he did not provide any other data to back this up. Many of his assertions are built on this assumption. This is a very dangerous divisive book that is based on non-existent logic like this. There were other assertions made about human nature that were totally unsubstantiated. This man knows nothing about psychology.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
On its surface this book is a lot more than your typical right-wing conservative (e.g. Bill O'Reilly or Glen Beck) collection of rants. For one, the main premise emphasizes class divisions. The author nearly sounds like a liberal when he claims that the growing schism between the upper and lower classes is a huge problem for the nation. Furthermore, he uses data to back up his points (at least in Part II).

However, as a whole this book fails to transcend its role as a niche libertarian credo. The second part of the book, which describes the growing plight of the white lower class, has some fascinating insights. In particular, the observation that religious attendance and allegiance is actually quite lower among lower class whites than among upper class whites is quite surprising. It's the rest of the book that fails miserably.

Murray is convinced that social progress is bad, that the "European-style welfare state" is inherently a failure, and that "American exceptionalism" is a real thing and not just something that exists in the minds of conservatives. I am still rather unsure of what American exceptionalism is referring to. While Part II deals with facts, the rest of the book discusses the issues from a qualitative standpoint, which is a huge liability. The author even admits as much, early on (p. 35, "The Nature of the Evidence"), that for huge swaths of this book he is essentially making everything up. I suspect that the first part of this book (detailing the elite) was added on after the first draft, perhaps as a suggestion of an editor to make the book appear less "poor-bashing." This part is utter nonsense. The final part isn't much better, though at least it is predictable libertarian nonsense that we've heard a dozen times.

If you're a libertarian, you'll nod and agree. If you're a social conservative, you'll nod and agree. If you're reasonable, you'll find a handful of interesting observations and lots of wildly speculative conclusions and incorrect prescriptions. In any case, why bother?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
patrik zachrisson
Highly recommended; A very insightful book concerning the causes of American cultural, spiritual and economic decline within the ranks of the working poor, and the increased isolation and lack of leadership within our society's elites;
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
medha singh
I saw this author and book reviewed on PBS's Newshour recently. His message was for the 'lower classes' to emulate and learn morals, ethics and religiosity from the 'elite'. I wonder which 'elite' he specifically refers to. Perhaps this US and World New magazine article (March 23, 2012) titled: "Greg Smith, Goldman Sachs, and the Death of Professionalism" is worth a read. Greg Smith, former Goldman employee, earlier published a letter revealing disturbing stories about how Goldman business is done, and how he could no longer work there in good conscience. This US News article contains informative information and conclusions that contradict Charles Murray's arguments. One paragraph states: '...Greg Smith's letter...highlights a widespread and disturbing trend in American society: the death of the culture of professionalism'. The article goes on the discuss how the change has sweeping negative consequences for our economy as a whole.
I agree with Murray's argument that the 'lower classes' should emulate any positive, moral example (as should anyone, 'elite' included). Unfortunately, I think the 'lower classes' already follow the 'elite' example, but it is neither moral, ethical nor religious.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, Murray has done a great service by marshaling an abundance of data documenting the radical economic bifurcation that has direly afflicted the United States over the last fifty years. Although, as someone trained as a demographer, I can pick nits with some of Murray's analysis, on the whole it paints a very clear picture of the consequences of growing first world economic inequality. On the other hand, Murray combines a doctrinaire libertarian viewpoint with his longstanding penchant for naive social Darwinism to effectively reverse the glaringly obvious causality in the data he presents.

To put it simply, Murray's presentation reflects two well known trends over the last fifty years in the US- a huge increase in economic inequality and a huge decrease in social mobility. At the start of the time period of Murray's analysis, the Gini inequality index for the US was in the 30's, roughly equivalent to Canada's today. Currently it is in the mid to upper 40's - equivalent to many third world countries. Likewise, social mobility indices at the beginning of the period were well above those of many European countries and are now well below those of the same countries.

Such huge changes have to have had social effects and Murray clearly shows that they have. In concrete terms, for example, a Fishtown youth in 1965 might have entertained hopes of going to college and moving up in the world - according to a March 2012 Newsweek the cost of a year of college in that year was only $1,560 in constant 2010 dollars. Now, that same youth faces a cost of $24,000 according to that same Newsweek article, yet has virtually the same or even fewer economic resources to entertain his or her aspirations. This, rather than genetic differences or learned dependence on the nanny state seems to me to be more likely to be at the root of the kinds of social problems that Murray so clearly presents. In other words, Murray was right on in presenting the problem and totally off base in attributing the cause - four stars for the analysis, one star for the theory. Averaging the two gives the book an overall two star rating.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I'm one of Murray's "cognitive elite" (PhD Harvard), so I suppose I should hate this book. But I don't. Taking a sociological appraisal of the 50-year period of 1960 to 2010 is an important thing to do. The past half-century has been one of the most tumultuous in American history. So much has changed in America that it's important for us to look back and assess how far we've come, and where we might go in the future. One of the things that I like about the book was beginning the story with the assassination of JFK. I think most liberals assume that Kennedy's assassination was a great tragedy for liberalism, and dream about the great things that Kennedy could have done if he had lived. Murray takes the opposite view, that Kennedy's assassination was the catalyst that enabled great strides in liberal causes like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, by putting LBJ, the consummate legislative deal-maker, into the White House. I think there is some truth to this.

I also thought that Murray's presentations of the data describing the "New Upper Class" and the "New Lower Class" were well done, very informative, and interesting. However, I disagree with calling the cognitive elite, the New Upper Class, because they are more appropriately called the New Middle Class. These are the people who have managed to maintain a middle class lifestyle in the 21st century economy because they have the education or skills necessary for today's jobs that require a higher level of education or training.

In contrast, there is nothing new about the true upper class Americans. They are still the multimillionaires and billionaires who have always been referred to as the "upper class." These are people like Mitt Romney who can be "unemployed" and live off their accumulated wealth. They should not be grouped together with middle class people who still have to work for a living.

Murray's New Lower Class is, however, something new. This category includes people who have always been considered lower class, such as the chronically unemployed, part-time, and minimum wage workers, but also the millions of Americans who have fallen out of the middle class because they don't have the skills or education to hold down a well-paying job in the 21st century economy. These are the people that Murray is so worried about and sees as a threat to American social life. I agree that this burgeoning New Lower Class is probably the most serious problem facing America today. The existence of the New Lower Class should be seen as a social crisis.

Where I part company with Murray is in his interpretation of the data and his prescription for fixing the problem. He argues that the New Lower Class exists because the members of this class are lazy, dishonest, unmarried, and irreligious. He blames these individuals entirely for their plight. His prescription for ending this crisis is for these poor individuals to get married, go to church regularly, and learn about American exceptionalism by reading McGuffey's Readers. The government should also end Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Unemployment Insurance, because these make Americans lazy and dependent.

I almost couldn't believe what I was reading when I got to the end of the book. Murray's solutions for America's immense social problems are so simplistic and naive as to be bordering on ridiculous and absurd. His analysis of how we got into this situation completely ignores the massive tax cuts for the wealthy, beginning with Reagan in 1981, that resulted in huge budget deficits, prompting ruinous disinvestment in public education at all levels, that caused the New Lower Class to be grossly undereducated for the 21st century economy. He also completely ignores the outsourcing of millions of American manufacturing jobs to low wage countries.

Instead, Murray sees the huge problems facing America today in moral terms. He thinks that if lower class Americans would just get married, go to church, believe in American exceptionalism, while the government got rid of the social safety-net, everything would magically fix itself.

These are exactly the kinds of solutions that Republicans are pushing in the 2012 elections. I don't think that many liberal Americans will change their minds and vote Republican after reading Murray's book. Instead, they will realize the immense magnitude of the problems facing this nation, and clearly see the simple-minded irrationality of the conservatives' solutions.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
lois shawver
I feel a little dirty giving this book a positive review. I am certain I'd like to slap Murray's head around his sexist and racist opinions. And a lot of the work in this book is misplaced and useless due to his strong priors of religious observance, libertarian orthodoxy and race preference.
But the central argument is that, from the point of view of a society, some behviours are constructive and some destructive. Murray builds a framework around this observation supported reasonably well with survey statistics, and identifies a series of behavioural tropes that are exacerbating individual's negative experiences with their society, and the society's negative trend in delivering positive results for individuals.
Worth reading, but be careful to skip the bulls--- and never forget that Murray is a sexist jerk.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lori cunningham
I have just finished reading this book and came away with the distinct impression that the negative reviewers have not. Murray is reporting data collected by various surveys over the years. Yes, he does sometimes attempt to interpret data in ways for which he has no scientific methodology (ways that would involve far too much guesswork to be scientific), but the facts as he reports them are sobering: unmarried, non religious, non working, and "dishonest" people make less money, are less educated and are less happy than married, religious, "honest" people who work 40+ hours a week. Don't attack the messenger. I gave this four stars because it's too verbose.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
brandon the gentleman
This book, like Bobos in Paradise, is written by an academic/person suffering from the very status-income disequilibrum he himself mentioned, and so frankly and unfortunately the author is not in a position to observe/describe the more nuanced differences that are very real between the top 1% and the 5% (and the top third of the 1% versus the rest, at that). For Murray who became an academic, his greatest achievement was in academic merit, so this section of the book focuses disproportionately on it. This would still be OK but for the fact that while the parts on academic achievement are mostly accurate (ringing true to personal observation as one who also went to Ivys), the rest of the book that then extrapolates to observations on cultural differences between the upper/lower classes on marriage, religion, crime, and so forth are not sufficiently backed by evidence, nor ring true for me on enough of the social fronts. Because the premise of the book is that sorting by schooling has led to big differences in culture, the book is thus not strong enough as it is top-heavy on the school part but can't stand on its feet on the cultural observations part.

For instance, in the "Honesty" chapter, crime statistics were used as a proxy to whether a person in a given class is honest, which is too weak a proxy. In the chapter on the upper class being happier due to marriage and religion, the part suggesting that atheists are less happy was too scant; I can certainly understand that this is an area hard to discuss, but a thorough researcher would have not jumped to cursory conclusions. This approach of making a sweeping statement and then backing up by some evidence (but not enough to persuasively refute alternative explanations for the trend) happened in many places throughout the book, making me unable to trust in the book's findings as a whole.

The author also took practically every opportunity to use his alma mater as "the" proof and his own sphere of occupation (academia, nonprofit institutions) as part of the elite, when I would have liked to see more data from at least a few other Ivys for strength of observation in his points on school sorting. Greater focus on how the elite private sectors have begun to increasingly diverge in power and influence from the academic world would also have added meat to his analysis. I was reminded of how the "history" we learn is, unfortunately, always written by those who highlight certain slants that, in turn, reinforce the power structure, which sometimes is not wholly innocent of the author due to personal prejudices.

All in all, the book makes some valuable observations but also draws some questionable conclusions, but it was still worth a read, to understand some of the trends and assess for myself the validity of the studies he made. I would suggest people read the book and decide for themselves what they think.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
max woodhams
AH, to return to a world where men where men and women were subservient, pregnant, and god-fearing! This book harks back to a world where four "founding Virtues" built American Exceptionalism: Family, vocation, community, and faith. It seeks a return to the halcyon days when people interacted because they shared values and created communities based on God and adherence to broadly-enforced social standards of behavior. What he largely ignores is that huge numbers of people were relegated to permanent second-class status even in those "wonderful" days of American ascendancy. Women, blacks, gays, those who lost out in a competitive economic market or simply marched to a different drummer--in fact, anybody who may have not quite been satisfied with the status quo--are blamed for bringing on our approaching demise by merely by behaving differently while seeking a more equitable place in the society. Rather than recognize the underlying charade that supported his good old days, Murray just laments the change. He pillories the "European Syndrome" because by assuring a better life generally, it weakens the urge to find "transcendent meaning" in life by denying people a "framework for which people can best pursue happiness" by conquering tougher the challenges presented by the power of a more corporate-libertarian economy. This book is a worthwhile read if you want to explore how conservatives view "opportunity" as if it were abundantly available to those who just have the four founding 1950 virtues. Of course, that is an utterly false premise.... If conservatives had accepted and promoted those changes rather than fighting demonizing them every inch of the way by championing free-market extremism rather than any calmer acceptance of social change and human rights, his "Virtues" might have retained a shred of intellectual dignity. The book is an apology for the conservative worldview, simply unkind in its egregious omissions of real-world incentives and conditions for most of the population.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
beau barnett
Murray, Charles (2012) Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. NY: Random House.
"... it seems to me far more important to stress that the organisms find, invent and reorganize their environments in the course of their search for a better world." (Popper, 1989/1994, p. viii)
"...the Washington of the permanent political class..." Sarah Palin, CPAC, 2012
Murray describes two Americas - "Belmont" and "Fishtown" - as defined by education, employment, crime, religion, income ... one side (the lower middle) has all the bad numbers and seems resigned to them. He finds, no surprise, that intelligent, well-educated people like to live close to each other, work hard, attend church, manage their marriages, and send their children to school with similar children from other people.
Murray identifies industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion as essential traits for a community to amass both self-respect and social capital (Putnam. 2000). These four traits are "American essentials" that thrive in the residents of Belmont and similar neighborhoods that develop mostly near Washington, New York, Boston, and San Francisco. These affluent, educated, creative communities arise because "elite" colleges recruit elite students who dwell at the top percentile of mathematical and literary talent. Those elite students, because of mutual similarity, befriend and marry each other. Every Chip searches for his Muffy.
Belmonters and other Americans are, by tradition and probably genetics, hard-workers, generally truthful, defenders of marriage, and regularly seen in church. The change that Murray finds is that Fishtown residents have, in forty years, abandoned all four of these virtues.
Murray's solution: The residents of Belmont should "preach what they practice" to the residents of Fishtown.
Murray writes well, he writes about my favorite things, and he writes carefully. For example, excluding blacks from the opening studies meant that he avoided lots of "racism" charges that he endured after writing The Bell Curve with Richard Herrnstein. And it was a trivial chore to introduce "black" data late in the book and find there are no differences - aside from crime - between his findings for whites and his findings for all of us.
I admire his ability to incorporate behavior genetics into his sociology but that same behavior genetics appears to make lectures a hopeless tactic.
1) Stephen Strogatz (2003) described the manifestations of self-chosen partnership in his book, Sync. Things - pendulums, neurons, friendships, and marriages - that vibrate in similar ways also move into self-perpetuating partnerships. Yoshiki Kuramoto even wrote difficult math that describes the synchronies that emerge even within fields of a hundred or more oscillators. The startling transition is that of thinking yourself and your beer or wine partners as "oscillators"!
2) Each creature makes its environment. This process was mentioned by Karl Popper (1984/1992), elaborated by Odling-Smee and others, measured in coral, worms, spiders, and crickets - all with limited grammar, by Scott Turner, and applied to human societies by Phil Rushton and his associates. Cossack villages and Shtetls resulted from masses of bottom-up, individual events as did outcomes from the four temperaments that settled the early America (Fischer, 1989). Will there ever be partnership between half of Jerusalem that has an IQ of about 120 and half of Jerusalem that is impulsive and has an IQ of about 75? And WILL the brighter half's favorite lever, lectures, make peace?
3) Conservatism and collectivism (and religiosity) appear to have a heritable basis (Martin et al, 1986; Alford, Funk, & Hibbing, 2005/2006). There Is even a page in Wikipedia for Genopolitics! ([...])
4) Conservatism and collectivism ... including the traits of impulsiveness and verbal skills ... are influenced by in utero battles between the same genes donated by mother or by father (Burt & Trivers, 2006; Haig, 2009; Keverne et al, 1996) The number of combatants started at twelve and ranges upwards to 1300 (Zjang, et al, 2010) and they can enhance lateral awareness and a sense of the future.
5) The mathematics that applies to Bose-Einstein gas near absolute zero also applies even in human societies to four phases in network development (Barabasi, 2002; Bianconi, 2002). The sequence of chaos, selective recruiting, winner-take-all, and collapse build resilient forms, often so resilient that they cannot adapt to dramatic changes induced by disease, toxins, meteors, earthquakes, climate changes, and EMP attacks.
My respect for Charles Murray is endless...
I will soon be seventy but I have a collectivist president who enrages me. As Murray predicted, Obama erodes my deep satisfactions that once came because I had fulfilled my "responsibility for just about the most important things that human beings do." Obama lies and cheats and buys votes with mortgages, government-financed vehicles, tuition subsidies, food stamps, free cell phones, "clean" energy, legal services, voter fraud, health care, day care, public school, and fifty million dead babies. It could, therefore, be argued that Fishtown gets not lectures but rewards for impulsiveness, family abandonment, drug abuse, conniving and sloth. And the lectures flow from Fishtown to Belmont about how you can give up your self esteem but live better. After all, you deserve it and everyone else does it.
In contrast, we need freedom to act and responsibility for the outcomes from our choices. You can find the reasons in certain Greeks, to Smith and Burke, Hayek and Popper, or Plomin, Rowe, Scarr, Bouchard, and that maltreated scholar, Phil Rushton. The will to make our environment is in genes that, even in Fishtown, we share with spiders, crickets, worms, and coral.
Thus, our society may be also a eugenics war in which average wins...
Alfred Lotka put it well: "... the drama of life is like a puppet show in which stage, scenery, actors and all are made of the same stuff. The players, indeed, `have their exits and their entrances,' but the exit is by way of translation into the substance of the stage; and each entrance is a transformation scene. So stage and players are bound together in the close partnership of an intimate comedy; and if we would catch the spirit of the piece, our attention must not all be absorbed in the characters alone, but must be extended also to the scene, of which they are born, or on which they play their part, and with which, in a little while, they merge again." (Lotka, 1925/1956, 183-184)
See also, Murray, Charles (2012) Five Myths about White People. Washington Post, February 10, 2012.
World-Changer: Watts, D. & Strogatz, S. (1998) Collective dynamics of 'small-world' networks. Nature. 393: 440-442.
Alford J, Funk C, & Hibbing JR (2005) Are political orientations genetically transmitted? American Political Science Review. 99(2): 153-167.
Barabási, A-L (2002) Linked: The New Science of Networks. NY: Perseus. (Easy, interesting, fundamental)
Barabási, A-L (2010) Bursts: The Hidden Pattern behind Everything that We Do. New York: Dutton.
Bianconi, Ginestra & A-L Barabási, (2000) Bose-Einstein condensation in complex networks. arXiv:cond-mat/0011224 v1 13 Nov 2000.
Bianconi, Ginestra (2002) Quantum statistics in complex networks. ArXiv cond-mat/0206433 v2 13 Sep 2002.
Brooks, David (2000) Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How they Got There. NY: Simon & Schuster.
Burt, Austin, & Trivers, Robert (2006) Genes in Conflict: The Biology of Selfish Genetic Elements. Cambridge, MA: Belknap-Harvard. (Especially Chapter 4)
Carey, Benedict (2005) Political leanings may be genetic. New York Times. [...] Codevilla, Angelo (2010) America's ruling class and the perils of revolution. American Spectator.
[...], Peter (2006) Weak Links: Stabilizers of Complex Systems from Proteins to Social Networks. NY: Springer. (Good follow-up to Linked)
Fischer, David Hackett (1989) Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. NY: Oxford.
Genopolitics. Wikipedia. [...] (16 references)
Haig, David (2009) Transfers and transitions: Parent-offspring conflict, genomic imprinting, and the evolution of human life history. Proceedings National Academy of Science. 107: 1731-1735.
Keverne, B., Fundele, R., Narasimha, M., Barton, S., & Surani, M. (1996) Genomic imprinting and the differential roles of parental genomes in brain development. Developmental Brain Research. 92, 91-100.
Kirk, Katherine M, Eaves, L. J., & Martin, N. (1999) Self-transcendence as a measure of spirituality in a sample of older Australian twins. Twin Research. 2:81-87.
Lotka, Alfred (1924/1956) Elements of Mathematical Biology. NY: Dover. (Original title: Elements of Physical Biology.)
Martin, Nick G., Eaves, Lindon J., Heath, A. C., Jardine, R., Feingold, L.M., & Eysenck, Hans J. (1986) Transmission of social attitudes. Proceedings National Academy of Science, 83: 4364-4368.
Odling-Smee FJ, Laland KN & Feldman MW 1996. 'Niche Construction'. American Naturalist 147(4): 641-648
Popper, Karl (1984/1992) In Search of a Better World. Lectures & Essays from Thirty Years. London: Routledge.
Putnam, Robert (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. NY: Simon & Schuster.
Rushton, JP, Littlefield, CH, & Lumsden, CJ (1986) Gene-culture co-evolution of complex social behavior: human altruism and mate choice. Proceedings National Academy Science. 83: 7340-7343.
Rushton, JP (2005) Ethnic nationalism, evolutionary psychology, and Genetic Similarity Theory. Nations & Nationalism. 11(4), 489-507.
Strogatz, Steven. (2003) Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. NY: Hyperion.
Turner, J. Scott (2000) The Extended Organism: The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Turner, J Scott (2007) The Tinkerer's Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Zhang, Jiangwen, Brandon Weissbourd, Gary P. Schroth, David Haig, Catherine Dulac* (2010) High-resolution analysis of parent-of-origin allelic expression in the mouse brain. , 329(5992):643-8. (*equal authors )
Zhang, Jiangwen, James E. Butler, David Haig, Catherine Dulac (2010) Sex-specific parent-of-origin allelic expression in the mouse brain. 329(5992):682-5. (Highlighted in Science (2010) 329(5992):636-7, Nature (2010) 466(7308):823-4, and Neuron (2010) 67(3):359-62.)
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
The author's limited examples, narrow two-class parameters, and his ignorant nationalistic views coupled with his broad general conclusions open up his premises and conclusions to doubt. One small Italian village is a limited example; in fact, many European and American small towns have limited resources and have lost many of their most productive men, women and families to larger communities where the work is. There is many a millionaire in this country who has no college degree. There are many people who have paid for expensive college degrees who have no jobs or jobs far below their expectations in obtaining those degrees.

European cities, like American cities, have thriving communities with highly educated people and communities with those who do not have the intellect or other capacity to thrive. In any community, if there are no jobs, there are going to be people who have lost their incentives to be productive. The European and Canadian systems are not welfare states. They are democratically created societies that have voted to provide basic education and healthcare to everyone in a much more efficient manner than we do. They demonstrate government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people better than we ever have. There have been historically and currently highly regarded colleges and universities and education systems in many countries and there are studies reported to demonstrate this fact. Many a renowned scientist and many scientific discoveries have come from these countries. In the past and recently our doctors have gone to Canada and Germany to learn newly developed heart procedures and surgery techniques. An Australian discovered how ulcers could be more effectively treated. Wasn't it a South African doctor who first performed ground-breaking heart surgery to begin with? The world is a global community. There is a spectrum of highly educable people and those with lesser capabilities everywhere. There is a spectrum of highly self-confident, industrious people and those with limited capacity everywhere. When people are provided with the nurturing that good food, good health care, good education and practical life guidance provide, they will thrive. When our academics and our politicians concentrate on solving how to provide for these needs, they will have spent their time more wisely than writing polemics on their observations from statistics chosen to support their premises.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
jean macpherson
I am a liberal. However, I try to read some conservative material in order to understand other side's point of view. Unfortunately, this book contained exactly what I thought it would. Very subjective view on the counter culture, appealing to an audience that does not need proper facts and statistics to adopt a claim. Frequently, the author asks the audience to "apply their own opinion" about a certain liberal stereotype, instead of giving data, as factual evidence to support the claim. This is why I don't read conservative literature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I understand Charles Murray to be saying that America's white middle class is "coming apart" because so many in the lower half of the middle are being sucked down into the lower class behaviors of illegitimacy, indolence, and crime. But the upwardly mobile half have excelled in high-paying technology, finance, education, and media jobs. Murray says that the traditional white middle class, those who used to do well with hands-on jobs in offices and factories, are vanishing between these extremes. Murray has narrowed his focus to Whites in order to avoid any hint of racism.

It does seem that Murray's premise is true --- that increasing numbers of Whites are drifting into the lower-class lifestyle of indolence, welfare, ignorance, drugs, and crime. My family recently moved out of an area that had acquired a preponderance of lower class Whites. Many white kids in this rural/suburban area had taken on the behaviors associated with inner city gangs. Their dads had run off, leaving Mom to support the family with Welfare, Section 8 housing vouchers, food stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security. The boys had organized themselves into a junior league drug Mafioso. The girls wanted to get pregnant and go on welfare. We decided our children's future required us to move, so we left as had many before us. This is what Murray is talking about. Upwardly mobile Whites segregate themselves by choice, leaving lower-class Whites to segregate themselves by default.

Why are so many white families being pulled down into the lower classes? I agree with Murray that it's due to:

1. The creation of the Welfare State that began with LBJ's Great Society in the mid 1960s. Of course the Welfare State is going to dull people's work ethic. Why WOULD people choose to work when they can live from the government? The Welfare State has helped in some ways and hurt in others. Instead of suffering from extreme poverty today's lower-class kids suffer from a drug culture sustained by welfare money.

2. The devaluation of work.* For decades we've been told not to worry about the removal of America's industrial economy overseas. Perhaps we SHOULD worrry. Could it be that free trade has prompted the removal of so many production, engineering, and management jobs overseas that too many of our workers can't find employment at anything other than minimum wage service jobs that won't allow them to support families?

So now we are living in an economy that over-values welfare and under-values work. Should we be surprised that some people make the economically rational decision that welfare pays better than work?

The good news is that many are resisting the trend. I have seen that even the most difficult public schools have teachers dedicated to instilling ethics of education and work in at-risk kids. I have seen many parents who not only raise their own kids with good values but also volunteer to help influence other people's kids as coaches and mentors. Many kids resist the negative influences of a substandard environment and grow up to excel. We need to reinforce the efforts of these good people who refuse to be dragged down by the low-class undertow.

The distressed white middle class is also banding together politically. IMO the Tea Party is all about telling BOTH political parties: "You don't understand what we are going through to prevent our families from being sucked into the underclass." The Tea Party is made up of Whites who fear that their middle class lives are endangered. They are small business owners having to get by with 1/3rd of their pre-2008 income, retirees trying to live off of pensions obliterated by stock market crashes, and laid off office and factory workers.

So what are the specific grievances that the white middle class would like their favored candidates to change?

They're first of all looking for someone who will limit the Welfare State. They understand that we've got to have a social safety net, but that it can't be so over-generous that it corrupts the work ethic and bankrupts the country. Thus far their ire has been directed against government, which they believe is living beyond its means and beyond what is fair to ask the distressed White middle class to pay in taxes. This was the motivation that swept Tea Party candidates into Congress, state legislatures, and governorships in 2010.

The distressed white middle class would love to see a candidate who tells the government: "You have to live within your means" then tells the corporations: "Please, stop putting the middle class out of work. If you want to sell here, you're should manufacture here. People can't afford to buy your products if they don't have jobs that provide them paychecks." Cutting taxes is fine, but the middle class also needs jobs if they're going to earn money to pay taxes on.

Despite all the charts and statistics, this book is largely subjetive. Murray sees a new elite class typified by a media executive with a postgraduate degree living in a "superzip" suburb of New York or Washington. A few years ago the equally influential book THE MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR said that the upper class was more likely to be typified by a half-educated gas station owner In Middletown who had amassed his millions operating a run-of-the-mill small business in a town with a low cost of living. Which view is correct? It is difficult to generalize the condition of a vast country of 310,000,000 people from the perspective of any one individual.

Likewise, Murray's historical allegories and present-day analysis of life in America are stretched. But he does capture the angst of a white middle class that fears being sucked down the drain of lower class welfare state dependence. The book is important for this reason. Its premise is valid, even if some of the arguments are stretched.

Let's hope the tone-deaf politicians will pay attention to the book and get busy trying to broaden the middle class. The book is also a reminder that we as individuals can do much to instill good ethics in our own homes and communities, starting with our own children.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
chantal wilson
Dont buy the audio book "bargan" - its a fraud - the store only delivered it to my old kindle that I no longer use and doeas not have audio anyway - it cannot be downloaded to any other device and complaints and emails to the store are ignored. I wasted 1 hour of precious time on this.

John Ovretveit, Professor Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
carol evans
Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 I am amazed at the extent to which glib writers can misinterpret data. This Coming Apart continues the author's tradition of writing about important topics and drawing conclusions that are highly suspect. In the absence of references to a voluminous scientific literature about social problems combined with selective citations and misinterpretations, the author makes the case for blaming the victims, less affluent persons who have not been able to make it into the social elite in the U.S. True, some poor persons behave in ways that are not viewed as desirable by others, including the author. True, social problems do exist in the U.S. But many, perhaps most, social scientists see poverty as a cause, if not the only cause, of these problems. The plain truth is that less affluent persons struggle to get along, and these struggles can lead to social disorganization. In an age where opportunity is diminishing for those without college educations, what does one expect.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
todd osborn
The book does a good job highlighting the increasing class divide in America - something unfortunately Americans don't like to talk about. Charles Murray is particularly smart to focus on white Americans, taking race (ever so controversial) out of the analysis. The data are startling. The top 5% of Americans live lives fully apart from the rest.

The book itself comes apart though at the prescriptions. Murray says the poor need to learn the values of the elite, i.e. hard work, family, religion. That is nonsense. Poor people aren't necessarily lazy (some are, some aren't). Rather, they are in their situations because of a mixture of lack of opportunity and lack of skill. It's very expensive to get a worthwhile college degree and training needed to compete in the 21st century economy. Moreover, more and more jobs require skills, while the low-skilled industries have been decimated. This leaves the poor with no way to increase their lot in life. If anything, many poor people work hard or would like to work harder, but lack jobs. Family would do nothing to help the poor and might actually just add costs. And religion - well, if anything America's super-elite are less religious than the poor, so it's not quite clear where more religion would get them.

Overall, I hope this book serves as a warning call about our society, but I also hope readers try to think a bit deeper about the solutions to this problem than Murray does.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
amy elizabeth
Do these 1-star ranters actually think we will accept their factless diatribes? Please stop insulting our intelligence. This book, as was the author's Bell Curve, is a factual quantitative analysis unlike the critics baseless subjective opinions. As one example, they perpetuate the propoganda from the PC Front that The Bell Curve was discredited. A simple Internet search proves that the Bell Curve, its findings, and its research were thoroughly vetted and supported. Here's a few FACTS from UNBIASED sources, e.g., Wikipedia says...

Mainstream Science on Intelligence
Fifty-two professors, most of them psychologists including researchers in the study of intelligence and related fields, signed an opinion statement titled "Mainstream Science on Intelligence"[7] endorsing the views presented in The Bell Curve. The statement was written by psychologist Linda Gottfredson and published in The Wall Street Journal in 1994 and reprinted in the Intelligence.[8] Of the 131 who were invited by mail to sign the document, 100 responded, with 52 agreeing to sign and 48 declining. Eleven of the 48 dissenters claimed that the statement did not represent the mainstream view of intelligence. Some of the signatories had been cited as sources for Murray and Herrnstein's book.[citation needed]

APA Task Force Report
In response to the growing controversy surrounding The Bell Curve, the American Psychological Association's Board of Scientific Affairs established a special task force to publish an investigative report on the research presented in the book.[9] The final report, titled Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns, is available at an academic website.[10] Some of the task force's findings supported or were consistent with statements from The Bell Curve. They agreed that:
IQ scores have high predictive validity for individual differences in school achievement.
IQ scores have predictive validity for adult occupational status, even when variables such as education and family background have been statistically controlled.
IQ scores predict future achievement equally well for blacks and whites.
Individual differences in intelligence are substantially influenced by both genetics and environment.
There is little evidence to show that childhood diet influences intelligence except in cases of severe malnutrition.
There are no statistically significant differences between the IQ scores of males and females.

So, when the critics offer no proof of their claims and lie to make their case, their opinions are worse than worthless - it's time for us to take out the garbage and report these liars as abusive.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
emily lam
I only finished 40 percent of this book. By that point, I had no interest in whatever else the author might say.

Mr. Murray creates the impression that his assertions are substantiated by offering lots of data. Then he draws conclusions from the data that aren't compelled by it, or even very probable. For example, he offers a lot of data showing that affluent, successful people tend to be clustered in upscale neighborhoods. The most likely explanation is that most people, rich or poor, like to live in the best neighborhoods they can, and the rich can afford better ones. Mr. Murray instead opines that what he calls the "new upper class" thinks it's better than the rabble--he actually uses that word, more than once--and wants to wall them out, so that the NUC can sit around feeling quietly superior. He acknowledges in so many words that there is no real evidence concerning who this indictment actually fits. Then why make it?

He creates a cartoon view of graduates of "elite colleges" that is equally flimsy and malignant. Its credibility to readers will probably be inversely proportionate to how many such people the reader actually knows. Again, there's plenty of data, it just doesn't lead to his conclusions.

Mr. Murray apparently decided to make a buck by reinforcing divisions, resentments and bogus stereotypes. Thanks for nothing.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Charles Murray's new book demonstrates that today's upper and lower classes have much less in common than their predecessors. Though his data come from white America (usually used for studies between races), Murray's focus allows us to see how the baseline has changed. The analysis begins with 11/21/1963 - the day President Kennedy was shot.

At the time, the white illegitimacy rate was only 3%, about where it had been for 100-some years. Divorced persons headed just 3.5% of households, separated persons only another 1.6%. This was a time when over 80% of married women with young children did not work outside the home. Most TV shows supported American values of the time, with their selection of language, situations, and scenes carried. Over half of Gallup respondents said they had attended a 'church' within the last seven days, and there were only 18 arrests for drug abuse per 100,000 citizens, compared to 1,284 for drunkenness. Poverty (calculated retroactively) had fallen from 41% in 1949 to less than 20% - good reason for it to NOT be a major topic. Ninety-five percent identified themselves as working class (50%) or middle-class (45%), and only 8% of adults had college degrees. Median family income for people in managerial occupations and the professions was only $62,000 (Murray reports all data in 2010 dollars); less than 1% had incomes exceeding $200,000. The average price of new homes built in 1963 was $129,000, and classy Chevy Chase homes (wealthy D.C. suburb) advertised at the time averaged $227,000. Thus, wealth disparity wasn't a big issue either.

In 1960, the 100th-ranked Fortune corporation had sales of $3.2 billion, $24.5 billion in 2010. Thus, contends Murray, good managers had the opportunity to make a greater financial impact for a firm and were worth more. Murray's position, however, implicitly and mistakenly assumes their greater pay was attributable to providing greater value for their firms. Turns out that foreign managers at much larger and more innovative firms were paid far less, that American managers' pay has climbed without regard to performance, and their contributions to society, and ultimately their own firms, have mostly turned negative via destructive off-shoring, outsourcing, hiring hordes of illegals, creative accounting, financial engineering, and taxation strategies. The main remaining task - setting strategy, is often also delegated away to consultants. Their short-term self-centered decision-making and lobbying have decimated the economy, made America vulnerable to greatly reduced manufacturing capabilities, created horrendous deficits, created financial upheaval (the 2008 'Great Recession'), dodged responsibility for the environment (especially Global Warming), contributed to an undemocratic and paralyzed government, shrunk the middle-class, AND pulled the rug out of the hopes of millions of youngsters. Sorry, Mr. Murray - any fool could have accomplished these same or better results, and been paid far less.

In 1961, 25% of Yale's entering class had SAT verbal scores of less than 600; five years later, only 9% did. College selectivity was rising, marriages became more homogeneous (IQ and education), and the rise of the upper-middle-class had begun. Amazingly, average IQ levels for various levels of education have changed very little since 1963; not surprisingly, getting into a good college has also increasingly become associated with being the offspring of graduates of those same colleges.

Today, fewer are marrying and more are having illegitimate children, more men work part-time or not at all. (Sociologist Murray knows quite well that financial stress is the #1 source of marriage problems, but ignores this and pretends the 'real' cause is lower-class laziness.) Strangely, Murray also contends that personal bankruptcy has lost its stigma and become more prevalent - a socially acceptable way to steal. I'm rather conservative and have never even thought of bankruptcy, but I take major offense at Murray's allegation, made without reference to the declining ability of families to support themselves, the hoodwinking underlying the 2008 Great Recession, the major public bailouts afforded large firms that created much of the problems for everyone else, or even capitalist maven Steve Forbes' ability to have his very large indebtedness modified (so the banks would not be holding a bankrupt's note)! Another major cause of personal bankruptcy - our having the world's most expensive (free-reign capitalist self-serving) health care system that charges the uninsured about three-times the rates charged insurance companies? Further, our 18% GDP expenditures for health care are about twice those of competitor Japan, with poorer societal outcomes. Businesses don't care - more reason to offshore, etc. - yet, clearly health-care is making our economy sick. What is the morality in these abuses, Mr. Murray?

Adding insult to injury, Murray childishly blames the government for much of today's ills - 'only a government could spend so much money so inefficiently.' Please, it's hard to be efficient when you're trying to put out (economic) fires while multiple arsonists (businesses abusing their fellow Americans via Free Trade and hiring millions of illegals) are still at work.

Bottom-Line: Mr. Murray has previously produced works that I found very admirable. Not this one - here he confuses cause and effect on a massive and deliberate scale. Perhaps this 'confusion' was caused by shilling for his new employer - the incredibly biased and demagogic American Enterprise Institute. Let there be no misunderstanding - Mr. Murray is not trying to inform readers or help solve problems. He's simply profiting by regurgitating excreta lapped up from other conservative demagogues and media muckrakers.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
michael kongo
June 2, 2012

Who "Done" It? Who Did in the "White Working Class?" They Did It to Themselves, according to Charles Murray.

Charles Murray's new book is actually a book about change, how some parts of American society, like the upper middle class residents of Belmont, Massachusetts, have done very well, and others, the working class residents of Fishtown, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, have not. But it's also, implicitly at least, about causality: a book about "winners and losers" between the years 1960-2010, and he is covering a span of American cultural and economic life which saw enormous changes in both. But which sphere of human activity drove the changes? Murray says it was character changes in the working poor that did them in, while the Belmontians thrived by their retention of the right values. If only, if only, the poorer Philadelphians could have kept the virtues of our "Founding Fathers," they would have done much better than portrayed here. This, readers, is one gigantic fairy tale, and if the book does not sell well, I'll personally recommend Murray as an advisor to Colonial Williamsburg or Disneyland - and Mr. Murray - you of course will be "free to choose" which one you fits you the best.

Not so long after I had finished reading Coming Apart, I attended a conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on the Renaissance of American Manufacturing, on March 27, 2012. One of the featured speakers was Gene Sperling, who is the Director of the National Economic Council in President Obama's administration. In his Keynote Speech, Mr. Sperling offered the assembled a surprising statistic on American manufacturing jobs, asserting that between 1965-1999 - not so much different from Mr. Murray's dateline brackets of 1960-2010 - the number of such blue collar jobs remained fairly steady: at about 17.3 million. Now that doesn't sound terribly disruptive, does it, something that might contribute to urban decline or diminishment of working class morale and values? Of course not.

But the real values for Mr. Sperling, like any establishment economist, are those that flow from capitalism's "creative destruction," its competitive innovations and products, its constantly chasing greater efficiency, and, as just a little aside, chasing those higher profits as well. And he wanted to reassure his audience that these jolts in greater efficiency- called productivity - don't destroy jobs, they create them.

So, in fact, when I heard Sperling speak, I had already been "fishing in the stream of deindustrialization" thanks to my astonishment over Murray's account of "white working class" decline in Coming Apart. The south "Pole Star" for the proles in his book is "Fishtown," a neighborhood of Philadelphia, one of the classic working class ethnic ones; at the opposite pole is the affluent upper-middle class town of Belmont in Massachusetts. Now the astounding thing about Murray's methodology is his absolute dismissal of deindustrialization's impact on the work ethic and morale of Fishtown's working class. To give you the sense of his schema, he remarks at one point that the divorce rate during the Great Depression didn't rise, so why would a comparatively little thing like the loss of good industrial jobs in the 1970's be an excuse to shun marriage and work?
Of course, in Murray's chain of causality, it's character that still counts the most, and the upper-middle class Belmontians have it but the proles in Fishtown have lost it. But there is no mention of Garry Wills' Bare Ruined Choirs (1974) in Murray's account, a shame, since a history of the decline of the Catholic Church surely must have had some effect on the predominantly Catholic working class. Murray certainly reminds us of the importance of Catholic institutions in trying to hold things together, certified by the stories he has Fishtown residents tell and that he chose to emphasize in his book.

In Murray's world, capitalism is a force of nature, unquestioned in its power and scope; people don't challenge it, they adjust to its rapid pace of change, or else...But might not the very products of capitalism - the auto, the pill, the credit card - for example - work to change morals and therefore character? Might the very productivity and abundance of capitalism require a shift in habits (Catholics will pardon the pun, I hope), say from the thrift and scarcity of a capitalism starting to free itself from the old medieval restraints in the 15th and 17th centuries, or the lost world of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson many centuries later - to the increased urgings to spend so that poor old Henry Ford could clear the model T's off the assembly line? And did not the car and the pill, along with the affluence advertised in Mr. Heffner's Playboy, contribute just a bit to the sexual revolution, which started - sorry, Mr. Murray - at least by the 1920's but did not reach full flower until the 1960's and most forcefully the 1970's? And wasn't that the decade that Gary Wills says the Catholic Church was coming apart, losing priests and nuns and Catholic schools at an alarming rate, with the Church denouncing the pill and proving that it was having great troubles adjusting to the changes in American society? So if one of the great religious foundations of American working class life was foundering, despite its strong conservative values...

Strangely also, he pays no attention to the tremendous impact of race (in this volume; previous ones I'll leave to longstanding controversies), with five million rural, southern black folks arriving in the northern and Midwestern cities, in what would become the "rustbelt cities," just at the time when they begin their decline - as Nicholas Lemann tells the tale in his 1991 book The Promised Land. And what sent them north in such numbers? How about a good capitalist invention: the mechanical cotton picker, c.1944 in the Mississippi Delta? It helped end sharecropping, thankfully, as a "way of life," if that is the right term. But the life the displaced black sharecroppers found in northern cities was not much to write home about. How can one write about white working class Philadelphians and not write about race; the city was race obsessed in the post-World War II world, which included the 1960's and 1970's? And am I suggesting at least a faint connection between Sperling and Murray in their minimization of deindustrialization's impact on the working class, on American urban history and race relations, just a whiff of the alliance between the American "Center and Right" on many matters economic? Yes I am.
Now let me add a personal touch on this topic of industrial decline and working class morale, stemming as it also does, in part, from my role as a commentator on Jefferson Cowie's fine book, Stayin' Alive: the 1970's and the last Days of the Working Class, in my essay Pre-Occupied of November 28, 2011.

I grew up just outside Trenton, NJ, another once significant old manufacturing city, whose industries peaked, like Philadelphia's, in the 1920's! Although knowledgeable commentators tell us the reasons for the declines were somewhat different, the effects were not so dissimilar. If you grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, or indeed, any deindustrialized city, it will be worth your while to visit with John T. Cumbler's A Social History of Economic Decline: Business, Politics, and Work in Trenton, 1989. It conveys a very different approach, and set of values towards the problems of the working class, than Murray's Olympian detachment.

Thus I've seen the physical sites of these old manufacturing areas, and Newark's and Camden's as well. When I first glimpsed Camden in the early 1970's, having just graduated from college, it looked like the photos of Berlin in 1945; there was that much physical devastation. I last saw Philadelphia's industrial ruins in the late 1980's, from an unusual train ride cutting across the city (and not from the more famous "Main Line's" view, which is bad enough) that offered a startling view of some of the factory districts. There is no other way to put it: it was a post-apocalyptical industrial landscape of abandonment, ready for filming the French Connection II (or is it III now?), and not matched in writing until the eighth chapter of Don DeLillo's Underworld in 1997.

Perhaps someone could send Gene Sperling, (and Charles Murray) too, editions of Camilo Jose Vergara's photographic works, American Ruins and The New American Ghetto, just to remind him what he's obscuring in those statistics. So much pain, so much loss, but let's not get emotional, let's let the cooler economic heads prevail: the number of manufacturing jobs was just about the same over the 35 years of muffled agony, 1965-1999.

We can talk about all the other factors contributing to the decline of the work ethic and self-discipline in the blue collar white world, the cultural factors, as Daniel Bell has done in his classic Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, but let's leave them out for now: the view of the physical wreckage is enough to convey a sense of what went on...and it's bad enough just by itself. But I'll give you the numbers that Murray avoids any mention of in his book, and that Sperling obscures from his high altitude flyover, taken from Walter Licht's brief but moving little online essay about Philadelphia's industrial history, with the nostalgic title "Workshop of the World": in 1953 Philly had 365,500 industrial jobs; by 1977 it was down to 168,400; and by 2008, it was down to 29,800! Here's the link at [...]

So here's my take, fellow readers, and citizens. As we look back over our shoulders from the economic wreckage of 2012, and dare we say too, the cultural wreckage, over the time period when Charles Murray says the working class lost its values, we would do ourselves, and the complexities of history, and change, a big favor by asking: what was the relationship between economic change, when we went from a "River-Rouge model" of vertically integrated industrial capitalism, to our contemporary one, the one of "flexible accumulation," vastly dispersed thanks to the neoliberal model of globalization, where those sturdy blue-collar workers today, if they are lucky, can work at half-the pay - $15 dollars an hour, and far fewer benefits - than their 1970 brothers and sisters did - and cultural change, where the very messages of business through its advertising - messages to all of us - are to spend and consume like there is no tomorrow; and come to think of it, there may well be no tomorrow, for tomorrow your job may be in China. Now, Mr. Murray, that's a little different perspective - and set of values - than those of the "Founding Fathers," don't you think?

My advice to you though, readers, if you want to begin to unravel why things have gone so badly for those in the middle, and the bottom of our society, then start with Jefferson Cowie's "Stayin' Alive," and then also work in David Harvey's" The Condition of Postmodernity," (1990). They'll fill you in on that complex interaction between economic and cultural change, and the price we all pay for the "inhuman pace" of it.

That characterization I have taken from Wendell Berry's 2012 Jefferson Lecture, given right in the face of the Washington establishment on April 23, 2012. I have to wonder if either Gene Sperling or Charles Murray were in attendance, and if they were, what they thought. I can tell you this, though: at least one of Murray's founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, would be pretty horrified at the national landscape of today; the one, where, in Berry's terms, the "nation and its economy will conquer and destroy the country."

William Neil
Rockville, MD
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I had high expectations for this book and was hoping it would shed some light on our American experience. Basically this author watched the show Thirtysomething and decided to write a book by making broad generalizations about American society. This book is about as enlightening as meeting someone from Ohio who once traveled to Disney World.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
megan samarin
How could you write a book about a class divide (interesting choice of Marxist terms) and not say anything about WHY there is a class divide? Who benefits from a class divide? How a class divide was created? What happened to the jobs that used to make it possible for Americans to rise about their class of origin? How is an educational system constructed to maintain and further a class divide? Why are upper classes in the U.S. linked closely with upper classes around the world, but lower classes so isolated?

I much enjoyed the descriptions of classes (hence the two stars). But why the sociological blindness? Did David Brooks read the same book that I did? (I doubt he read it - just wrote a squib).

The book WAS enjoyable. That's what makes it so maddening.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
This book needs at least a single one star review. The majority positive reviews for this book are frightening. This tome is precisely a political manifesto with the very clear goal of maintaining oppression, polarity, racism, capitalism, competition, neoliberalism, war, scapegoating and reactionary views. We are not the elite. We are the workers who think we are held prisoner in this cesspool of an oligarchy. The business men are not your saviors, but quite the opposite and they maintain power by keeping us so divided that we can't even consider that there might be another way. The poor, minorities, workers...these are our allies and our cause is common. The answer doesn't lie in the protestant work ethic, morality, traditional heterosexual families, working harder, patriotism, presidents. The answer is to end oppression of all peoples from these ridiculous, ideological shackles. Calling these kind of pseudo-social science books what they are is a step in the right direction. As is critical thinking.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
This isn't a serious book. On the plus side it does document the fact that the lives of the middle class have, on average, changed for the worse. We have become increasingly a society of permanent haves and permanent have nots. I'll give it an extra star for the charts that document this change. But the rest of this book is just plain idiotic eugenics.

The take home message from this book? The rich are rich and stay that way for generations today because they are smarter and the elite colleges they attend serve as eugenics factories for mating. Supposedly the rich didn't keep to themselves nearly as much way back when. And good jobs didn't require brains like they do now. Apparently, the rich were marrying bartenders and mud wrestlers with reckless abandon before the 1960s came along. Physicists and financial analysts in the 1950s could have the IQs of cucumbers. I don't understand how this book merits anything approaching real discussion. The graphs can be nice, though.

No, Mr. Murray, colleges don't filter for the smart today. They aren't eugenics factories. At undergraduate schools like you went to, legacies, children of the super-wealthy, and decent athletes will, all things being equal, have twice the rate of acceptance as the very smart hoi polloi. Talk to admissions deans after they've had a few drinks. They'll tell you that when all the slots for preferential admits are filled, they have so little room for anyone else that they have to turn away gobs of highly qualified, very smart children of the middle class. Elite colleges prefer the wealthy, smart or not, pretty much like they always have.

Even if you buy this filtering premise, the numbers don't add up. We're talking about 50 colleges and universities producing about 100,000 graduates a year in a population of over 300 million people. It's a tiny percentage of the population, far, far lower than even the residents of all those fancy zip codes of elites Murray talks about. Rule number one in science is to make sure your theories pass simple mass quantity constraints. Murray doesn't even come close.

Murray posits that the elites and hoi polloi interacted more way back when in the 1950s. He doesn't have data to show that is the case. He just hand waves, appeals to rose-colored nostalgia and TV shows, and says it was so. Despite Murray's assertions, snobbery wasn't invented in the 1960s.

What is new is that we have retarded social mobility in this country. In comparison to most countries in Europe - which have been pre-selecting smart and privileged kids for college for a long time - our poor now tend to stay poor and our rich tend to stay rich. Why? Because the system is rigged. It's rigged in college admissions. It's rigged in the job marketplace. Crony capitalism isn't maintained through eugenics. It's maintained through corruption. This book is one big crazy libertarian fantasy.

According to this book, the rich are rich because they are smart, moral and work hard. The poor are poor because they are dumb, immoral and lazy. Supposedly, the 60's and LBJ are the culprits for the laziness and immorality of the poor. All those jobs in my old neighborhood and across the industrial Midwest and East working on assembly lines for over 50 dollars an hour in the 1970s (in today's dollars) that went poof didn't have a thing to do with it. And according to Murray, if the rich would simply reach down to the less fortunate with their precious hands and big brains and show the poor how to lead hard working, moral lives, America might get back on track. Ultimately, Coming Apart is two doses of Horatio Algier mixed with one dose of condescension.

I've lived the American dream. My parents came from dirt. They came to this country, worked hard, and built something for themselves. I went to college and built even more. But what separated me and my parents from other hard working people who didn't make it, who are still struggling today? When I look back, I see one major difference: blind luck. That luck is harder to find today. Go off on your own and chances are, even with hard work and brains, you'll fail. What if you don't go off on your own? Those high paying jobs of my youth - the jobs that convinced many of my friends not to take the time to go to college - are flat out gone. A college degree is no longer a consistent path to those jobs, either.

We have "come apart", it's true. But hard work, intelligence, and morals have little to do with it. As Billie Holiday used to sing, "Them that's got shall have. Them that's not shall lose. So the Bible says and it still is news." She sang those words in the 1930s. They're even truer today. There's far more wisdom in one two minute song, God Bless The Child, than in this entire book.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
bailey randolph
Well, Mr. Murray will no doubt find this difficult to fathom, but I, too, believe in such things as no-nonsense in speaking and writing, good manners, having the guts to not engage in butt-kissing, etc. And yet, my experience has been that it's usually moderate-to-liberal people who most often display the afore-mentioned positive traits. It's really long past time for Mr. Murray to stop pretending that corporate managers, and other members of the business and economic elite, are paragons of clear thinking and no-nonsense virtue. In my experience, the reality is that far too many members of the corporate and business elite are double-talking sycophants of the first rank.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Most criticisms of Murray's book from the left would take him to task for blaming the poor for their plight. I think the poor, lower classes do share much of the blame for joblessness, broken marriages and misery. But this has always been true. It is the responsibility for society at large to help mitigate these issues as much as possible (Education) and prevent them from spilling over into the proper community at large.
Where I take issue with Murray is his contention that the poor, lower classes have recently (in the past 50 years) suddenly gotten much worse in their habits and choices. All his demographic data are based on comparisons from the elites with the poor white trash over the course of 1960 to 2010. This is a false premise because of the uniqueness of the era of the 1950s and 60s. America during that time was at the pinnacle of manufacturing might. With Europe and Japan still recovering from WWII, China and India still mired in the depths of poverty the United States could provide good paying manufacturing jobs to anyone with high school diploma. Even HS dropouts could find something to pay them a living wage. Unions were also at their zenith, ensuring that much of the tremendous wealth made it its way down to the working class. Income taxes on the wealthy were much higher before the Reagan tax cuts and CEO pay was often ten to twenty times what the average line worker made. Today it ranges from 300 to 400 times the average worker. In sum, there were very few poor people AND very few rich people in America during that time. It was truly a middle class workshop for the world.
If Murray would compare the same data from the 1890s or 1930s with the current time he might find less of a drop in positive measurable s between the two groups (Belmont and Fishtown). I would venture that the poor of those earlier eras were no different in their virtues or vices than the poor of today.
Another criticism I have of Murray is his inclusion of declining community cohesion as a cause for the collapse of "Fishtown." Obviously, Murray has never lived in a Fishtown neighborhood or he would know that most of the denizens are renters and they rarely live in the same place for a long enough time to establish close ties with their neighbors. I also find it curious that no mention of the corresponding rise in television, cable television and personal computers was never mentioned as a possible reason for the decline in community involvement for Fishtown.
This book is never more obvious in the chapter (10) where the author discusses honesty as one of the four virtues that is lacking within Fishtown. He provides plenty of data for crime and incarceration among the poor but gives short shrift to the recent white collar crimes of the business and financial community. While he felt compelled to mention the Enron, WorldCom and Wall Street scandals leading to the subprime housing crash, he quickly dismisses them as not "indicative of broader rot within the American business community." In other words, we'll just ignore the trillion dollar crimes committed by soulless Belmont members of the PTA and Rotary Club because I'm not interested in digging up any data on them. I'll just roll out more statistics on all the poor white trash who sell crack on the street and don't go to church or stay married for long.
I give Murray credit for identifying current CEO compensation as "unseemly" but he seems to think it is only left to better angels of our nature to correct this unseemliness rather than structuring a tax code to better distribute this wealth. I would no more expect a CEO to turn down millions in stock options than I would drug dealer to stop selling crack unless compelled to. We do what is in our best interest, public good be damned, unless there is a compelling reason not to. It's a rather odd thing for a libertarian to think let alone write in a book.
In the final chapter Murray's libertarianism is in full flower when he rants, "We have been the product of the cultural capital bequeathed to us by the system the founders laid down: a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government's job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government's job to stage-manage how people interact with one another." Really? Didn't we fight a civil war to stop one race from enslaving another? Didn't the government enact civil rights legislation to prevent 14 year old boys from being murdered for whistling at a white girls in segregated states? Should we allow too-big-to-fail banks (Casinos?) to gamble with arbitrarily created wealth and then if the gamble fails ask the tax payers to bail them out so that the world economy doesn't collapse?
It's all well and good and to pretend that prior to the 1960s there existed a perfect fantasy world where neighbors looked after each other , government left everyone alone and businessmen never cheated... but that world has never existed.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
linda clark
This book comes apart at the seams in the last section when the author peddles his liberertarian accusations while completely ignoring economic history and globalisation. His lack of empathy angered me.
One star because I like reading about social capital indicators.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
bradley somer
There is a tribe in the the store that firmly believes that during an eclipse of the sun a giant snake eats it. It is only with loud bang and shouting that they are able to scare the serpent away and save the sun. There proof is that for a long as they have been around they have chased the serpent away and it worked. Charles Murray has learned his science from that tribe. When two events occur they are obviously related. Sun gets eclipsed, tribe shouts, sun comes back. They must have scarred a giant serpent away.

Charles Murray finds that rich educated people congregate in certain zip codes. Obviously, rich people hang out with their own now when they didn't before. Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyaqi in there book "The Two Income Trap." Document that families with small children buy houses in school districts with good schools. This drives up the cost of housing in those areas which drive out poor families. The reason that they do this is that in the last fifty years people of the political ilk of Charles Murray have pushed to defund our public schools. Why should they have to pay taxes for other peoples children. Anyways, school districts map to zip codes. When we bought our house we could easily check on the quality of the school district. We did not have ready access to the tax returns of our neighbors. Obviously, Charles Murray's rich people have resources that we lacked. Opps! I think the giant snake just ate the sun!

Charles Murray, a self admitted agnostic, can certainly write a book on morality. But when he lists those people who are influential in America, as he does in Part 1 The Formation of a New Upper Class, limiting himself to only top executives, senior government administrators and politicians, he over looks a whole class of moral religious leaders. I can understand why he doesn't care about them but what about the majority of Americans? I am so very weary of these Republicans claiming the moral high ground while invoking the dictates of their moral leader Ayn Rand an avowed atheist. Is Rep. Paul Ryan a Roman Catholic or an atheist or does he think they are the same thing?

Over the last fifty years a great deal has changed in America. The "pill" freed woman to be in control their own lives. When Murray cites his data about college educated people in 1960 versus 2010 should he mention that women now are the majority of college graduates. In 1967 20% of college aged women attended college versus 35% of men. In 2005 40% of college aged women attended college versus 35% of men. You think that might have an effect on America? You wouldn't know it from reading this book.

The unemployment rates among those with only a high school education has steadily risen. Those who graduated in the 1960's with a high school education could get a decent job. But then society changed on them and those jobs got shipped overseas. Thank you Mitt Romney and Bain Capital and all the other parasites living off of the American economic system. Now if you don't have a job, you might be depressed. You might be reluctant to participate in a community which you no longer feel a productive member. That poor people don't participate in social organizations like they did when they felt like productive members of society is no big surprise. The only surprise is that they chose to believe the tripe that Charles Murray is pedaling about them. Why do Republicans always blame the victims?

I was talked into reading this book to balance with other more liberal sources. All I can say is I wasted my time. Don't bother. Read "The Republican Brain" instead. You will have a much better insight to what Charles Murray and his ilk are pushing.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
...the same old Charles Murray. For beneath the thin scholarly veneer of his latest book is the standard libertarian paradigm that the rich deserve to be rich, and the poor deserve to be poor almost solely on the basis of their innate intelligence, industriousness and moral character (or lack thereof). Everyone has the same opportunity to succeed, but only some are willing and able to snatch it. This time, Murray deals with poor whites exclusively, but he trods the same path that he has in previous books. Despite his marshaling copious data, charts and graphs in support of his thesis, Murray fails at distinguishing cause from effect and at recognizing that there may may be a reciprocal relationship between the two. Powerful economic forces leading to the impoverishment of the working class and the enrichment of the elite class over the past several decades are brushed aside so deftly that one might think that they do not even exist: Millions of good paying jobs shipped overseas? Piffle. Labor unions withering on the vine? Big deal. The largest transfer of wealth in history going from the American middle class to the upper class? Get over it. The demoralizing effect of economic insecurity and hopelessness? Don't be a wimp.

Murray proclaims a deep concern for the growing divide between the elite and the underclass, but it is hard to take him seriously, as he would not spend one thin dime to ease the misery of the poor. To do so, in his view, would only encourage their dependency and sloth. Murray's only prescriptive to redress the imbalance is that those at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid should preach the habits of virtuous living and hard work to those at the bottom. Thanks for nothing, pal.

I have no doubt that Murray believes what he writes, but it should be noted that though he poses as a scholar, he never publishes in peer reviewed journals. Rather, all of his work and publishing are financed by right wing think tanks, corporations, and wealthy individuals with a vested interest in his message. I fully expect that when real scholars have a chance to evaluate Murray's data and the conclusions that he draws from them, there won't be much left except a pile of ashes on the floor, similar to what happened with his previous book, "The Bell Curve." Not that Murray will care in the least. Unlike the dumb, lazy reprobates that he details in "Coming Apart," Murray has a great job that rewards him richly. And judging from all the 5 star reviews from readers here at the store, there are quite a few people fully prepared to buy the bunkum that he is selling.

Anyone who wants a real glimpse into the daily struggles of the working poor should read "Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
di rogers
Coming Apart is the first book that I have read by the libertarian Charles Murray, and when reading about the author I wondered why he was such a controversial figure. Now I know the answer. He's nuts. Or rather, his ideas are nuts, but he is evidently a highly intelligent man, which makes him dangerous.

I am a little ashamed at only having discovered this recently, because Murray has been around, being nuts, for a long time: he co-authored The Bell Curve, which was published in 1994 and created a storm of controversy - unsurprisingly, since the book's basic premise is that intelligence is largely hereditary and that low intelligence is inextricably linked with anti-social behaviour. Ergo, the state will have no option but to defend itself against people of low intelligence - who are on the increase, because people of low intelligence are having more babies than people of high intelligence. These people of low intelligence will become increasingly dependent on a welfare state, and will prevent America from staying exceptional. 'It is difficult to imagine the United States preserving its heritage of individualism, equal rights before the law, free people running their own lives, once it is accepted that a significant part of the population must be made permanent wards of the states,' wrote the authors of The Bell Curve. By 'wards of the states' they mean permanent recipients of welfare. I don't think they were suggesting that all people of low intelligence should be locked up. That would be crazy, obviously.

But back to the book in question. In Coming Apart, Murray argues that there are two kinds of American: the right kind and the wrong kind, and that the wrong kind is dragging America down. He quite convincingly identifies a 'new upper class' and then he less convincingly identifies a 'new lower class'.(Murray has had a thing about the existence of an 'underclass' for a long time: some of what he writes on the subject is true.) According to Murray, it is the people at the bottom of the pile - the people with the lowest share of America's wealth; the people with the most stunted life expectations - who are dragging the country down. The really scary news is that Murray seems to believe that `science' will soon prove that the wrong kind of people are genetically different from the right kind of people. Now, as you may have guessed, Murray clearly doesn't know anything about genetics. Some of his statements - I'll give you a quote in a moment - are the kind of garbled nonsense that would make a junior high school student fail their biology examination. This is why Murray is not simply a nut but a potentially dangerous nut: there are words for people who believe that the wrong kind of people are dragging a country down, and that science will soon enable us to confirm our suspicions as to who exactly those wrong kinds of people are and why they are different from us. Let's examine what Murray says and see if you agree with my fears about the apparently disturbing political intent behind what sets out to be a work of social science.

Murray likes to play around with published figures about society. By using measures of income and education, he identifies a 'new upper class.' In Murray's words: 'Just about all of the benefits of economic growth from 1970 to 2010 went to people in the upper half of the income distribution. The increase was most dramatic at the very top of the distribution. From 1960 through the early 1990s, the top centile of American families had incomes that began at around $200,000. Then in 1994-95, the bottom end of the top centile careened up from $233,000 to $433,000 ... The top five centiles are important for our purposes because they contain almost all of the new upper class.' This new upper class contains pretty much all of the people who run the country: government itself; the administration; the media; the law; the senior executives of major corporations. Murray uses his measures of education and income to analyse every zip code on the USA and identifies a number of 'SuperZips': areas where the new upper class tend to congregate. These SuperZips are cut off from the rest of the country: they are 'buffered' by other high status areas. As a result, Murray argues, the 'overeducated elitist snobs' (his words) don't get to see what the rest of America is like. They live, effectively, in bubbles. Also, because the children of the new upper class get better access to education, the new upper class manages to perpetuate its strangle-hold on the nation's riches (my words). This does not sound, to me, like the recipe for a healthy society.

Murray, however, doesn't mind this outcome. He argues that the elite have deserved the rewards for their efforts (though he does express some doubts about 'unseemly' levels of reward for some members of the elite). He also believes that it is inevitable that this elite will perpetuate itself. As Murray says, 'When the parents are passing cognitive ability along with the money, the staying power of the elite across generations increases.' Now, you and I might take this to mean that the new upper class pass on their success from generation to generation, not because being successful is a genetic trait but because they pass on cognitive talents (via access to the best education) and money (which usually comes in handy in life) and a strong social network of highly useful contacts to help their children further their careers. But Murray is back on his IQ bandwagon again. He believes that 'The stability of the average IQs for different levels of educational attainment over time means that we can predict the average IQs of children of parents with different combinations of education, and we can also predict where the next generation of smartest children is going to come from.' He's quite serious. Two parents with college educations will have high IQs, so we simply have to take the average of their two IQs, make a small adjustment for regression to the mean, and - hey presto! - we can predict the IQ of their offspring with certainty. Crikey! Do you know any brilliant parents who have really stupid children? Me too. Do you know any complete idiots who have really bright children? Me too. Something wrong with this whole IQ thing then, probably. (One possibility is that education itself improves people's IQ. Murray doesn't like that theory.)

Sadly, Murray is really sold on this IQ nonsense. The obvious corollary of believing that the elite will inevitably produce the brightest offspring (because 'the exceptionally qualified have been so efficiently drawn into the ranks of the upper-middle class, and ... are so often married to people of the same ability and background') is to believe that the other end of the social spectrum will inevitably produce the dimmest children. A vicious spiral is in place. This, asserts Murray, 'is not subject to refutation: Highly disproportionate numbers of exceptionally able children in the next generation will come from the upper-middle class, and more specifically from parents who are already part of the broad elite.' I don't need to give you a list of all of the reasons why this might be true for reasons other than the 'IQ is inherited' argument, and this isn't the place to list some of the things that might be done to change this. In Murray's world, there's no point into trying to change this in any case: it's a brute fact of life, and we should just live with it.

Next, Murray sets out some highly personal and judgemental arguments about what the behaviour of good citizens ought to be like, and then rather arbitrarily defines a group of people (the 'new lower class') who can be shown not to behave like this. The factors that are essential for a successful nation (or at least for the American project) are, declares Murray, 'the Founding Virtues': Industriousness, Honesty, Marriage and Religiosity. He then identifies a 'new lower class' as those people who are in a 'blue-collar, or low-level white-collar occupation, and [have] no academic degree more advanced than a high school diploma.' Murray leaves out 'owners of small business, mid-level white-collar workers, K-12 teachers, police officers, insurance agents, salesmen, social workers' and a myriad of other typical occupations. Why? Because they don't fit Murray's thesis: these latter groups don't behave in the way that Murray wants them to. But his chosen group do behave as Murray wants them to: he looks at their behaviour over the last few decades and finds that this group are getting married less, are less industrious (being unemployed counts a being less industrious for Murray), are less honest (crime levels in their neighbourhoods are increasing) and less religious.

That seems to be it. The so-called `new lower class' is a carefully defined set of people in working class occupations (or non-occupations) who demonstrate declining interest, for whatever reasons, in Murray's founding virtues. I'm not being flippant about this: the existence of any kind of hopeless 'underclass' is bad news for any society, and some of Murray's newly defined 'new lower class' are clearly an effective 'underclass'. One could have an interesting debate about this if Murray did not go further: this new lower class have the power to destroy the American project: 'Most [of the new lower class] don't have anything obviously wrong with them ... Individually they're not much of a problem. Collectively, they can destroy the kind of civil society that America requires.'

The new lower class are condemned to poverty for generations (forever?), it seems, because they pass on their tendency to be pretty hopeless in all departments of life through their genes. This social class of people are genetically different from the rest of us. In case you think that I have myself gone nuts and am putting words into Murray's mouth, try this deeply disturbing paragraph for size: `In a fair society, it is believed, different groups of people - men and women, blacks and whites, heterosexuals and homosexuals, the children of poor people and the children of rich people - will naturally have the same distributions of outcomes in life: the same mean income, the same mean educational attainment, the same proportions who become janitors and CEOs, the same proportions who become stand-up comedians and point-guards. When that doesn't happen, it is because of bad human behaviour and an unfair society.' Murray is attempting to be ironic here: the idea that we should expect people of all sorts to have similar life outcomes strikes Murray as ludicrous, whereas it strikes me as true, based on the simple proposition that all human beings are identical in their essential make up, and that useful things like cleverness, audacity, industriousness and so forth will be equally distributed amongst all groups of people. Murray clearly disagrees. Hot on the heels of the previous passage comes this little corker: `People grouped by gender, ethnicity, age, social class, and sexual preference, left free to live their lives as they see fit, will produce group differences in outcomes, because they differ genetically in their cognitive, psychological and physiological profiles.'

I haven't got enough space to rip that nasty little sentence apart as thoroughly as it deserves, so let's just consider this: on the basis of what possible warped genetic theory would we NOT expect to find - to use Murray's examples - women, black people, homosexuals and the children of poor people amongst any nation's elite, as one would expect to find them in every other strata of society? The answer, sadly, is, 'On the basis of Murray's warped genetic theory.' It is impossible to read Murray and not to conclude that he believes that people of different ethnicities, or of different sexual preferences, or even of different ages (which I assume means 'young people today') are not as fit or able to take part in the great American project as those people who do, in fact, have the right stuff. And this is not a matter of culture, or education, or opportunity, but of genetic make-up.

Murray's final, and remarkably wet, conclusion is that the answer to all of this is that the new upper class should stop being non-judgemental and should `preach what they practice'. Then the rest of America will presumably buck up its ideas and see that they have not been applying themselves properly to the task in hand, which is to sustain the American project. Oh, but ... the new lower class won't be able to heed this message, even if it is preached because (remember?) they are genetically different from other classes: they are doomed to have insufficiently high IQs to be able to join in, after all.

Am I mistaken, or is Murray's suggestion - that being in a particular social class is a genetic condition - not only biologically illiterate but also deeply insulting to the American dream? What happened to the inspirational idea that any citizen could rise from the humblest of backgrounds to the highest positions in the land? Am I right in thinking that Ursula Burns was raised by a single mother on a housing project, went through the state education system and became the first African-American female (and highly successful) CEO of Xerox? How can that possibly happen under Murray's interpretation of how American society works today? Why didn't Ursula's 'lower class genes' prevent this from happening?

Murray's version of libertarianism sounds to me like the worst kind of elitism combined with more than a hint of fascism: he argues that the American elite have been unmanned by political correctness and are afraid to proclaim their allegiance to the Founding Virtues, while the new lower class are locked into a spiral of decline by their genetic makeup, and may yet sabotage the American Project. Pass me the sick bag.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
susan willer
Murray describes a division taking place in America across different social classes. Upper class Americans are doing pretty well, but lower class Americans are doing worse and worse. His major hypothesis, is that this divergence is resulting from lower class Americans abandoning certain key virtues: marriage, industriousness, honesty, and religiousity.

For this hypothesis to be compelling, Murray would have needed to show that these virtues are important. I waited and waited for Murray to make his case. He kind of does this in part II... by talking about how much the founding fathers appreciated these virtues. The fact that SOME of the founding fathers supported certain lifestyles does not at all imply that these lifestyles are necessarily good. I kept reading into part 3 waiting for real evidence to tell me why religiousity and marriage were so important for success in American society. Instead, Murray moved onward, as if his historical references had already adequately made the case for him.

At that point, I lost interest in all Murray had to say. I stopped reading about 2/3s through.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
jeanine militello
The thing that to me stands out as being the most absurd recommendation in this book is the statement that "religiosity has remained strong in the Belmont elite" but has "declined in the Fishtown working class". How can he make such a statement that is blatantly in contradiction to reality. All polls show that the upper class and better educated have become increasingly "non-religious". A good example can be seen right here at my own institution where 20 years ago only 10% of the students identified themselves as "non-religious". Today, more than 35% of them check the box that says "non-religious". There is no evidence to support the contention that religion makes for better people or morals (witness that fact that 60% of scientists are non-theists and exhibit the best moral traits. The largest number of the least educated and working class are fundamentalist Christians, most of whom think the Earth is 10000 years old and that God created humans.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
The argument presented in this text--if it can be called an argument--is founded on nostalgia for a never-neverland past in which Americans shared the same values, went to church, followed the law, got married, and contributed equally to their society.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
donna ruiz
As someone who grew up in Philadelphia in the 1960's and 1970's, I can tell you why working-class white neighbourhoods like Fishtown (K&A, Port Richmond, etc.) have slowly disintegrated. It's because of the loss of good blue-collar jobs (usually union jobs) that allowed people in these neighbourhoods to earn a living wage that could support a family and home ownership. Whether these jobs were lost to technology or migrated overseas makes no difference. The jobs are gone and the resultant dysfunctional social effects have followed their loss. I started out in blue-collar, union ship building. When my job disappeared (overseas) I was fortunate to be situated where I could return to school and obtain a college degree in a technical field. This allowed me to "escape," but not everyone is so fortunate.

Without meaningful employment opportunities there will be inescapable negative social consequences (Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?). Paul Krugman has an opinion piece, Money and Morals, in today's (2/10/12) New York Times. Krugman hits the nail on the head in debunking Murray's book's thesis. It is a moral issue, just not the one Murray sees; it the lack of good employment opportunities in an American society that increasingly benefits a small percentage of Americans to the detriment of the larger whole. However, Murray is correct on one point, this situation is a threat to our nation and our democracy. If this disparity isn't remedied by the free market, but is only made worse, isn't the only option government intervention is some fashion? What's the alternative?
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
cate clark
After I saw Dylan Ratigan heap praise on Charles Murray for his new book, Coming Apart: The State of America, 1960-2010, I rushed to buy it. Ratigan seems determined to project his own independent voice in the debate over egalitarianism in American life, and I respect his opinions. Although I had read Murray's poorly-researched The Bell Curve back in my graduate school days and ripped up his fragile arguments, I figured that Ratigan's full-throated endorsement ought to be heeded. I was looking forward to hearing Murray's viewpoints with an open mind, because it is very important these days to carefully sift through diverse perspectives in order to stay optimally informed.

Sadly, I was roundly disappointed. Flimsy logic, weak data sources and Murray's unfortunate inability to resist partisan attacks on what he terms "doctrinaire liberals" roll up to produce a wrong-headed, confusing story that ultimately adds less light and more heat to an important topic, the state of our American society in the early twenty-first century.

Murray's decision to try to excise all "non-white" Americans from his analyses raises the obvious question of what is the definition of "white" and in what way does it retain the same meaning that it may have had in 1960, the starting point for his commentary. If there ever was a valid reason to utilize the concept of "whiteness" as anything more than a U.S. Census report, in today's America, it has increasingly less value as an explanatory device. The underlying assumption is that somehow, "whites" in your community are going to behave in ways that are qualitatively different than others. The definition of whether or not I am "white" relies on how I mark that census form, which these days we typically complete in the privacy of our homes and not face-to-face with a real-life census taker at our front door. I know of many people who purposely define themselves on these forms as "Other" because of their disdain for the very idea of racial classification. The independent validation of this data no longer takes place, as the process has become virtual.

To naively assume that one can undertake the kind of analysis that Murray attempts without presenting a more nuanced discussion of the validity of his selected demographic categories begs the reader's indulgence in a way that is unseemly in a work that claims to be social science. Murray's failure to probe into the concept of "whiteness" is a major obstacle in his logical argument, particularly if he is indeed writing on "the state of white America". How do I understand the growing percentage of "white" Americans who are married to "non-white" spouses, for instance, to cite just one example of where we should begin to suspect the validity of Murray's sociology. In a mixed marriage of a "white" and a "non-white", for instance, would Murray be able to determine whether the decision to buy a home in a SuperZip code be made by the "white" spouse or the "non-white" spouse. Murray's admitted defensiveness over his earlier stated writings on race seems to have contaminated his research design by attempting to refrain from making comments on race and education and achievement.

Then there is the question of the data sets on which Murray rests his principal argument, the connection between the social class origins of whites and their ultimate destination; for what he chooses to describe as "the New Upper Class", at one point he makes mention of the "SuperZips" (affluent zip codes) where the "Overeducated Elitist Snobs" reside. He states that the primary database he used for this exercise were the home zip codes for graduates of Harvard, Yale and Princeton from the classes of 1989 through 2010. His secondary database consisted of the graduates of Wesleyan University during the 1970s. The original source he used for his analysis of Wesleyan alumni is Wesleyan's 1996 alumni directory.

As I am a member of this Wesleyan cohort myself, I happen to own this particular alumni directory. Comparing where members of my own class year from the 1970s reside now, as opposed to where they lived in 1996, reveals massive changes. We turned out to be a very mobile group of people. In addition, many of the zip codes listed for my classmates are actually their parents' home addresses and not where they were in 1996, because the Alumni Office did not have contact with about twenty percent of them. Leaving aside Murray's snide depiction of us as "Overeducated Elitist Snobs", aside from the emotionally-charged language he is using there is also the empirical fact that while at Wesleyan, 50% of us received financial aid. In my case, 75% of my college expenses were paid by Wesleyan scholarships. I come from the family of a machinist and a "homemaker" (Murray's term), I do not live in a SuperZip, and while I do have a Ph.D. in a social science, as does Murray, my employer does not consider me "overeducated", as it was the expected degree for my current position.

However, there is more "sand" in Murray's analysis of Wesleyan graduates in the seventies. He claims that his analysis is based on 1,588 Wesleyan graduates from those years. But using the same document he used, the 1996 Wesleyan Alumni/ae Directory, I count 5,132 graduates from those years. In other words, Murray chose to excise 3,544 of us from his reported numbers. Looking into his Appendix A, we see a chart comparing Harvard, Yale and Princeton graduates with Wesleyan's. He notes that Wesleyan's data are from "a random sample" of alumni listed in the directory, while the other three universities included the total sample of all alumni in their respective directories. I think most social scientists would question why Murray would use a sample from Wesleyan instead of the entire record. Given Murray's difficulties with similar methodologocal issues in his prior work, it is a curiosity for which he has given no explanation. We are left to doubt his credibility once again.

Finally, one should read Murray's magnum opus with a few grains of sea salt. As he did back in 1984 with The Bell Curve, he weaves a political argument throughout these pages. He describes himself as a "libertarian", and one would have to say he is a liberal-hating one who frames his arguments in ways that are currently being used by GOP presidential candidates. His "solutions" to the "new kind of segregation" driven by the choice of home town by "overeducated elitist snobs" includes his discussion of "the American project versus the European model". The implication is that well-educated liberals are somehow anti-American or perhaps Euro-wannabes. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich would relish his treatise. Actually, Santorum did reference this book in the February 2012 GOP presidential debate in Arizona, describing this as a study of "children born out of wedlock".

Murray's hidden agenda to use his "research" as a tool to slam those who he opposes on the political front exposes his book as, sadly, something more akin to a political diatribe. No impartial refereed social science journal could accept this work as legitimate scientific research. Caveat emptor!
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
laura kriebel
Charles Murray ignores the fact that the policies of the upper classes has inflicted so much economic pain on the lower economic classes. Specifically, free trade and massive immigration.

The industrial working class has been destroyed by the movement of jobs to China and Japan. Once thriving cities are now faced with abandoned houses that they must tear down because nobody has working class jobs to afford them.

Michael Moore very well frames the argument that Flint, Michigan was not destroyed and sent into bankruptcy from a lack of morals or any other such degeneration by the working class in GM. It was destroyed by the liberatarian policies of Free Trade (otherwise known as a race to the bottom.)

In the 1960's a man with less than a high school education could get a job in a factory, work his way up from a sweeper to a machinist and support his wife (living at home) and a family. Where are these jobs now? Who is doing this? It is the working class in Japan who has this type of living. Not Americans.

Niall Ferguson and Charles Murray treat this as some mass social issue rather than as a consequence of economics. What Murray pointedly ignores is that the difference between the mean income (average income) and median income (half above and half below) has grown much larger. This indicates that the wealthy are earning greater sums while the working class is having its income reduced.

This book is an arrogant piece of tripe. Working class people if they are in despair and poverty are not completely to blame.

Please Mr. Murray, tell us, where is a nineteen year old kid going to get a decent job. Your answer that he become a PhD is nonsense. What made American the envy of the world was that ordinary people, not just the elites, could live well and have hope. The elites destroyed that with their economic policies of free trade, globalism, outsourcing and massive immigration. Working class people had their country sold out from underneath them. There was no change in their attitudes, just a change in the greed level of the elites.

Paul Streitz
America First: Why Americans Must End Free Trade, Stop Outsourcing and Close Our Open Borders.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
This book is well written, but the data can be interpreted in many ways. The author chooses one interpretation that seems to fit his world-view, based on his biography. I am not at all convinced and when I discovered that he was a co-author of "the bell curve", I became much more skeptical. I believe all readers should treat this book with a great deal of caution. Judge for yourself, but I believe that one needs to be careful when reading Murray's products, in spite of the Ferguson kudos.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
sarah smith
Does anyone think it's a coincidence that Murray has a paid position with the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute and keeps writing books whose theme is that (i) government can do little or nothing about society's problems and (ii) all of society's problems are traceable to the Counterculture of the 1960's? I don't think it is a coincidence.

Murray's thesis is that the rate of social ills like divorce is startlingly higher among the lowest-earning Americans than among the highest-earning Americans and that the cultural gap is responsible for the economic gap between the two groups. In order to accept that, you have to ignore a huge body of social science research that shows exactly the opposite: the social ills Murray talks about are the result of declining economic opportunity for those with relatively little education. Murray's book is simply another way of doing something American conservatives have been doing for generations: blaming the poor for being poor. Herman Cain, at least, has been honest enough to say in his speeches what the Right actually believes: "If you don't have a job, it's your fault." Murray is simply the academic version of Herman Cain. As a scholar, he should be taken just as seriously as Cain is taken as a presidential candidate, and for the same reasons.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
While reading Charles Murray's new book, I thought about our recent national obsession with civil discourse and events in Oakland, California. Since it never snows in Oakland, Occupy Wall Street has been very visible there. It would have been most illustrative to seat Mr. Murray at a cloth covered table, set on a high platform overlooking the street below. A finely dressed and polite moderator could have introduced him while the author poured himself a glass of water from an imported bottle.

"Charles Murray is an American libertarian, author and PhD invited here to explain that you do not have jobs because you are fat, lazy and dishonest sons and daughters of bitches."

Murray cloaks these terms in ten dollar words and phrases but they represent his conclusions for the disappearance of the American working class. Forget the war on unions, the use of technology to cull the workforce in the name of efficiency and a tax system that rewarded giant companies for relocating overseas. Forget our Congress, filled with men (and women) who spend more time at tanning spas and hairdressers than they do actually writing laws. Forget our court system that has decreed a corporation a person except with more rights and a President who emptied the national cash register for bankers but never even proposed banking reform. It is all our fault. Shame on us!

This 407 page book is chock-full of cherry-picked statistics and unenlightening footnotes. The author has interesting conclusions. For instance, he ignores all historical comparisons of the American Standard of Living and concludes that "The poor didn't really get poorer...Real family income for families in the middle was flat." (p 50) When discussing the long hours (without overtime) that Americans now work, he concludes that we "live in a world where work has more of the characteristics of fun than ever before." (p 43) Best of all, when he compares the working world of today to that of a half century ago, he concludes that "the world is usually the same." (p 44) This sounds like an English Lord describing Serfdom. I was surprised that he did not propose a debtor's prison.

Instead of cruising books and websites, the author could have offered much more had he simply bought used clothing at a flea market and tried to find a job with an extremely meager budget (like most of us). Hopefully, he would have found a real job-maybe as a Wal-Mart greeter since he is the right age. He would have discovered that his conclusions are as fictitious as a Disney cartoon which is possibly why his book was published by Crown Forum, the publisher of A Crown Imperiled: Book Two of the Chaoswar Saga and The Church of Liberalism Godless and not published by either of his alma maters: Harvard and M.I.T.

When analyzing the rich and powerful, Murray can be critical. He notes that "Washington is in a new Gilded Age...that dwarfs anything that has come before." (p 294) He's a libertarian so rules are bad and a spontaneous "awakening" is invoked. Didn't Ronald Reagan imply something similar? Empathy and compassion are the children of sacrifice. Just as Reagan had Voodoo economics, Murray offers us Voodoo social theory. He bemoans a lack of social responsibility among our wealthy but completely ignores history. Our system is based upon greed and unbridled, it is nobody's friend. The Gilded Age gave birth to reform which is exactly our hope for this era.

This is a great example of how anyone with the right connections can get a book of nonsense published commercially. It is also a great example of how the Peace Corps experience does not necessarily spawn kindness, patience and wisdom. The experience can also produce acid-tongued know-it-alls.

Years ago after a night of mischief, my buddies and I often went to the local midnight movie theater showings. While smoking Mary Jane, we giggled at experimental films and old cartoons. So, Lorenzo sez five stars for Coming Apart. Buy it, toke-up, read and laugh until it hurts. The next day, crawl on your knees in penance to the nearest libertarian and beg forgiveness. Offer to propose a debtor's prison. It worked for Charles Dickens' father, right?

Lawrence F. Lihosit is the author of various books including essays, short stories, poetry, history, memoirs and travel narratives. His latest book, Peace Corps Experience: Write and Publish Your Memoir will be published in April. He is not nor ever has been a libertarian.
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I was looking through the store for books that would make me feel good about myself and I came across this book, "Coming Apart". I didn't think it would be interesting at first, beside the racist part, but I'm going to give it a try mainly because the guy looks like a tool and I want to see if his writing matches.

I will post a reply once I finish this book, but an acquaintance of mine said that it might not be what I am looking for because it doesn't really inflate the WASP ego as much as his previous book.
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Back in the 1990's, Charles Murray was already thoroughly discredited for his "science" re: his "The Bell Curve."

A few Google searches will inform you of how that book got inflated to a fake "Bestseller sales" level and the incredibly dubious, echo-chamber "data" included therein -- which has now has been debunked. (You don't hear about it much nowadays, right? Ever wonder why?)

And now, Mr. Murray is back.

He is "Shilling the Rubes," once again!

If you want your demographically-shrinking-world-views "confirmed," you do not have to buy this book -- just keep thinking your thoughts!

He has nothing to offer you than what you already think.
Spend your funds elsewhere.

While we, in the REST of the world, move onward.
We see the "bend" in history, and really don't mind your last, flailing, protests to return to the past....

Carry on....
Please RateThe State of White America - 1960-2010 - Coming Apart
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